Inside Iran #1: An Encounter of the “Moral” Kind

October 29, 2015. Isfahan.

It finally happened. 

You may have bravely tackled the Tehran Metro’s women’s compartment at peak hours, squashed like sardines in a can in a sea of black and brown. You may have desperately flagged down a share taxi, conveyed your destination in Persian, actually reached your desired destination and even paid the correct fare (what with the gazillion zeroes and the rial-toman hacks).

But you haven’t been truly initiated into the system until…


I was walking through the crowds with purpose near the Seeyo-se Pol (bridge with 33 arches) in Isfahan.

That’s when I spotted her, a figure in black, on the pavement through the corner of my eye. The reason she caught my attention? She stood alert, facing the crowd.

Could it be?

(in my head) “Holy… it’s the moral… ”


I hadn’t realized that I’d instinctively turned towards her as I walked by.

She nodded at me, smiled and lifted her hand, palm facing downward, and gestured that I tuck in my hair in the front into my scarf.

My heart skipped a beat. I’d only recently watched Rick Steeve’s adventures in Iran (shot in 2011, a more sensitive time) where he specifically mentioned that foreign tourists were ignored. Ignored! (On further thought, perhaps you do need to be a woman in any situation to decide what a woman may or may not go through.)

Snapping back to reality.

My reaction you ask? I can say this much. I may or may not have scowled at the lady by the end of the episode.

Okay, I may have scowled without realizing after I adjusted my scarf which meant that the very next second I was walking away as fast as my legs could take me fervently hoping that a pack of cackling, chador-clad women wouldn’t follow behind.



In my short time here, it’s become quite clear to me that I can pass off as being Iranian. Specifically, as a “pretty young lady from the southern provinces” as one chap flatteringly put it.


It’s true!

I’ve been asked directions (and a gazillion other things that I’ve no clue about) by the local women. I seem to play the part convincingly until I actually speak to someone in English (because the problem is too complicated to explain in Persian) or not comprehend what they rattled off to me in heavy duty Persian.

(I promise you my two cents shortly on the pros & cons of not looking “foreign” enough aka “white”)

The chador-clad moral police lady saw her chance and seized it to convey her message… politely.

I stress politely because later that night I befriended a female Swiss tourist who mentioned that the very same lady gave two young Iranian ladies a good dressing down (or up?) the same evening. The tourist, like me, received her message with a smile.

So, believe it or not, I am now actually more relieved that I was taken for a tourist more than anything else in the world.


Game on, Iran.

Inside Iran: Pre-departure & Arrival Musings

Location: Iranian Consulate. Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. 

Pro tip: Dress to Impress. (aka get with the hijab program)

Conversation 1

Me (in my head): You have 24 hours. Hand me that visa!

Consulate officer (a young lady): I cannot guarantee next day collection…

She reads the list of countries I’ve visited. This includes USA, UK and UAE. It should have sent a gazillion alarm bells ringing….

A huge smile spreads across her face.

Is this your first visit to Iran?

Bale! I’m finally going! (in my ‘very excited’ voice hoping to floor her) Yek darkhwast een ast ke…. I have to return to Singapore tomorrow so please see if you can help. Lotfan!

15 nerve-wracking minutes later.

Come tomorrow to collect.. after 10am.

Khaili mamnunam khanum! 

Conversation 2

Lady sitting next to me begins to rant in Persian about her token number and the impossible number of people before her turnIn response, I shake my head.. gesture at the screen displaying the various counters and the token numbers being attended to… point to my ticket… and state the number of people before me in Persian.

After 5 minutes, she turns to me and continues to pile her grief on me at top speed… sigh.

I concede defeat, interject and declare my ignorance.

“Oh, you look Persian! So sorry. I kept talking to you thinking you were!”

“Wow. First time anyone’s told me that! (read as “You’ve made my day!”) I did understand the gist of what you said… And I did gesture and give monosyllabic replies… so umm… it’s not your fault!”


October 25, 1 am. Kochi International Airport (CIAL), India. 


Why are you going to Iran? What is the ‘visit’ for? Who are you visiting? Who are these ‘friends’?

Molayyy….. what work do you do? (Grrr… the next time I hear ‘molay’)


October 26, 07.30 am. My first glimpse of Iran. Arid, dry, rugged mountains.

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October 26, 9 am. Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA), Tehran.

Flirty immigration officer. Giggling away to himself. 

Zero questions.




True story: My first 15 minutes in Iran and chances are I appeared in the national sports news bulletin.

No clue which games these young athletes were returning from… but it was lovely to see them being celebrated in one space – well, specifically, at the baggage claim area. As it turned out, there was no other way to exit but to walk right through them and in all the camera frames as they were being interviewed.

Whoop de doo.

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