“There’s a problem. Visa.” – the officer at the counter said.
He explained to me that while issuing the visa the consul forgot to put a stamp with his name and surname on it. Just great. I waited for a half an hour. Then I waited for an hour. So much about me being first to cross the border and sit on a bus for Quetta. While waiting, I met two Caucasians with whom I exchanged stories and whom I saw easily getting a stamp which enables them to cross the border into Pakistan. And I was still waiting.
“You have to go back to Iran”- the officer said.
“What?” the Caucasian at the other side of the counter incredulously asked.
To make a short story longer – I had to go back to Zehedan, got to the Pakistani embassy, and they would have to contact the embassy in Bosnia, where I got my visa. Then they would have to send an official letter as a confirmation that my visa is valid so I could cross the border. In other words – I had to go back to Zahedan, wait for two days that the embassy opened (it was closed on Thursday and Friday, and it was Thursday that I found myself on the border), and then wait for another two days, since the embassy in Bosnia didn’t work on Saturday and Sunday, and finally get back here. The fact that I didn’t have anything to do for the next four days wasn’t their concern.
I got back to Iran where they give me another stamp on my visa and kept me waiting. In the meantime, I got Tanja to find out the consul’s number and ask him what I should do. Shortly after I received feedback information that I should phone the consul from the Pakistani border and that he would take care of everything.
All I had to do was explain to Iranian officers that I would like to go back to their Pakistani colleagues and call my consul. Simple as that. Or not so much. Nobody speaks English, and every ten minutes they sent me from one place to another with my passport being the most wanted thing around. Everybody was staring in it not knowing what to do with it, or with me. Finally they told me I had to go back to Zahedan.
They didn’t care where I was going to spend the following few days in, according to some, the most dangerous city in Iran. Instantly I decided to use my pul nadaram tactic. I was broke so I didn’t have enough money to pay for a taxi that would take me to Zahedan or to pay for a room in a hostel where I would spend a couple of nights. I sat on the street, took my guitar and I started a hunger strike until they let me go back to the Pakistani side. Officers would approach me, I would answer pul nadaram (I don’t have money) and continue with my playing. I was so desperate that I even wrote my first poem – I don’t like borders.
Having waited for a few hours and having explained that all I wanted to do was to cross over to Pakistani side and make a phone call, they took me and my backpack, and put us in a car that would take me to Zahedan. At least I thought so. At the end it turned out that I spent three hours being taken from one military control point to another. The drivers kept on changing and I kept on explaining my situation, and with a smile on my face, I kept on playing the guitar and trying to persuade them to take me back to the border, but I failed.
I felt like crying.
Finally, they took me to the police station in Zahedan where, once again, all I did was wait. They made a few phone calls. Two new policemen. A new car. A new drive. A guy smoking pot in a park. The guy spotted by the police. The guy who was then sitting next to me, in the back seat of the police car. The guy crying to let him go. The policemen ignored him. A new police station. The one on the bus station.
“You. Go. Bus. Teheran.” – said one of the policemen.
Out of pure desperation I got so numb that I didn’t take it as a surprise that they wanted to get me on a bus and send me to a 1600 km remote city.
Then I came up with a possible solution to this awful situation – I had the number of Hamid, a CSer from Zahedan to whom I had written a couple of days before from Yazd. I called him explaining the situation. He told me that there wasn’t any problem and that he would come to pick me up at the police station where I was about to be taken. I passed the policemen on the phone and they got it all arranged. The nightmare was finally coming to an end.
We got back in the car and after a ride through the city we came to the, I guess, the only station where I hadn’t been. My escort left, so I had to explain to the curious policemen that my friend will pick me up soon.
While waiting for Hamid I sat in the corner of the hall. The soldiers were approaching me, the youngest among them asked me to play something for them, but they quickly walked away when they saw the expression of my face. Three handcuffed guys sat next to me. What a wonderful feeling.
Finally, Hamid arrived. I felt so lousy that I barely succeeded to shake hands with him, with no smile on my face. He said that he understood, and advised me to relax because a situation like this one was perfectly normal there. He took charge of all the paperwork related to my being free. It took a half an hour of writing and signing all kinds of statements, leaving our passports and cell numbers and convincing that he would bring me back to the station the following day.
We were finally outside! While my savior was driving me through the dark streets of Zahedan, I told him what I had been through that day and thanked him with all my heart for having picked me up. He kept on smiling and telling me that there was nothing to be thanked for. He took me to his dental lab where he made dentures and where he also hosted other people every now and then, away from his wife and child who were at his place. At this moment only his friend was there, watching TV.
Just when I started thinking how this would be a perfect horror movie scene: a desperate stranger, a kind host and his friend, a dental lab, and an ominous and dark city – Hamid asked me:
“Do you want to try some opium?”
That night I had the best sleep since I’ve started my journey.
Not because of the opium, which I’d naturally refused, since we all know that drugs are bad for your brain and can turn you into a serial killer. Anyway, what would my mum say if I told her that I smoked opium with a bunch of strangers in the most dangerous town in Iran? I mean, really.
As we had agreed, Hamid gave me a lift to the police station from where the guys in blue, or better yet guys in green (they were had their military uniforms) would take me to the border so I could try to cross over and contact the consul in Sarajevo, before the weekend. I thanked him for everything he had done for me, and he only smiled saying me to give him a call if I needed help. I hoped that wouldn’t be necessary, but, either way, I didn’t have any credit left on my Iranian cell.
I was sitting at the station, and, as before, soldiers and policemen approached me. When I told them that I was waiting for my ride they just nodded. After almost 42 minutes, a guy with a moustache entered and told me: “Border closed, holiday.”
What did he mean by holiday? As it turned out, the border was closed on Friday because it was a non-working day. Oh, come on, guys. Are you trying to tell me that no one knew this the day before when they promised to give me a lift to the border and that morning while I was waiting for a ride?
OK, take a deep breath.
After a half an hour, that felt as eternity, Hamid came and AGAIN made a few steps around the station, AGAIN gave and signed few statements, AGAIN left his passport, and AGAIN got me in his car and drove to Zahedan, a town I hadn’t even planned to visit.
I sent a text message to my mother saying that I’d happily arrived to Quetta, the first town in Pakistan, took a bus and that I would be give them a call the following day. If my parents knew I’d got stuck on the Pakistani border they would immediately go to Sarajevo and have a few words with the consul.
At the end, I phoned the consul, told him the whole story, and begged him to send an official notice via e-mail with which I could go the border, or to the Pakistani embassy, but he assured me that it wasn’t necessary to do so. At least I managed to convince him to give his private number so I could call him in the case of necessity, although the time difference is such that, most probably, I would wake him up at about 5 a.m. I don’t care.
When Hamid came back from lunch and heard my story, he mentioned an interesting detail – the Pakistani ambassador in Zahedan was his neighbor, so he would ask him for a piece of advice, if he happened to run into him. It was exactly what I needed – a connection! After all, I’m half Herzegovinian and that’s how we roll, even in the far-away Iran.
The third day in Zahedan and the second morning spent at the police station. Hamid contacted the consul who was expecting me. All I needed was to wait to the policemen to give me a ride to the embassy where my passport and other things were. There was a miracle – within a half an hour I was at the consul’s office. He was smiling and, after having to deal with the incompetent police/army officers for the last couple of days, he represented a comforting image. He explained to me that all it took was an official notice from Sarajevo confirming that the visa had been issued and after that there wouldn’t be any problems with crossing the border. I gave him the consul’s private number. He phoned him, and told him the same thing I’d told him the day before, and since it was a non-working day, he made him go to the office and send an official notice, no matter that it was Saturday or that it was 7 am in the far-away Bosnia.
The consul is a funny guy; he offered me with food and drinks and told me wonderful stories about his country. He’s a cool guy. Still, there was a bad news – the border was to be closed at 2 pm. It was nearly noon, and we were still waiting for the notice from Sarajevo. Also, it took us an hour to get to the border. Was I going to make it?
The notice came, and we made a few copies, just in case. I said goodbye to the consul, got out of the embassy to catch a taxi that would take me to the border as soon as possible.
The Iranian army was the one to make sure that the things didn’t go as smooth as I wanted. When I left the area of the Pakistani embassy they took my passport and told me that I had to wait for the police that would accompany me to the border. The police were shortly there, but they only took me to the first control point where they left me with a boy who was keeping a watch there, with a Kalashnikov on his shoulder.
I tried to explain to the kid that I was in a hurry because I had to get a cab that would take me to the border, but he didn’t get it. He kept saying – escort, escort. I got desperate and started panicking – I realized that unless someone picked me up quickly, I would be late for the border crossing. I took my passport out of kid’s hands and decided to get a cab all by myself. The kid followed me babbling something in Iranian. His commander came, took my passport and they told me to calm down because the escort would be soon there. They also added that the border didn’t close at 2 pm, at least not for the tourists.
I realized that all my efforts were in vain, so I sat by the road with the hands on my head. After thirty minutes or so, they appointed some young guy, who wasn’t carrying any guns, as my escort, and with a smile on his face he asked me where I was from. We pulled over a cab, I placed my bags in the back of the car, and felling pretty down I got inside. The driver asked for the money. Pul nadaram. The driver started yelling. With my head bowed, I got out and took my rucksack and my guitar out of the trunk. As they said I needed an escort, they should pay for the ride. I like being stubborn, especially in the situations like that one. Eventually, the driver told us to get in and we headed for the border.
2 pm. I sincerely hoped that the consul made a mistake and that the border would be open for at least a couple of hours so that the nightmare could be over. Once again I got disappointed when the cab-driver threw us out of the car at another check-point, where I spent a few hours a couple of days before waiting for my ride to Zahedan. My passport, once again, got passed from one hand to another; they begged me to play something for them and added that I had to wait for a new escort.
Take a deep breath.
I got another young, unarmed guy as an escort and another car. At 3 pm we got close to the border. Very amusing to a group of soldiers – they saw I was depressed – so they started provoking me, laughing at my face and they confirmed what I feared the most – the border was closed. Go hotel, wait tomorrow.
I can’t remember the last time I felt so humiliated, miserable, helpless. The liquid in my left eye searched its way to the Iranian desert sand, but by looking at the sky, I prevented the tear from falling to the ground. I wanted to get away from them all, I wanted to get to the border, I wanted to get to Pakistan illegally, whatever it took to get there. With my last forces I managed to persuade one soldier to allow me to go to the border. I told him that it was open and that they were only waiting for me. I was so desperate that he believed me, stopped a Pakistani truck and we went to the closed border.
I just stood in front of the border. It took us three and a half hours to get there from Zahedan, and that ride normally lasted less than an hour. It was the third day I couldn’t cross over to the other side. I yelled as hard as I could: “Hellooooooooo!”, hoping that someone would get out of the border office, recognize me and take me over to the other side. I got nothing.
We got back to the check-point and the mean soldiers; I sat down and waited, even though I had no idea what I was waiting for. A small car approached and you could hear British reggae from the inside. There was a man inside who had apparently got late as well as I had, but he didn’t look half as desperate as me. He was a Pakistani who lived in London and he decided to pay his family a visit, by land. That’s what I call a crazy man.
I told him my sad story, and he didn’t show much compassion about it. Instead he offered me with some snacks and drinks, which was more than the Iranian police had offered me for the last three days. We became a duo, me and him. Slowly, it was getting dark so they took us to the hotel where we had to spend the night, as they explained to us. Here we go again – pul nadaram. The staff of the hotel, where we were the only guests, looked at us in wonder and tried to get some money out of me. I had, in fact, enough money to pay for the room, but I had my principles. Plus, I am a typical, stubborn Aries. The Brit/Paki man gave me his leftovers which I ate with an utter pleasure. At the end the staff showed some mercy and allowed me to sleep in an arbor in front of the hotel, on my mattress and in my sleeping bag. It was the loneliest night ever.
The following day it took me two hours to get to the border while I changed three police escorts – the same procedure as always. I approached the same counter I had three long days before. Nervous, sad and completely empty on the inside I handed over my passport without saying a single word. They spent a couple of minutes in observing it – they didn’t get why I had two ingoing, and only one outgoing stamp. Luckily, a couple of minutes later a guy walked in and explained to them my situation.
Welcome to Pakistan!