A Survivor’s 110-Day Walk for Peace
Zahed Hafting has lived through epic times: war and torture, deception and the most unlikely of reunions. Now he's taking his passion for world peace on the road
March 2, 2013
Zahed Haftlang was last in our pages two years ago. Readers will remember his hopeful and determined story. An Iranian boy soldier during the Iran-Iraq War, Haftlang saved the life of an Iraqi soldier, Nadjah Aboud, on the battlefield. Twenty years later (begging language like “miraculous” and “only in the movies”) Haftlang and Aboud met again in Vancouver. They’d both endured years of war, imprisonment, torture, and abuse. And that moment of recognition-in the waiting room of the Vancouver Association for the Survivors of Torture, no less-became a friendship that lasts to this day.
The double helix of the story is endlessly compelling. Hundreds of people have contacted me since I wrote “Blood Brothers.” Haftlang reports that people have showed up at his mechanic’s shop just to have their picture taken with him. But it hasn’t all been sunshine: both men are haunted by memories of the war. Haftlang has since lost his business and been forced to downsize his apartment.
But he is far from defeated. He’s found a job at an auto dealer. And when I ask him about the future at our last meeting (over joujeh kebab and saffron rice at the Zaffron Palace Persian restaurant on Lonsdale), he gives me exactly the kind of answer I’ve come to respect from this particular survivor. He tells me that, having completed his memoir, he would like to raise awareness of his story and about the world’s urgent need to set aside war. How does he plan to do that? He’s going to walk to the United Nations. Then he grins, because he knows just how impossible that sounds.
In fact, I am not incredulous. Haftlang has the energy that makes it seem possible. A rocket booster in a human body. Plus, he can do pushups using only his thumbs.
“How far have you walked before?” Haftlang goes back into memory. Well, there was the time he marched 700 kilometres across Northern Iraq during the late stages of the war. And the time, after his release from Iraqi prison camp, that he walked all the way back across both countries to Tehran. He doesn’t remember exactly how far that one was, only that it took 48 days.
“But the weather was good,” he says shrugging, no big deal. “It was springtime.”
The UN would take 110 days, he’s calculated, which includes one rest day weekly. He has a social media specialist aboard, Didier Tenenbaum of Netsplorer.com, who is beginning to build a website for Haftlang (StepForPeace.com). He has a few volunteers, one with a camper van, the other with a truck for equipment and medical supplies. Are they ready to roll? Not exactly. Do they still need sponsors? Definitely. But that is where the hope and determination come in. And when we shake hands on the sidewalk, I feel those in Haftlang’s iron grip and have no problem imagining a future with more only-in-the-movie moments. A future with yet more miracles.