Iran Up Close: My Iran Travel Diary, Part 1

A tea vendor in the Tabriz bazaar


My Persian Street Food pop-up started this week! It was a blast to feed people some of the wonderful dishes I tasted in Iran. All the info about the pop-up is here. Now that the pop-up is up and running, look for my Iran travelogue over the next few months, running concurrently with the dinners at Porsena. Read about the food, and come taste it at Porsena. The photo above is of a tea vendor in the Tabriz bazaar. Oh we sure do love our tea in Iran!

So, I want to tell you the story of my arrival in Iran. I was inspired to write about it by my friend Shaida Ehlert, who posted this detailed and funny account of receiving her Iranian passport at the daftar office in DC. For the many people who have read my post about acquiring my Iranian passport, and asked me questions about the process, please visit Shaida’s website. Her post is a wonderful resource for all of us trying to get to the motherland. Congrats Shaida on getting your passport! And now, my story…

With the family, just after landing in Tehran. You can just see my little red Rimowa suitcase in the foreground.
With my family at the Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran


So, there I am on the Emirates plane, and we’re getting ready to land at Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran. It’s about 3:30 am, and I left home in Brooklyn nearly 24 hours ago. I haven’t really slept, despite the incredibly comfortable amenities on Emirates (I really wouldn’t have minded if the flight were longer, I have no issues with delicious vegetarian food and unlimited free movies). I’m much too excited for sleep.

As we get closer, me and the rest of the women suit up. We cover our hair with headscarves, and don the manteau or roopoosh, a knee-length jacket worn over pants with sleeves that reach the wrists. This modest covering comes in a range of colors and styles. I found the perfect manteau at Century 21, designed by Tommy Hilfiger no less, and I bought identical versions in navy and khaki. I actually got a lot of compliments on them from Iranian women.

For the occasion of going through customs, I err on the side of caution and put on my navy manteau, a black headscarf, and loose black pants. As I would learn, like other American women who visit Iran, I have grossly overcompensated in the modesty department and look like a total square (read more about this phenomenon in my friend Marjan Kamali’s hilarious essay in the Wall Street Journal, “In Iran: Among the Beauty-Obsessed Women”). While the women around me throw chic and colorful designer scarves over their heads at an impossible angle that show as much hair as possible, some no more than a gauzy handkerchief perched on top of a high bun, I look more like a nun in street clothes. No make-up, hair tightly tucked away, black flats, a serious expression on my face.

Am I nervous? Yes! You never know what can happen at customs. Not speaking the language and being on my own doesn’t help. But mostly I’m jumping out of my skin with impatience. I’ve waited twenty years to get here and I know I’m going to love it. The word finally keeps going through my mind. I nudge the plane forward in my head, willing it to land faster.

After disembarking we fall into two lines: Iranian citizens and foreigners. I go in the citizens line, holding both passports just in case I need to show the American one. Finally it is my turn. The customs officer gestures toward me impatiently and I dutifully hand him my Iranian passport. For several suspenseful minutes, he looks through the pages with a furrowed brow. It must be confusing to see an Iranian citizen, albeit an unfashionable one, who just came from abroad with no stamps in her passport. He looks up at me with a puzzled frown. He clearly doesn’t know I am American.

“Pedar Irooni,” I say in my incredibly limited Farsi, and smile. My father is Iranian.

I don’t even realize I know these words until I need them. I hold up my American passport. A light breaks across his face showing that he understands. He flips to the correct page of my passport and stamps it with a decisive thunk. He hands it back to me, and with a big, friendly smile, says in English,

“Welcome to Iran.”

In a state of enchantment, I walk to the baggage carousel to collect my suitcase, and then to meet the family members smiling and waving at me through the plastic barrier. They’ve come to pick me up and take me home.

5 thoughts on “Iran Up Close: My Iran Travel Diary, Part 1

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