KHOMEINI-SHAHR, OUTSIDE ISFAHAN, IRAN—Leave it to strict religious conservatives to make Iran’s biggest western supporters reconsider. On a trip to the infamous Islamic Republic last month, I found myself in the midst of a real clash of cultures, being beaten by a crowd of women in chadors and thrown in jail. Iran welcomes little to no tourism — to say nothing of American tourism — but I figured someone ought to see what the country is actually like.
So being a dual Mexican-American citizen, I used my Mexican passport to get a visa at the Iran interests desk at the Pakistan embassy in Washington, and flew off to the cradle of civilization. Soon, my travels took me to Khomeini-shahr, a small town a stone’s throw from the religious city of Isfahan, a place renowned as the Safavid-era capital of Persia, and home to Shah Abbas’ magnificent palaces. In modern times, Isfahan is better known for its uranium conversion facility, though I saw nothing of it. I was, however, an olive-complected woman traveling alone, and I understood only enough Farsi to know I was in trouble, not enough to get out of it.
On a local bus filled with conservatively-clad locals, I asked a young girl in jeans and a chador — the voluminous black cloak worn over one’s head and kept closed by the teeth — for directions to the Shaking Minarets, a well-known mosque. The girl immediately offered to take me there herself.
We walked for a while, and as charmed as I was by her manner, I had completely forgotten one thing: Iranian women don’t travel alone. Not for long, anyway, and certainly not aimlessly. We rode several more buses for what seemed like an hour before it eventually dawned on me that we were traveling in circles. She suddenly turned rough, and it became apparent it was time to make a swift exit.
That is, until a crowd of women in chadors accosted me, descending on me in an angry horde. The women tackled and swung at me as I struggled wildly against them, yelling in broken Farsi that I was an American, and I wanted the police (or did I?).
Soon, a group of men gathered around to watch and — priorities being priorities — one of the men rushed into the action to replace my headscarf on my head, lest I break the law in the midst of my attack. The mob of pious men and riotous ladies would then turn a makeshift shed into the site of my first interrogation. There I spent the next two hours demanding my consulate, though I recognized that the American interests desk in the Swiss embassy in Tehran couldn’t do much for me. I also took the opportunity to hurl every swear I’d learned from Palestinian friends in college, though the sound of Arabic didn’t help my cause, and it earned me a sobering slap across the face
The police arrived and took me along with the girl who’d attacked me to the local station — a complete hellhole. There, a world weary local officer kept asking: “What is a girl doing in Iran… in Khomeini-shahr… alone?” He then explained in so many words that I had been accused by my attackers of being a prostitute and hiding my profession with a tattered Lonely Planet guide and a bad accent.
Adding to the professionalism of the whole interrogation, the cop’s six-year old son dropped a drool-drenched Cheeto on me and stained the wrinkled trenchcoat I’d been wearing in 100-degree weather.
My school-day fantasies of foreign prisons were usually accompanied by Madonna’s “Die Another Day” and roundhouse kicking my interrogators unconscious, Chuck Norris-style. In reality, I was locked up with drooly kids, eating a stale lunch of rice and Cheetos, and watching lazy cops play cards while I just sat there stewing on charges that I was a prostitute impersonating an American tourist.
After six hours, the cops tired of asking me the same question between games of gin rummy, and around then it dawned on them that yes, in fact I was an American.
Now they were scared. (Maybe our belligerent foreign policy is good for something after all…) The police immediately released me with a half-assed apology — showing great care in shredding all the documentation of my arrest — exonerated me of the charges of impersonating…myself, and drove me back to my hotel.
I saw the real Iran, all right. I also got my first taste of how tourists are treated in the backwater provinces of the Islamic Republic. Forget Ahmadinejad, don’t mess with the women of Khomeini-shahr.
-Crystal Ramos is a contributing writer to Doublethink Online. She lives in Washington, DC.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: IRAN'S HEAVY WATER REACTOR IS ACTUALLY IN ARAK. THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE SAID IT WAS AT ISFAHAN. WE REGRET THE ERROR.]
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire