Cows in the Funhouse
And I Walked Into India
My Very Own Personal Armed Guard
Dance Party in Esfahan
And onto Tehran
First Day in Iran
Crossing the Border into Iran
A Travel Companion for Iran
From Greece to Turkey
December 06, 2003
Crossing the Border into Iran
The next morning Mozumi and I had a breakfast of sesame rings and cay and took a bus to the border. A mini-van, is actually what it was, filled with farmers carrying sacks of flour and figs. We went through Turkish customs, no problem. It was about a five-minute walk through no-man’s-land to the Iranian side. I buttoned my manteau up to my neck and put on a headscarf. My stomach fluttered as we walked up to the Iran gate, the name of the country emblazoned in Arabic, a huge flag waving in the wind. I was excited, I was scared. I was in disbelief. I couldn’t believe I was going to Iran!
The border official came out of his little shack, shaking our hands. I wasn’t expecting that! “Welcome to Iran!” he boomed. “Go inside the office please!” He cheerfully called out something in the Iranian language of Farsi to his buddies inside. They all got out of their seats and stared at us in disbelief, giggling to each other. I took their reactions to our arrival as a clue as to how often foreigners do this border crossing. They motioned us over, and smiling, asked for our passports.
Because of the current political situation, it is extremely difficult for American-passport holders to secure a visa for Iran. I was born in Greece, and thus have dual citizenship, which gives me the privilege of having both passports, and the privilege of being able to get a visa for Iran. My Greek passport doesn’t hide my American nationality, however, as it is printed on the inside page that I am a dual national. I was already nervous about making this border crossing; the fear of there being an anti-American amongst these smiling immigration officials made me even more nervous.
Maybe they wouldn’t notice the dual-national heading inside my passport, I thought. Perhaps it’s just going to be a quick stamp in our passports and into Iran we'll go. Maybe, just maybe, crossing the border will be a lot easier than I had thought it would be.
But when they all gathered around to see Mozumi’s passport, marveling at his visas, the Japanese lettering, and his color photo, I knew there was no chance of that happening.
No one in the Middle East has a problem with the Japanese. And so after the officers oohed and aahed over his passport for about ten minutes, they gave him a stamp, a cup of tea, and welcomed him to Iran. They then motioned for me to hand over my passport.
They all gathered around my passport like they had Mozumi’s, giggling and flipping the pages, and then their faces fell. Here it comes, I thought.
“American?” One of the officers looked at me with a puzzled look. “You are American?”
My hands started to sweat. “Yes, Sir. I am Greek, but also American.”
The men looked at me dumbfounded and murmured amongst themselves. Mozumi sipped his tea and looked around the room. I all of a sudden felt like an idiot for coming to Iran.
One of the men asked suspiciously, “Why do you come here to Iran?”
Thinking this question might come such a situation in Iran, I already had a prepared answer. “Sir, I have heard from so many travelers how beautiful your country is, and how it is filled with historical places like the ancient ruins of Persopolis and the old fort of Bam. I’ve always wanted to see these places for myself, and as I am traveling to India, I felt this was a fine opportunity to do so.”
The man looked at me, and then went back to murmuring to the other immigration officers, who kept glancing up at me. Though I had a visa for Iran, there was no guarantee that I would be allowed into the country. They could easily send me back to Turkey. Or flay me alive and pickle my liver.
“What is your job?” he asked. “Are you a journalist?”
Being both a writer and a teacher, I decided to go with the more innocuous of the two. “Teacher, Sir.” I gulped. “I am an English teacher. I teach children,” throwing in the latter for good measure.
The man quickly nodded and translated to the other officers. After about five minutes of their murmuring and me sweating inside my manteau and headscarf, the officer that had questioned me, stamped my passport.
“Ok,” he said, handing it back to me. “Welcome to Iran.” He stared blankly at Mozumi and I as we quickly walked out of the immigration office. I didn’t get any tea, but hey, I made it into Iran!