02 July 2015

Iran at Last

I was directed to pull over a few meters inside of Iranian territory. The same border guards who had been so surly the day before were all welcoming smiles. First order of business was to search the vehicle, which is a task they apparently enjoy immensely. Since they were speaking in Farsi, I didn’t understand most of it, but just about every one of my bags elicted a wise-crack from one of them, which would cause the others to pause and laugh hysterically before retorting with an even funnier joke of their own. When they opened my box of camping supplies and saw the canisters of Camping Gaz on top, they shouted ”bomb!!” in unison and feigned ducking for cover. When they were done, all shook my hand warmly and bid me welcome to Iran.

A customs official accompanied me to the customs shed, where El Guapo would have to remain until clearance procedures had been completed. After parking, I returned to the border post and started the immigration process. All the while, a friendly English-speaking guy in street clothes made casual conversation with me, but it was obvious he was with the intelligence services, inquiring about my family, my job, my life, and my politics.

Back at the border post, after waiting an hour for the right official to show up, I was formally interviewed, and again asked detailed questions about my life, my family, my beliefs, etc., this time with no attempt to disguise it as friendly conversation. In the end, the agent apologised for having to do so, explaining that procedures required it. In particular, he asked if had any knowledge of Iranian history or politics. ”Yes,” I replied.

”What is it you know?”

”I know a lot — is this a test?”

”What specifically do you know?”

”A lot. Would you like to start with ancient, Mediaeval, or modern Persian history? The Sassanids, the Timurids, the Safavids, the Qajar or the Pahlavi?”

That was it. My passport was stamped, but then I was told I would need to be fingerprinted. I assumed this was the standard border fingerprinting process, using a scanner, but instead I was put in a car and driven to police headquarters in Abadan. I was led upstairs to a small room adjacent to small dark cell, with a small and sad looking man gazing out through the bars. Directly in front of the cell was a table with an ink plate and roller. One by one, the police officer rolled my ten fingers in ink, and then again onto a fingerprint form. I thanked him, washed my hands, and then we went to our hotel in Abadan. It was now 14:00 (during the summer, you lose and hour and a half crossing from Iraq to Iran), and everything was closing, so customs procedures would have to wait until the following day.

Next morning we returned to the border post and first got a letter from the Customs chief at the border that would allow us to take the vehicle. We needed to get formal permission for import from Customs headquarters in Khorramshahr, where the General Director was expecting us. We drove to his office at Khorramshahr port, but found he had gone to a meeting back at the Salamchech border crossing, where we had just left. We waited an hour, and finally dispatched a driver to take our form back to Salamchech to have it signed. Finally, by 12:00 we had the signed letter. On our way in, we had engaged a clearance agent, and we found him in the first of three different facilities he would have to go to complete the import process and handed our documentation over to him while we went to buy insurance.

The insurance agency was in a tiny storefront on a nearby side street, and was staffed by a single agent. She prepared everything, took my premium, gave me a receipt and proof of coverage and we were on our way. We caught up with the clearance agent in another building. I mostly sat in chair for two hours while he went from one window to another, every so often waving me over to say ”pay this guy 100 dollars,” or ”sign this,” or ”give this guy a copy of your passport.”

Then we drove to another building near the entrance to the customs facility. The carnet was examined. Another copy of my passport was handed over. El Guapo was visually inspected. Another payment was made, and more forms were stamped. Finally, a gate pass was issued. I drove out and the clearance agent announced, ”congratulations, you have cleared Iranian customs.” I paid him his fee of 4 million Irani riyal, took my paperwork and drove off, arriving at our hotel in Abadan in time to watch Poland beat Iran in the FIVB World League volleyball tournament in Tehran.

Not quite done though, although again, it was now late in the afternoon, so the final procedures would have to wait until the next day.


2 July 2015


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