I left home on November 1st. I spent the weekend in Germany with a friend from my 2009 exchange to France, Niklas. I departed Niklas’ house in Mulheim, Ruhr early in the morning of the 5th in order to arrive at the Iran embassy in Den Hagg close to the start of the ‘Visa processing hours’ stated on the embassy website – 10 to noon. Once in Den Hagg, I navigated my way to the embassy using bus stop maps and the mental snapshot of the embassy location I had Google Mapped the night before.
The embassy building was the typical scene of high, iron gates, massive national flags and eerie tranquility. What was not typical was the semi-permanent Dutch police post on the street in front. It appeared idle. I didn’t think too much of it.
It was not obvious how to enter the building. I found a sign board and deduced that I had mis-read the ‘visa processing hours’ on the website. The timing was actually 1400 to 1600. Disappointed and a bit confused that I had messed this up I idled on the corner for a moment, not sure how to kill four hours.
I noticed an Iranian looking couple pull up in a Skoda, get out and ring a door bell at a possible entrance to the embassy. After a moment, they were admitted.
Monkey see, monkey do.
I buzzed and entered. Once inside, I felt transported from Deng Hagg to Tehran. I pulled a number and waited.
After some moments I was summoned. I took a deep breath and strode to the counter. I communicated my want for a visa. The man smiled to my relief and indicated that visa hours were 1400 to 1600. I would have to come back then. This was fine. The positive reinforcement was uplifting. I wandered to the waterfront. Most shops were closed as it was Monday. I killed the hours in a café catching up in my journal.
Close to 1400 I saddled up again and made my way back to the embassy. I arrived a few minutes after 1400. Already there with a handful of people pulling numbers. Very few of them had prepared their applications in advance. Most managed to obtain and fill out their forms before my number was called. This rendered the civilised processing system into…well… I wasn’t immediately sure, but I was ready to get pushy to maintain my spot in the queue. I continued to smile at the single visa processor – the same man I had developed a rapport with in the morning. Shortly he called on me. I handed him my documents and he fetched my reference number. He seemed pleased, but, pointing to a photocopy machine in the corner of the rectangular room, indicated that I needed a photocopy of my passport. I had several in my backpack, but eager to follow instructions and not rummage in my pack, I swiftly made my way to the back corner. Within minutes I had two copies and give him signal that I was ready to continue. There were a dozen people now competing for his attention; however it seemed that I was a priority and none of the other applicants protested – my smiles were going the distance. Everything was in order.
Now, I needed to submit the 50 euro fee. I handed over a bank note. The man shook his balding head. He said that I could only pay with a Dutch bank card. I stared at him in disbelief, my mouth edged upward in a modest grin. Was he pulling a fast one on me?! No he was serious. He suggested that I ask one of the other applicants to put up the plastic for me. This was something I was very much looking forward to addressing, my prior experience for the taboo relationship between foreigners and their money at the forefront of my thoughts. I waited several seconds before turning around to face the crowd. With my delayed turn, I half of me hoped he would change his mind and the other half was strategically giving the crowd time to mull the reality. Quickly a girl, about my age, stepped forward. I passed her the 50 euro note and she inserted her card. I thanked her profusely. Transaction completed I was told to sit and wait for finger printing. The man said in his broken English, “I don’t like do this, but must do.” I was indifferent I was focused on rolling over any road bumps with the force of an earth mover, before they became road blocks.
After a brief stint in the waiting room I was lead into a side room. The bare walls sparked visions of how I believed a Soviet era questioning chamber would be decorated. Other man instructed me to pressed each digit individually into the red ink before placing it on the paper. He gave Kleenex to wipe after the procedure was complete.
He then asked if I would obtain my visa and passport today or later in the week. “Today?!” this was the first I had heard of this option. I asked is same-day processing was an option and how much it would cost. He quoted twenty-five euros and left to confirm that this was in fact a possibility. My mind jumped forward to the prospect of leaving the embassy this afternoon with visa-stamped passport in hand. Kinda seemed like the joy of my last five birthday combined (just not quite as much beer…).
He returned as said that same-day was no problem. I walked outside with renewed confidence and asked the girl to put up the twenty-five euros on her bank card again. Then I sat down and waited.
There were still some people waiting who had arrived after me that had yet to visit the window. No of them were visibly of Iranian ancestry. Ah the patient Dutch…
At 1530 the man looked up at me from the window. He held up my passport. To him, Visa NO. 112376, to me, a trophy.
He passed it to me along with a CD of images of Iranian scenery. I smiled, thanked him and high tailed it out of the embassy before any afterthoughts could be processed.
Suppressing my emotion, I calmly exited the iron gate doors. With the embassy out of sight I left out a quiet, “Fuck ya!”, and subtle fist pump.
I was going to Iran!