Iranian soil in Rome

by tkos on August 15, 2012

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‘Is this where we get our Iranian visa’s from?’ I ask a young Italian female army officer, sporting a lovely M-16 machine gun. I’m standing outside the huge concrete walls of the Iranian embassy with my bike and a map in my hand, after fighting with the traffic and the nightmare of the one way streets in Rome. It’s taken me over two hours to cycle the 15km after I took an unexpected scenic route along the river. It was now into the early afternoon so I knew there was no chance it was going to be open, but I just wanted to make sure it was the right place as sometimes they send you to the consulate which or there is another building that takes care of it somewhere else. Whatever makes life harder.

The Italian female officer smiles at me but looks totally confused. She doesn’t speak a word of English but I’m pretty sure ‘visa’, ‘passport’, ’Iran’ and pointing to the building behind her she is guarding is pretty universal. She still looks confused so in true British fashion, I repeat the same words but louder, and point more distinctly. ‘Visa!’ she exclaims! Yes! Now we are getting somewhere. Then she shakes her head and says no. Hmmm…

She points down the street, indicating that I need to head straight down and turn left on November the 5th street. That just seems so strange as there is no reference to any sort of official Iranian building being in that area. But she seems pretty confident and I can understand her directions clear enough. I head back towards the apartment we were staying at in Rome, thinking that I will need to check this on the internet to clarify and perhaps come back another day. And then I see it! Just by chance, November the 5th street! I cycle the length of it three times, ask four people but there is no sign of it.

And then I realise that she has not sent me to an Iranian consulate or embassy, she has given me directions to a bank that takes ‘visa’.

Nothing is ever easy.

The next day, I cycle back to the embassy amidst the blistering heat with Kimmi. It is nice and early in the morning as we plan to meet my parents a little later at the Coliseum. We approach the towering concrete wall of the embassy, guarded by four military personnel and their heavy artillery. My ‘helpful’ friend from yesterday was not there, but we spot a small door leading to an even smaller office. This was it, finally, where we could apply for our Iranian visa.

We begin to lock our bikes to a street sign when the army immediately begin to approach. It seems we cannot leave the bikes here. Kimmi says that she will go in and get the forms and I will mind the bikes. That’s not quite good enough for the army either as it seems we cannot even leave the bikes anywhere near the embassy, they need to be on the other side of the double lane highway. There’s no bags on the bikes, but they believe that they are a security risk anyway. And they have to be moved now. I cannot even go into the office to tell Kimmi, the bikes must be moved now. I’m not one to argue with people who have machine guns, so one by one, I walk the bikes over the road and lock them up, some two hundred meters from the embassy. The world is now safe again.

The office has a window barricaded counter and few chairs around the room, one occupied by Kimmi and three more occupied by some Iranian looking men. Ayatollah Khomeni stands tall in a huge portrait on the walls centre. Farsi writing covers signs informing something that we don’t understand. The silence is deafening. It is close to a 35 degree day and the air condition does little to soften the atmosphere. Kimmi is a little stressed.

‘That man is so rude!!’ Kimmi sternly whispers. I’d been about ten minutes moving the bikes to the other side of the street under army surveillance, and once I’d ‘apologised’ to Kimmi for that, she began to tell me how the man behind the counter told her to sit and wait after she had asked for the application forms. It is not uncommon for Kimmi to be a little tense, and if she is, everything is magnified by billions. I thought perhaps it may have just been a cultural misunderstanding, perhaps some broken communication or a lack of body language awareness on the clerks side. But I wasn’t even in the room so I certainly wasn’t prepared to pass judgement. It was safer to just sit there and be quiet. It was probably actually safer to argue with the army and their machine guns outside than to argue with Kimmi at this point in time.

Time ticked away slowly. The clerk had gone out the back, apparently to get the forms for us but had been gone for over twenty minutes. We didn’t want to seem pushy so we continued to wait politely. The other men in the room had all been attended to and left. Other people had come in, been attended to and left. We continued to wait. Kimmi continued to boil. In her head was the complete mistreatment of women from Iranian men. This would not stand. This was unacceptable. If this was the way that women were treated in Iran, it did not mean that this was the way that she would be treated. She had read that women were to walk behind the man in public, that they needed to cover their faces. There was a terrible oppression of women in Iran and Kimmi was getting a taste of it for the first time. And me being a man? Well, quite clearly I was responsible for the mistreatment and oppression of women in Iran since time began. Sorry about that.

An Iranian couple came in and were greeted by the clerk with a smile and kisses. Kisses for the man that is. The woman was not touched. They were seen to immediately and their business was taken care of. I could tell they were Iranian because she was wearing a chador and hijab and he was in long trousers and a long sleeved shirt. That’s ridiculous in this heat, I thought. Wait a minute….

Kimmi, wearing an outfit, perfect for Italy, not so much so for Iran

We had been waiting over an hour. I looked at Kimmi in her string vest top and Lara Croft style army ‘short’ shorts. ‘Do you think maybe because we are in an Embassy, we are technically in Iran and perhaps we should respect the custom and wear respectable clothing?’ It was a brave statement. I had to back it up with actions before Kimmi tore my head off.

I walked up to the counter and asked the clerk for two application forms. ‘Sure, no problem’, then he reached under the counter and passed them to me.

Sometimes maybe it is that easy.

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