One winter morning
Memoirs of a recent trip to the sefaarat
By Alex Faghri
February 27, 2004
I woke up at 4 in the morning. I had estimated
my trip to Washington D.C.
would take 2 hours, including a 5 minute pit stop for coffee. I
left myself another half an hour to find free parking
in the alleyways of the residential neighborhood around
the Iranian Interests Section, wrongly but commonly referred to
as the "Sefaarat" (embassy). I figured I should be at the Sefaarat's
door 2 hours ahead of when they open, thus making me the first
in line. I was hoping with the cold weather, the line would be
I was repeatedly advised by relatives that
to avoid the
long line up, I was better off leaving the night before, checking-in
at the nearby Holiday Inn, and walking to the Sefaarat at 3:00
am to be the
line. However, being an early riser and enjoying long drives down
highway with my large black coffee in hand, while listening to
BBC in NPR, I
was happier with my own plan.
It would be my first encounter with an Islamic Republic
representative in 20
years. Ever since my illegal departure from Iran through the mountains
Sistan-Balouchestan and crossing the Hamoun Desert in Pakistan,
had the guts nor the need to apply for an Iranian passport.
had ran away
from the draft. At the time the Iran-Iraq was at its peak. Every
Fridays, I used to see 200-300 shahids (martyrs) brought
to my hometown,
Isfahan. Now when I think back, if it wasn't for those shahids,
carrying Iraqi passports now, and Saddam Hussein would be looking
for a hole
to putt his golf ball as opposed to
hiding in one.
I got there at 6:30 am. Right on schedule. As I
drove by the Sefaarat I saw
no one in the streets, let alone at the Sefaarat. I was happy to
that I'd be the first in line. But at the same time, I was a little
be the Sefaarat was closed. You know how these mullahs are.
There is no
organization. They work any time they want. They close the Sefaarat
don't feel like working that day. Without prior notice.
But I had
homework. I checked their website - there was no mention of it
being closed. I even double-made-sure by calling them. Although
I had to wait on the line
for a good 15 minutes, yet the guy on the other side of the phone
I took my time going around the block
to find a free parking
spot. I parked the car. I took my folder filled with all sorts
of applications which I had downloaded from their website weeks
advance. It was a five-minute walk to the Sefaarat. Considering
month of January in DC, it felt more like fifty minutes. But the
parking was worth it.
As I was getting closer,
I was happy to see another person -- a woman -- there.
Now I didn't have to look like an idiot, standing there with a
in hand so early in the morning in freezing weather. The woman
sounded like she had been living here for ages.
She kept throwing all these English words in her Persian sentences.
understand being more comfortable using everyday / colloquial
words like "ok" and "alright" after living
here for all these years,
but who says "Aghaa, shomaa midonin kay OPEN mikonan"?
For two hours, she and I were the only idiots
outside the door, waiting
desperately for 8:30 to come and the door to open. She too
was worried that the
Sefaarat might be closed. They operate when they feel
like it; there's no organization," she said shaking
without prior notice."
We chit-chatted. She told me a story about
when she was in collge many years ago in Texas, where
a male Iranian student had put "Khaak-bar-sar" as his
name on the phone company directory, then made
thousands of phone calls to Iran just before fleeing and going
back home for
good. And the phone company spent months looking for "khak-bar-sar".
told me the story as she tried to sneak into the lobby of a building
door while someone was leaving. She innocently and quietly grabbed
as the guy left the building door half open. She pointed
me to go in the lobby with her. I accepted the offer. After all
much warmer in there.
At around 8 o'clock, another old-timer
with his parents and an
American-born Iranian youngster -- the rapper type with headphones
over his thick-gelled hair -- joined us in the warm
anxiously waiting for the Sefaarat to open.
Soon the woman ran
patience. She went out of the lobby and pressed the buzzer outisde
the Sefaarat for quite a long time. She spoke through the intercom
and asked if the Sefaarat was going to open. A guy answered back
we had to wait until 8:30. But then immediately after, we
buzzer and the door opened to let us in half an hour early.
But of course, once the door opened, it didn't
matter who came first. The
old Iranian parents jumped three steps ahead and ran up
to the second floor
along with their son. Then the old-timer lady righteously shuffled
into the second position in line followed by the Iranian-American
punk rocker, who pretended not to notice me.
Nevertheless, I was glad I was inside the Sefaarat
half an hour early. I
mean when was
the last time we saw an office here in the great US of A open
its doors early because of cold weather? A week before I was at
the US immigration office in
Philadelphia. It was a cold rainy day and the line outside
good half a mile. Even when they opened the doors, right on-time
add, the line was moving very slowly because of all the security
When inside the immigration office, there was only
one window open. I couldn't help but notice that majority
of the clients were rejected, for one reason or another, and were
to the other immigration field offices outside
State. Of course I am not an immigration expert. Maybe the
couple-hundred people in line -- mostly Orientals, Hispanics and
East Europeans with very
poor English -- had made a
shouldn't have gone to the Philadelphia office.
Anyway, it was good to be inside the Sefaarat.
A large screen TV was showing a soccer
match (good-old Persepolis was playing
against some other team) at Azadi Stadium. A short
middle-aged, bearded of
course, Sefaarati behind the window welcomed us in. He said he
had just made
tea and suggested we all should have a cup to warm up a little.
if there were enough sugar cubes. We all
nothing. I think we were more, like, speechless. At least I was.
twenty years of living in North America, I am not used to being
this in an office environment. One of the old parents finally thanked
and indicated that there was enough of everything.
As we waited, more people came in. Apparently everyone
knew you don't have
to come in so early and wait in line any more. You could just
during normal business hours and take care of your business, or
mail-in your stuff. We all had to take a number once we walked
one of the Sefaaratis kept track of it by pressing the electronic
number indicator. There
sincere informality in the air. There wasn't any "organization" but
environment was pleasant. Felt like home.
Every once in a while
Sefaarati would point to a lady or a man way back in the room and
behind the window: "Khaanoom... Agha... shomaa kaaret raah
in a while, he'd asked us the soccer score, since the
big screen TV was
facing us and he could only hear the sound. He got very upset
that Persepolis had tied to match in the very last minute.
I told the Sefaarati I was planning a trip to Iran
after 20 years and that I
had exited the country illegally and had no passport. He smiled
wished me a pleasant trip. He said "Khosh be haaletoon".
He said he too has
missed his family.
When I went back to pick up my
passport a month later,
he pointed out a stamp put on my passport.
He told me
that with that stamp no one would "bother" me at
Tehran airport. I was surprised.
After all this was my
I was the one who had
ignored all laws, and gotten out of the country illegally. And
I was ready to accept the
consequences. But why was HE sympathetic?
It was funny to see how all the Iranians, once their
number was called, would
take forever to leave the window. It was like they were grabbing
on to their ancestral inheritance. They even filled out their forms
thresholds. This was true for the old-timer too.
Later that day,
around lunchtime, I saw most of the people that were at the
Sefaarat, in the nearby chelo-kababi. They looked happy. I
noticed the punk
rocker ordered a Soltani.
BTW, I still haven't been able to go to Iran. The
travel document that the
US immigration promised me more than five months ago has not arrived
yet. They suggested I should wait between 30 to 480 days.
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