Hitchhiking in Iraq, Christmas 1979

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Some of you might know that I’ve been collecting hitchhiking stories for more than a decade in mind of putting together a book some day and calling it “Stuck in Wawa: A Generation on the Road.” Recently, I heard that a history prof at U of Guelph was doing a book on hitchhiking in Canada in the 70s, which rekindled my interest in the topic. Several years ago I heard Canadian documentary filmmaker Ron Mann was working on a NFB film (and angling to steal my title) but have heard nothing of the project since.

Most of the stories are lying in boxes or on floppy disks (remember those?), but recently, doing some home renovations, I came across boxes of old text and poetry along with some h-h stories I’d forgotten existed. So this is a good one. The following was told to my friend and cab driver Ed Walker by Shaheen, an Iraqi-born Kurd who was working at a gas station where Ed was fueling up.

“This story happened to my friend Amal. At the time he was 19 years old and and serving in the Iraqi Army. Saddam Hussein wasn’t such a bad guy in those days; he was friends with the Americans. But there were rumours Iraq was going to declare war on Iran at the time.

So Amal was 19 years old and had leave to go home at Christmas time. His hometown was 500 kms away. But all the trains were full. and he had very little money. instead decided he would try auto-stop (the European term for hitchhiking). But he was having no luck. There were very few cars and the sun was going down.

Then a big German diesel bus rolls to a stop beside him. It was full–50 people sitting and 25 standing–but the driver says to Amal: “Look, I’ve got no room. But if you ride up top on the luggage rack you won’t have to pay. And don’t tell anyone about this…the rules, you know.’

Amal climbed up top. Now it was getting dark. He was happy for the ride was cold and a little nervous. The bus was flying and bouncing along at 100-120 kph. Amal noticed a strange box in the luggage rack. It was a coffin!

Now it was completely dark and Amal was more nervous. He had to know, was he riding on the roof of a bus with a dead person?

He crept forward and tentatively opened the lid. It was empty, thank God, a new coffin being shipped by bus. Now there was a light rain along with the wind. Amal climbed inside the coffin; Inside it was warm and comfortable. He could breath and open the lid when he wanted, and soon fell asleep.

While he slept, the bus driver picked up five more hitchhikers and let them ride on the roof. Amal could hear their voices from inside the coffin. How long have I slept, he wondered.

Amal popped open the lid and asked, ‘Hey guys, where are we now?’

The five hitchhikers screamed and jumped off the bus in unison, which was going 100 kph! One man was killed and the others badly injured with broken legs and things. The bus driver was charged. The Iran-Iraqi war started soon afterwards. Amal deserted and found asylum in West Germany.”

Funny thing about this story. It has all the elements of a classic urban myth,. It always happens to someone the storyteller knows who heard it from someone else. You know, the poodle in the microwave thing.This one has lots of details, though. A few months after I collected this story, I cut a clipping out of the Toronto Star which was this exact same story but it occurred somewhere else, India or Romania or somewhere. I may find it yet.

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Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.

With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.

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