February 2011 Update: If you are looking for info on the visas and border crossing itself, Chris has posted about that here.
We were both still sick, but nonetheless on Wednesday, June 16th we bought bus tickets from Van, Turkey to Orumiyeh, Iran. I must admit that deep inside me I was a little uncertain.
The bus left Van at 9:45 am. Tired, a bit hungry (because I’m always a little hungry) and still sick, I struggled to keep my eyes open. I don’t know what it is about buses but they’re always rocking me to sleep. When I managed to keep my eyes open I saw a wonderful landscape unfolding before me. Fields turned into shrubbery-covered mountains that, for some reason, reminded me of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. Perhaps it is from photos I have seen.
We got to the border at 2:00 p.m. Immediately when the bus stopped I folded the headscarf I held in my hands, wrapped in around my head and safety-pinned it under my chin. The man and his family who were sitting by us and had conversed with throughout the bus ride, giggled and smiled. “She says you look like you’re seven or eight years old,” he told me.
“Wonderful,” I thought. “I was hoping to lose a few years in appearance but not that many.”
Chris and I stepped off the bus with our belongings. At the top of a mountain, to the left of the buildings in front of us, were huge billboards with the faces of the past and current Ayatollahs, the religious leaders of Iran. Uncertain of where to go, we hesitantly entered a door way. We were surrounded by temporary walls covered in mirror-like material. A man ushered us to line-up with the rest of our bus to “check-out” of Turkey.
We walked through a hall, or what I like to think of as “limbo” between countries. Obvious westerners, we were ushered through a separate doorway and told to take a seat. Two older Swiss men entered at the same time. They started up a conversation. “That looks good. It’s real natural like, what with Allah written on it and all…” one of the men commented on my headscarf. “Did you wear that in Turkey?” asked the other man. “No,” I replied. “I put it on 5-minutes ago. I have to wear it in Iran. It’s the law.”
Five to seven minutes later the Iranian border guard came back and addressed me as “Miss Laura” as he gave my passport back. That was that. We walked through another door and we were in Iran. Customs didn’t even look at any of our luggage. No scanners, nothing. And everything was done with such a calm, friendly demeanour.
Before I could blink a man was up in my face asking, “Change? Change?”. Confused, I went and stood by Chris for protection. It is impossible to get Iranian currency outside of the country so they were trying their best to grab visitors seconds after entering. What a bunch of sharks! We declined and decided to wait until we got to the city in the hopes of a better rate.
Two hours later we arrived at Orumiyeh, Iran. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were harassed by taxi drivers. I was tripping over luggage, including my own. The space between our bus and the next was so small, that with all the taxi drivers, luggage and passengers, it was frustratingly claustrophobic.
One driver managed to snag us, saying he could take us to exchange money. He took us to a shop outside the bus terminal. A very sturdy, serious looking man sat behind a desk. All around him were stacks and stacks of boxed goods from juice boxes to yard decorations. The man spoke some English, something we would later learn is very rare. He was the man with the power and the money. After learning we are Canadian he quickly said, “Canada is much better than Iran”. Being only 2.5 hours into the country I didn’t feel I was in a position to agree or disagree.
In the last six days it has become very apparent to me that people are not saying “hello” to me, they are not talking to me, or ask me where I am from, they are talking and asking Chris. This state of bystander existence I receive as a foreign woman is quite hard to get used to. Yet on the flip side, men (but primarily women) stare at me without shame. It’s also very hard to get used to that. I try my best to ignore the stares, or to simply smile back.