Day 58: Aliens and espionage
Tehran Travel Blog› entry 83 of 260 › view all entries
June 2nd, 2010 – by: Biedjee
My Iranian visa had been the subject of confusion before, and I had received some conflicting information about its validity. I had been given a 30-day visa, with a validity of 3 months. Since almost three months had passed between applying for the visa and travelling overland to Iran, I had arrived in the country less than two weeks before the visa expired. Now it was a bit unclear whether I had to be out of the country within the 3 month validity, or whether I had 3 months to enter the country and could then stay for up to 30 days. The latter is the way most visas work, but the former is not uncommon either. And hey, this is Iran, so I didn't want to take any risk.
So today I went to the Foreign Aliens Office to see whether or not I needed a visa extension. On my way over there I passed another great Tehran institution: The US Den of Espionage. This is the site of the former US Embassy, which became world news when students stormed the embassy and held 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days in 1979. Before the hostage taking this is the place where the CIA plotted the coup d'etat against democratically chosen president Mossadegh and replaced him with the dictator Mohammed Reza in order to protect US and British oil assets. Hence the name US Den of Espionage, rather than 'Former US Embassy'. Needless to say the building no longer functions as an embassy, there have been no diplomatic relations between the US and Iran since the formation of the Islamic republic.
There is a small museum inside, but this is generally closed to public. The walls surrounding the complex are decorated with quite colourful murals. Not the 'Down with USA, Down with Israel' slogans you see on some of the buildings, but rather colourful, if disturbing, abstract pictures of USA the Satan and Khomeini the messiah.
I arrived at the address listed in my guidebook as the location of the Foreign Aliens Office, only to find it had moved. The guards at the building didn't speak any English, so they couldn't explain me where to go.
At the correct location of the Foreign Aliens Office I was told not to worry. I was able to stay in Iran until the 23rd of June, so no need to extend my visa. So with this good news I went back to Araz' house.
The plan was that I would cook dinner tonight. Together with Araz and his girlfriend I went to a huge shopping mall where they had a massive supermarket. I had wanted to make one of my Thai specialities, but lack of the proper ingredients forced me to settle for something more conventional: Italian pasta.
By the time we got home it was getting late though, and a few of Araz' friends had cancelled for tonight.
The rest of the evening we played poker with Araz' friends Navid and Bahadur. It was an interesting experience, playing a quintessential American game in a country where everything American is considered illegal. They had some alternative interpretations of the rules. First off, they play counter-clockwise here - probably something to do with reading right to left. Secondly, as we were only with four players, they wanted to play with only half a deck. This in order to have more 'good' hands in the game. Besides having more good hands, it also completely changes the chance percentages of some hands, and thus the entire gameplay.
I didn't mind though, it was an interesting experience.
Of course there was alcohol involved as well. I was happy enough to go without alcohol during my four week stint through Iran, nothing wrong with a bit of abstinence, but hey, when you are with locals you should do what the locals do, even if it is illegal (the penalty for being caught with alcohol is up to 40 lashes...).
The stuff which passed for vodka was genuine rocket fuel. A foul taste, but enough alcohol to do the trick. While beer is available on the black market, it is so expensive that most Iranians prefer something that does the job quicker. And quick it did it. Three shots and my Iranian friends were giggling like little children.
I opted for another stimulant instead: qalyan. After repairing Araz' qalyan last night it was steaming perfectly, so I happily puffed away the rest of the evening.
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