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Published: October 2nd 2007
Incompetent employees make us stay one more week in Iran
Although we thought that we wouldn’t write you anymore from Iran… we have to spend an unexpected additional week in (very religious) Mashhad!! It seems that everything was going too well for us till now! Last Thursday, we experienced our first real bad luck during this trip!! This day, we felt that we had enjoyed our 30 days in Iran and, ready to take the flight to Bishkek, we were already dreaming of having a snack without shame during daytime and drinking a fresh beer on a terrace without hijab!! But… all this will have to wait a bit more!! The situation:
Nationals from 28 countries can get visa at the airport in Bishkek on arrival of their flight. Switzerland, as most of European countries, is one of these countries. Therefore, we did not have to worry about visa before arriving in Bishkek. Arriving at the check-in at Mashhad airport, we were really not thinking this could be a problem and we were more worried about our calculations for our Iranian visa - Thursday was our 30th day in Iran! This happened:
We arrived at the check-in counter
in time and showed tickets and passports. The not-so-friendly clerk checked passports and looked for the Kyrgyz visa. We told him that there is no visa in the passport yet and that we will get it in Bishkek airport. Obviously, this was the first time he heard about visa on arrival in Bishkek although it was established a few years ago. He is not so much to blame for that because Iranians do need a visa before departing. So he asked a superior but this person also believed that we need the visa before departing. We started to be impatient and worrying about our flight to Bishkek… We explained over and over, but the airline company didn’t want to take the risk of having two passengers getting refused entry to Kyrgyzstan on their flight. We knew that they are not well informed, but it was still not too late to change that...
We called our host in Mashhad (Vali) and he called the Kyrgyz embassy in Teheran. They told him that there is no problem and that they must let us fly to Bishkek. The airline company called their official contact from the Kyrgyz consulate in Mashhad. We thought: “Very
good, they will tell them to let us go and that’s it!” To our big surprise the Kyrgyz official from the consulate told them to not let us go… and this stubborn person who shortly before the flight took off personally showed up at the airport didn’t want to call his superiors at the embassy in Teheran. We insisted again and again, but time ran out. It did also not help that one passenger explained in Russian to some officials that there is a visa counter at the airport and that Europeans all get their visa there. The flight was gone…
We felt so powerless! We knew we were right, but this incompetent and arrogant person had enough influence to prevent us from boarding the plane and continue our trip as planned! The consequences:
There is one flight a week, so we knew that we have one week to sort out the problems…
i) Our Iran visa expired on that same day. Starting Friday we became illegal foreigners in Iran. Not a very comfortable feeling. Iranian weekend is on Thursday-Friday, which means that we had to wait until Saturday to ask for an extension!
ii) We needed to
clear the situation with Kyrgyz embassy/consulate so we will not be refused again next week.
iii) We needed to change the ticket for next week (and yell a bit so we don’t pay again…). Problem resolving skills:
First we wanted to cry… but fortunately there was (and is) Vali. Without him it would have a really big pain and we can’t even imagine how we would have sorted out the problems. (Very few English is spoken here in Mashhad)
i) We didn’t feel very comfortable as illegal foreigners… we had no choice than to go to the Alien Police Office and to extend our visas (that’s what the Swiss embassy in Tehran (and Vali) suggested us). We woke up early to be there as soon as they open, but it took us much more time than planned to get there. In fact, even if we learned to read the Farsi numbers on the buses, we didn't know that sometimes, when they send additionnal busses on rush hour, they don't change the number on the top of the bus, but they mention it in the corner of the window... When we finally got there, the place was cramped with Iraqi
and Afghan people and as chaotic as a chicken house! Somehow we managed to hand in our applications... but the lady meant that it will take one week!! We were shocked (our flight is Thursday) and it helped! Monday the visas were ready and (good surprise this time) we didn’t have to pay a penalty.
ii) We wanted to visit the Kyrgyz consulate here in Mashhad to clarify the situation, but it is only open 3 mornings a week: Thursday, Friday and Saturday! We arrived ten minutes late on Saturday… So no chance to have something from them before the next flight (next Thursday). Finally, we got a signed letter from the high management of the airline company saying that Swiss nationals do not need a visa to fly to Bishkek. They also ensured that such instructions have been given to the staff at the airport.
iii) This was resolved quickly due to Vali’s connections. Normally, we would have had to pay a penalty but it was dropped. Additional week in Mashhad:
This was of course also a consequence of the incompetence described above. Mashhad is not really the place a tourist wants to stay longer than 2 or
3 days, but we couldn’t really go away because we had to sort out the problems here, our passports were at the Alien Police and we would have had to come back for our flight anyway. It could have been really boring in a cheap hotel but fortunately we could re-occupy our room in Vali’s house.
Although we won’t forget so soon why we stay another week in Mashhad we are starting to appreciate the insight we get by staying with an Iranian family. As we already stated in an earlier blog entry life outside and inside the house is quite different and we discover many things that we would have left undiscovered. As part of cultural exchanges we cooked a (more or less) typical Swiss meal for the whole family. The additional time in Mashhad also allows us to recover (by going to sleep at 9PM... and not waking up at 3:30 with the people who are fasting!!), to read in the sun, to play games and to write long blog entries. We had also the opportunity to enjoy a special meal with Vali's relatives on the 20th day of Ramazan. As Silvan and Vali went to a semi-public
place were they had a quick meal with other men, Annamaria has been invited with Esmat (the mother) and Sanas (the daughter) at a cousin's house and she could experience a women party... without hijab!!
All in all, we are happy to be with good people in Iran, our moral is back where it should be and we are enjoying (for the second time) our last days in Iran! Nevertheless, we hope that the next entry will be written in Kyrgyzstan…
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