From Istanbul to Tehran
I liked Istanbul. I took it really easy checking out two Turkish baths, the bazaar, the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya in two and a half days.
It was interesting how Turkish people perceive Iranians. Almost all of them think Iranians are Arabs... personally I don't care too much but for most Iranians that's a bold insult! Well, Iranians are not Arabs as most Westerners don’t know either – but their ignorance may be forgiven… they also think Alexander the Great was the first "civilized" emperor of the world.
Anyway, at least the Turkish should know what their neighbor’s ethnicity is. Then again, many Turks don’t even know that Kurds are not solely some rebelling mountain-Turks but an ethnic minority. So their ignorance may also be forgiven.
The other stereotype some Turkish seem to have about Iranians is: “Oh it’s the country of Kalle-Pache”… whatever that is supposed to mean ;)
So after two days in Istanbul I took the Trans Asian Express from Istanbul to Tehran.
I liked it! It was my first time on a train for three full days.
I shared my cabin with two Tehranis. One was a young rebel who entertained the whole wagon by expressing all of his frustration with the current situation in Iran. The other one was gay but tried to deny it, which was funny since it was so obvious that he was gay. It was a bit unfortunate for me that he wasn't open about it as it would have been interesting to get an insight into the life of homosexuals in that regime and into the Tehrani gay-scene.
At the border the trip became even more interesting!
On the Turkish side I had no problems at all and everything was easy.
When we arrived on the Iranian side I soon realized that I was not in a free country anymore!
The whole train was locked down with soldiers guarding the train outside. A border officer came into our cabine and checked our passports. He didn't exactly have a very friendly nature!
When he saw my passport at first he seemed to be confused. Then he mumbled something about "You have only two days left!" and finally left with my passport saying he would be back in a second.
The second turned out to be an hour...
In a way I expected something like that to happen. Let's say, my family history doesn't potentially make me a friend of this regime. So with the current political situation and the US trying to infiltrate the country with young exile-Iranians like me, I could potentially be an American sleeper.
After an hour another guy came back telling me to go to the dining car.
From that moment onwards I felt a bit like in a movie scene:
When I entered the dining car I could clearly feel a strange atmosphere. I sat down in a chair. To my right were two uniformed immigration officers. In front of me sat two plainclothes officers... I figured they were from the secret police. To my left sat a train attendant.
At first they all starred at me. I was a bit irritated. Then, finally, one of the immigration officers wanted to confirm my name. As I confirmed it the officer slowly repeated my name looking onto his lap-top's screen. I don't have a Muslim name, which could be, I thought, irritating. Non-Muslim names are less common for my generation... and even worse, I have a king's name, which can be considered to be political confession.
After the officer had repeated my name it was silent for a few minutes. Everybody in the room looked at me. One of the secret police officers had a very negative aura around him. And of course it had to be him who would stare at me not looking away for a single moment. I could feel how he observed every single move I made. I figured they tried to provoke some type of nervous reaction off me.
But I remained calm!
For a strange reason I felt really relaxed. And when I realized that the weird guy starred at me thoroughly I relaxed even more. I almost had to laugh out loudly as I found that situation too unreal.
After a while another Iranian traveler entered the dining car. He sat down next to me. He was a about 60 and lived in Canada. The officers asked him some questions. He had to fill out a form and was allowed to go back to his cabin.
After a while, one of the secret police officers told me to follow him. We left the train to enter the border station. Two soldiers guarded outside with four more standing around inside. We entered a filthy room with a table, a laptop and two chairs. I was told to sit down while he would check out something with his computer.
I was a bit confused about the special treatment!
After I was waiting for a while he started asking me some questions. Since my Persian is not fluent he got a bit irritated.
He would ask me the same questions over and over again, trying to figure out if I had something to hide. Again I found this whole scene a bit funny as I was in a similar type of situation once before, trying to enter the US as a teen - having a "special security check" there too after the immigration officer was convinced I didn't speak German. Then, I also had to go to a special room to be questioned.
So for the Iranians I could potentially be a American sleeper and for the Americans I could potentially be a Iranian terrorist ;)
Anyway, the officer was a bit confused as I couldn't specify my grandmother's address (where I would stay in Tehran) and furthermore didn't know her last name by heart (in Iran women keep their maiden name after marriage)... well, I just call her grandma!
When he asked me how I would get to her place, I just replied that I would call her on arrival, which again is a bit strange as it is quite unusual for Iranians not to be welcomed by the whole family at the train-station/airport.
Finally, after more than 30 minutes of questioning he asked me eventually the most important question:
What is your religion?
Unfortunately I don't know the Persian term for "religion" so I couldn't answer at first!
It was the last question as perhaps it made two things very clear:
Quite likely I am a god-damn pagan!
But more importantly, I'm not very likely to be a sleeper if I don't even know the Persian term for religion!
He gave me my papers, told me that I could stay for three months - no day longer - and asked a soldier to escort me back to the train.
Back in the train my cabin members enjoyed the story...
The next evening we arrived in Tehran and fared-well.
So this is it… I’m finally in Iran.
I'll have almost three months to find (out) something... whatever it might be...
Perhaps I'm here to see what my original culture is like.
And of course I also want to know what this talk about the axis of evil, terrorism, anti-Semitism and evil evil Islam is all about.
I'm here to see how evil my roots really are ;-)