Going back home

by: Shirin Tabibzadeh


I wrote this a few years ago for another magazine on the net. I am told things have changed, hope it is true:


The government in Iran encourages expatriates to go back. Some do and regret it. Here's what happened to my friend at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport when she went back. She explains:

The flight from the U.S. west coast took about 30 hours. The plane landed at Mehrabad around midnight. It so happened that four or five other planes had landed around the same time (I don't quite understand why the landing and departure schedule in Tehran is always set for around midnight).

I got off the plane, my heart beating fast with anticipation of visiting my country and my loved ones after five years. It was okay passing through passport inspection. But when I went to pick up my luggage, my god, I could not believe the piles of suitcases, bags and boxes spread around the baggage claim area.

On the one hand I had to struggle hard to hold my scarf, carry my purse and drag a bag. Then I had to jump over the suitcases to find and grab mine within the pile . After locating the suitcases, there was the matter of carrying them to the exit. There was no way I could do that.

Desperately, I looked around for help and/or a cart. Finally, drenched with sweat and tired and frustrated, I approached a man who seemed to be an airport worker. I asked for his help. "Well it's hard to find someone to help you, all the carts are gone too, but wait..." He yelled out loud "Taghie, Taghie, khanoom..." and pointed at me to a co-worker with his finger and signaled in sign language that here's a fool loaded with American dollars.

Taghie yelled back "Kar daram be joon-e to. Alan nimisheh." (I really have work to do, I can't right now.) The man yelled again "Seh hezar mideh" (she will pay three thousand tomans).

I thought to myself, three thousand tomans for a cart? That's almost $10. But I didn't dare say a word. So Taghie came and put my two suitcases on the cart and off we went toward customs. Taghie told me since I had been away for a long time I didn't need to pay customs tax and could wait in the "Green" inspection line. So I did.

After what seemed a life time, I got to the first inspector. To my surprise, he said (in the most unpleasant manner) "What are you doing here? Go to the Red line." "But...," I said. "I said go back to the Red line!"

I went all the way to the end of the Red line, swallowing my rage.

Finally, it was my turn in the Red line. A young man looked inside my suitcases, bringing a few things out, asking a few questions . He let me pass through without demanding any tax. I was so relieved. I thought in two minutes I'll be out and with my relatives. I started to find a way through the crowd to leave the airport, but apparently there were more hurdles. A short man ordered me to stop.

"Kooja?!" (Where do you think you're going?). I said, "I'm leaving the airport naturally. That gentleman has already inspected my luggage."

"Meedonam, vale manem dos darem bebinam chee dar-e..." (I know but I too, would like to see what you have). "Vali..." (but) I started to say. "Vale nadari" (no buts) he said. 

He opened the suitcases and brought everything out one by one while mumbling something to himself (apparently calculating the customs tax).

Finally he said "Mishi see heezar" (It will be 30,000 tomans). "What?! 30,000? for these? These are all my OWN clothes except for a few items that I've brought as soghatie (gifts)" I retorted.

The man, pointing to some writings on the airport wall said : "Oon bala niga kon, chee migeh?" (Look up there, what does it say?) "Migeh libasi saakhti khaarej; nimigeh mal-emanya mal-e to." (It says clothes made abroad are subject to tax; it does not say, my dress or yours).

"but I LIVE abroad, what can I do?" I pleaded with him. Then as if feeling sorry for me he finally said "Bashi, beestopanj heezar bedeh" (Alright you can pay 25,000) .

I was really tired and hot and exhausted. I said okay, and ran to the exit to find some awaiting relatives to borrow the money and pay the fine. Fortunately a friend was there and knew all too well what was going on. She shoved a bunch of large bills in my hands. Off I went to pay the man.

I offered the money to him. "Inja na..." (Not here), he said, "Oon paeen, be baank midi" (Go downstairs to the bank and give it to them).

So again, I found a way through the crowd, expecting to fall and faint at any moment. Got to the bank, waited in line and paid 30,000 tomans. On the way back, I suddenly remembered that in my haste to get out, I forgot that I had to pay only 25,000 tomans. The man at the bank forgot to give me 5,000 back. But at that point I didn't care. I went back to the short guy and offered him the receipt.

"Inja na... Boro toy-e oon otag bedeh be harkas oonja hast." (Not here... Go to that room and give it to whoever is there).

This time I thought I was going to kill him. In absolute rage, I rushed through the crowd, tightly holding my scraf, my purse, and my handbag, opened the door, sat on the floor and burst into tears. I could not control myself anymore .

"Then they say 'come to your country, come to your homeland!' Is this what awaits people?" I cried from the bottom of my throat. Fortunately the woman in charge was nice. She came to me, hugged me and helped me sit on a chair. She said she was sorry and tried very kindly to calm me down. I gave her the receipt and finally I was out. 

It was five in the morning now. I could only kiss and hug everyone as I was losing consciousness. We got into the car and off we went...