“I am sorry for you sir, but you are sta-te-less.”
The heavily moustachioed customs officer at the Lisbon Airport had a look at my stateless passport, and was annoyed because I was insisting in filling “Iran” as my home country in the immigration form, instead of “stateless”. Finally, I gave in and filled in the form the way he wished, and was granted passage to the gates area.
Yes, he was right, I was indeed stateless, and had felt that way since I had left Iran for Turkey, taking with me as the only proof of my nationality our family passport. Osman Bey, the terrifying head of “Yabanji Shoubasi” (The Foreigner's Branch Turkish Police) in Istanbul couldn't suppress a laughter when I presented him this passport during my interrogation.
“Which one these is you?” he asked with a grin when he opened the document and was confronted with four pictures in a row: of my father, my mother, my brother and me.
I handed my passport to Dutch authorities when I arrived in Holland, and never saw it again. In return, I became entitled to a stateless passport. Many years after my experience in Portugal I applied for Dutch citizenship and, after a few months, became the owner of a brand new Dutch passport.
I had hesitated long and hard before taking this step. I felt by acquiring Dutch nationality I was giving up my identity as an Iranian. But I had just started PhD studies and knew that I would have many travels in my future scientific career, and this would have been difficult on a stateless passport. At least this was a plausible excuse.
The fact was that the perspective of freely roaming around the world, offered by a Western European passport, proved stronger than my nationalistic sentiments. And yes, in the last 10 years I have made maximum use of the freedom that my Dutch passport has given me to see the world.
But every time I present my Dutch passport to the customs officers at airports, a feeling of falseness comes over me. It is not only me who feels this way: often the immigration officer takes a good look at me and then at my passport and I can sense for a moment a big question mark appearing in his/her mind.
My Middle Eastern appearance does not match their picture of blonde and blue-eyed inhabitants of the country of tulips and windmills at the western edge of Europe, who are the natural carriers of such a passport.
Once on my return to London I was asked by a British immigration officer to read out an excerpt from my passport – a text in Dutch on the history of The Netherlands.
Another time at the airport in Rome I had to wait for an hour before my passport was cleared. The Italian police officer told me she was terribly sorry for the hold up but the airport was flooded with false Dutch passports.
I could believe this as I had heard on the news that an Iranian gang had managed to forge thousands of the new, and apparently “unfalsifyable” Dutch passports. The Iranian gang had used very simple tools. At that time I couldn't help admiring the ingenuity of my fellow countrymen, and had even felt a certain sense of pride.
Many more years have passed and as I am writing these lines, I don't have any passport at all! No, no big deal, I am not stateless again and this is, hopefully, only temporary. Soon I shall have two nationalities and two passports, instead of one. A new Dutch passport, which I shall use to travel around the world, dancing over the borders with the comfortable feeling that my borrowed nationality, the nationality of a wealthy and reasonably neutral western country, gives.
And I shall also have an Iranian passport as well. I shall keep it safely in the drawer and, for the time being, use it only for one purpose, to visit Iran. Returning, after so many years, to my home country, to visit my mother's grave, see my father again, my uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, to walk in the streets of my beloved Tehran, feeling the earth under my feet. The earth that belongs to me, and to which I belong, without any question — no matter which passport I have in my pocket: it is written on my face, it is in my blood.