OK, I suck at travel blogging. I’m sitting on no fewer than six half-finished posts including Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and India, which were months ago. But! I am stuck in Tblisi waiting for visas (Kazakhstan, the promotional literature that your consul showered me with assures me you are A Beacon Of Progress! I find this hard to believe when your visa application process is more convoluted than, to take an example at random, Afghanistan’s.) in a hostel with free wireless, so that means spam time. First up is Iran, which had plenty of good bits which did not involve police stations.
I am writing this from Delhi, which is not at all where I was expecting to be a few hours ago. I must say that India is rather a startling place to have thrust upon one unexpectedly.
It is the week leading up to No Ruz, the Iranian new year, and I had been rather hoping to spend this week peacefully jumping over bonfires (it’s a thing), admiring Achaemenid ruins and having earnest young men recite Persian poetry at me (an occupational hazard all over Iran, but utterly delightful). I, sadly, had reckoned without the efforts of the Iranian security service.
These diligent gentlemen hauled me off the bus from the border, assuring me that they merely wished to ask me a few questions; the generalised hysteria which greeted my suggestion that they might show me some ID (“This police station is our ID!”) suggested that they were not necessarily the concerned members of the tourist police that they claimed to be. Over the course of numerous lengthy interviews over the following few weeks, it became apparent that they were highly suspicious of my motives of entering the country, and had in fact been waiting for me ever since I applied for my visa in Tashkent. My gender, marital status, failure to utilise a travel agency and “impolite way of sitting” all told against me. I was quite obviously an MI6 agent.
Let this be a lesson that all may profit from: NEVER bring a computer or a camera into a country policed by paranoiacs with an active imagination. It’s amazing what can be concocted from the most innocuous sources. Half-finished end-of-term reports on my English students became evidence that I was recruiting Uzbekistan’s most talented linguists as secret agents. A document that I had been proofreading at UNAIDS indicated that I had been setting up high level meetings with members of the government. Photos of a party in Tashkent were clear proof that I had been fraternising with expat Iranians (never mind that said photos contained no Iranians whatsoever). I apparently spoke too many languages (that sound you hear is hysterical laughter from anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of my tortuous French or Russian. Actually, it was probably the Russian that swung it. It is an inherently suspicious language.) to be an innocent traveller. In the face of such brain-straining deductive logic and fiendishly penetrating questioning along the lines of “If you’re so interested in travel, why didn’t you study tourism?” , I found myself quite unequal to the task of proving myself a mere tourist (“you don’t LOOK like a tourist…”), and thus received instructions yesterday morning to leave Iran within 24 hours, or face “certain incarceration”, and while I like to think I am always open to new experiences, finding out exactly what the inside of an Iranian jail loks like ranks pretty low on my list of priorities. I took the next flight out of Iran.
Thus, I find myself in Delhi with no hotel, no plan, no clue; just a raging sense of unfairness (funny how we think life should be fair, when it never is). Later I will write properly about the incredible times I had in this wonderful country (well, the parts outside the police stations), which is so ill served by an illiberal and repressive government at odds with so many of its people. Iran is an easy country to fall in love with, and I feel like I have been cheated out of an affair that could have lasted and lasted. I probably won’t be able to visit Iran again, at least while the current state of affairs continues, and what angers me most is that my experience, which I was so sure would prove the opposite, has instead just born out the warnings of my friends who told me I shouldn’t risk the trip. I will never regret visiting Iran, but I wish it could’ve ended any other way.
Well, there’s no point wallowing in self pity at this stage. I have a subcontinent to deal with.