We pull up on the motorbike and park across the road, gather all our paperwork from the panniers and walk through the tall steel embassy gates, around the corner and into the tiny waiting room.
The room is about 3m long by 2m wide, with a cup-less water dispenser and three plastic chairs. On one of the chairs sit an elderly man with a long white beard and strange hat, he immediately begins talking to us in Persian, we reply in English that we dont understand him, and he reverts to sign language.
In sign language he tells us that he has a lengthy matter to deal with (arms outstretched and frown on his face) so we should go first.
The counter at the end has a semi circular hole at desk level, a bit like a bank, and also a dozen holes drilled at eye level, poorly, such that it looks like someone has fired a gun through the window.
In preparation for the lack of english, I have already typed “We are here to see if you have our approval number today” into google translate on my phone, and i pass the phone through the glass, the man reads it, opens a folder on the desk, looks at the front page and then motions us to sit down.
This is promising.
Yesterday they looked at the same folder, and through many pages before telling us to sit, maybe we’re on top?!
The man who was working the counter yesterday enters the room behind the bullet riddled glass, looks at us and starts moving things around loudly looking a bit pissed off. He told us to come back on Monday… why are we here today?
As it happens we’re in luck and the paperwork has arrived, and it’s on top of his pile. He mumbles something about a bank and writes something down on a piece of paper. We’re about to take the paper when another guy, the actual Consul pokes his head around the corner and tells the guy behind the bullet riddled glass that he needs to see us in his office.
Now we’re directed into the Consuls office, where he sits on one end of the room behind his desk, (which has a TV on it!), and he directs us to sit on the far end of the room, on some old luxurious queen anne style lounges. Another guy comes in wearing a blue suit, and sits next to us. He has our application forms and passports, but wants to chat a bit. Another guy brings us all a cup of tea and serves it like a waiter in a nice restaurrant. How bizarre.
So we answer about 2o0 stupid questions…
“what do you think of Iran” We dont know much about it but everyone says it’s lovely
“Are you athletes” no
“are you married?” yes (Iran is Muslim and they look disapprovingly on unmarried couples)
“do you like tea?” it’s ok
“how will you travel to Iran” by bus and taxi (they wont give us the visa if they think we’re travelling by bike)
“did you see the football game where Iran and Australia drew 2-2?” yes
“does your husband show you respect?” yes always “really?” yes always.
“do you play sport?” no
“did you know it’s ramadan starting in June?” no
“do you know about the clothing expectations in Iran?” yes
“where are you going in iran?” it says on our applications
“did you include your email addresses?” no the form does not ask for them
“can you define the word athlete for me” someone who plays sport professionally… why?
“Do you want to work for the government?”…. No?!
“are you familiar with Iranian food” no
it goes on and on and on. We’re a bit edgy becasue we have to lie about a few things, I try to make some jokes and divert the conversation away from us and towards Iran instead…
Sally is looking at the time and starting to get impatient, but finally the guy says
“Bon Voyage” which we think means we can go.
“But what about our visas then?”
“ah… ” he mumbles something to the guy on the other end of the room watching tv.
“you pay first at bank”
“The sdibufgisdbfvipuf bank on Rudakai opposite the old palace, near here”
“and how much should we pay?”
more mumbling in Persian, and then “150 euro each”
WTF?!!!!???? “but yesterday we were told 35 euro each”
“no, 35 euro is for Tajik people, you are Australian so it costs more”
“ok… so when will the visa be ready”
“first you pay”
“ok, if we pay today, when can we collect the visa?”
“if you pay today, and return before close at 12:30, can collect on Wednesday”
“Wednesday??? Is it possible on Monday?”
“Ok first pay and we will try to make fast”
We collect our forms and passports and run out to the bike, it’s 11:40am so we should have enough time to get this done. Except that we werent given an address, just some vague directions, and in total shock at the visa fee we forgot to clarify them.
So now were riding up and down the main street through Dushanbe, stopping and asking people if they know where svgdsfghbpifuubv bank is. Which of course no one does because we cant even pronounce sijuhdsfgkinfb bank. We ride up and down getting more and more frustrated as everyone we ask points in a different direction, the minutes pass by. Eventually we find a bank that sounds like siishfgfngofuh bank, but they are closed for lunch.
The anger levels are really setting in now, but we need to stay calm. Eventually a guy tells us this is not the right bank anyway. Fuck it, so we decide to return to the embassy to get clearer directions. We pull up at 12:00pm but the gate is locked already.
The security guard does the closed mime (forearms held up in an X), I point to my non existent watch and make an angry what-the-fuck?? mime (arms held out with palms facing up and out). He responds with the lunch time mime (cupped left hand in front of mouth, right hand pushing imaginary food into mouth), I continue my angry what-the-fuck mime, but he just shrugs his shoulders and returns to his little hut.
I swear and return to the bike. We’re really upset. They told us to get back by 12:30, then closed for lunch at 12. Assholes. Impotent rage is the worst, so we return to our sink-less apartment to calm down and see if we can find this fucking bank online.
“I dont even want to go to Iran anymore, 150euro is crazy!” says Sal
“well babe, we dont have much choice, we cant get the Russian visa for another ten days, and the boat across the caspian is almost $500 extra anyway”
I rinse cups in the bathtub and fill the kettle from the shower. We make coffee by pouring hot water over a big spoonful of ground coffee beans, and then waiting for the grinds to sink to the bottom of the cup before sipping it slowly to avoid mud-mouth. Sally reheats some leftover pasta piselli on the barely functioning cooktop, located on the enclosed balcony.
Eventually we read some blog reports that say the bank is only 100m from our apartment. Anyway, the consulate is closed until monday morning now so no need to rush anymore.
I look at Sal and say “hey that pub we passed back there looks pretty cool, ‘Public Bar'” “yeah like an actual pub, apparently it’s the place all the ex-pats hang out” We both smile and our mood lightens.
An hour later Sal heads out to get a hair cut (by a woman who looks and sounds like Red from ‘Orange is the new black… Scary) and I walk over to the bank, “skudhfgiijfbn bank” reads the sign totally obscured by trees. We passed it 4 times on the bike. You have to laugh.
Once inside I fill in a couple of deposit forms and pay the cashier in USD. $330 USD for 2 visas, the most expensive we have ever had. Now we need to wait 4 days before returning to the assholes at the embassy to ask for the visa express. Then we’ll apply for Turkmeistan and finally get the hell out of here.
But tonight, we’re going to the Public Bar.