Drawing by Ardeshir Mohassess
"Closed Circuit History"
Copyright Mage Publishers
Did the impossible
May 11, 1998
For the first time in my life, I felt I did the impossible. Traveling to Iran for me was just a fantasy. I always envied my friends and relatives who traveled back home. I left Iran when I was 14 and since then I've lived in France, Germany and the U.S. for more than 12 years.
So one day, on a slow Thursday at work, I left early and decided to finally engineer my trip. I drew a step-by-step flow diagram that had about 15 steps. I followed it every day for the next six months. My first and foremost task was to be able to come back to the U.S. (I didn't want to face the same problems as I had when I tried to re-enter the U.S. from Mexico.) I also had to get an exit permit from Iran, appropriate transit visas, vacation from work and graduate school, and, last but not least, buy gifts for relatives.
On March 7th, 1998, my dream came true. I sat on an Iran Air flight -- destination Mehrabad, Tehran. What a great feeling that was. I had a similar feeling when I watched Iran's national soccer team during qualification matches last autumn. But this was something else. I was going back for the first time in 12 years.
I kept smiling at the Iran Air flight attendants. I'm sure they were wondering "what's wrong with this guy?" The plane was full of Iranians. They showed an Iranian movie but I couldn't listen to it. The earphones weren't working. Dinner was baqala polo with yoghurt. "What else do you want from life?" I thought. It was just great. I kept smiling and couldn't wait to see Tehran from my window.
The plane landed around one in the morning on Tuesday, March 10th. My heart was beating faster than usual. Everything was new and everybody was Iranian. The scent of Tehran's early morning air, combined with the smell of aircraft fuel and the sound of Mehrabad police sirons on top of Peykans created my first impressions.
We're in a small room for more than four hours, waiting for passport inspection. The airconditioning/ventilation system doesn't work and it looks like half the people in the hall are smoking. It feels like hell. Small children are crying. My eyes follow a man in his sixties who keeps passing people in line. Suddenly one man from the back gets angry: "Why are you passing everyone? Are you good looking or something?"
Finally, I get to the passport check point window. The two customs officers work very slow. I don't blame them as I feel it's very easy to make mistakes. I'm very nervous. Although I'm in my country, I sense danger. What if the officer says I have to do military service, starting right now? Or what if he blocks my entry? All my effort and planning will go down the drain. The officer looks at me with deep eyes and shakes his head: "It's warm, very warm."
That's it. I'm dead. "It's warm" is one of the Persian expressions I've forgotten. It means I can't get in. It means "you're dead!" Slowly, with my eyes wide open, I ask him to repeat what he said. He doesn't answer me and stamps my passport. I'm in. I'm in! Finally I'm back home. After a few minutes I figure out that all the officer was saying was that the air was warm.
Suitcases are lined up on the floor. I quickly find mine and go through the express green line, since I hav'nt been in Iran for years and don't need to have my luggage checked. I'm getting close to the exit door. There's at least a couple of thousand people pressing their bodies on glass barriers waiting for their relatives. I get the feeling they're all staring at me.
I'm out of the airport building. The first thing I do is stand and smell the nice early morning air. I cannot believe I'm in Iran, my homeland. I'm smiling.
Photos of young vacationers in the mountains northeast of Tehran.