Kishi Islam says he is 143 years old, that would mean he was born in 1867. To put that into perspective it was the year the first ship passed through the Suez canal, Alaska was purchased by the United States from Russia, the Emperor Maximilian was executed in Mexico, Garibaldi’s troops marched into Rome and the first volume of Das Capital by Karl Marx was published. Yes, it is a long time ago.
Even if he was only born in 1905 [according to his great nephew who runs the tea shop we met in], he is still a great age.
Back in the early 1980’s I worked at a day centre for elderly people, the oldest of whom was Lily Bird. He father was skipper of the Cutty Sark, when it was a tea clipper on the China to London route. She was 97 at the time, confined to a wheelchair and not in the best of health. Kishi by comparison is as sprightly as a spring chicken. He walks miles each day, up and down the mountain road that runs between Bobagil where he lives with his daughter and Guneshli, where his great-nephew runs the tea shop. He doesn’t need a walking stick and his handshake is firm.
He used to deliver meat [lamb, always lamb] from the pastures, high in the Talysh mountains, near the Iranian border 50 kilometres down the mountain to Lankaran, the regional capital, returning with tea and fancy goods on the homeward run. His great-nephew remembers him talking about his exploits with his own father, who was in the same trade. They claimed to be able to do the run there and back in 24 hours and that before the road was built so it would have been along horse paths over the mountains.
Kishi’s wife died ten years ago but he admitted to my friend Mason Wiley, an American Peace Corps worker who introduced me to him, that he was looking for a suitable replacement. like they sometimes say, there may be snow on the roof but there is a fire burning in the kitchen!
I asked Kishi’s great-nephew what he put his longevity down to and he claimed it was his stress-free life. He gets up, walks to a teashop, is considered an honoured guest wherever he goes and is respected by the local community. Our taxi driver told us that he often stops for Kishi on the road and takes him wherever he wants to go, free of charge.
The Talysh mountains are pretty remote these days but sixty years ago were virtually off the edge of the world. Even today, there is only one road in and one road out of this area. Most of the villages are visitable only by going along muddy tracks. There is even a story of one elderly lady still alive, wrote to Stalin in 1945 wanting to know she hadn’t been told about the Great Patriotic War [WW2], until it was all over.