Friday, February 29, 2008

My welcoming committee to the US part V

Who did you stay with in Iran?”

My uncle.”

What's his name and where does he live?”

Houshang Mashouf, Sarhang Sakhai and Hafez St. Building ...”

How old is he? Has he ever been to the US?”

He's 68 I think. He's never been to the US.”

Why not?”

He can't get a visa. He tried for a few years but could only get a visa to Canada so everyone went there to visit him. I never met him until I went to Iran in 2006.”

I'm sorry to hear about that.”

I'm surprised you wouldn't know that it is very hard for Iranians to get visas to the US.”

Let me tell you something. We don't know very much. We are given something called 'cultural sensitivity training.' It's actually a packet about this big.” He took his thumb and forefinger and displayed the size of the packet, which from how wide his fingers were was probably around 20 pages.

He continued, “I know that when I handle your Koran, that I shouldn't put anything else on top of it and that if I'm sitting with my legs crossed, I shouldn't face the sole of my foot towards you.”

That's unfortunate, because if you knew a little more you may be able to understand what is normal behavior and what is suspicious... which is your job.”

So what's in the film?” He asked obviously changing the subject.

A lot of stuff. Me with my family, me break dancing with kids in Iran, some footage from the Zurkhoone, which is a traditional exercise or martial art.”

It says here you went to a military base.”

I did not remember visiting a base but was reminded when he slid me a copy of my expense records with the entry "Taxi to Zurkhune Qasr Firuze on military base- 3000 Toman." I regretted writing those two words that were intended to remind me of which Zurkune I went to.

Yes but I only went to work out. You know how military bases have gyms that guests can come work out? That's what I did.”

Where was it?”

I have no idea. It was in Tehran. We went there at night.”

You understand how this could be flipped on you?” He said.

I don't understand. Because I went to a military base?”

You went to a military base and received para military martial arts training.”

I laughed to myself at how ridiculous that sounded and then feared the actual notion of that being made into a case.

With fear in my heart and a condescending tone I said, “Are you serious?"

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My welcoming committee to the US part IV

I returned to the general holding area where I made small talk with a man from Brazil and another man from Iran. When talking with the Iranian man we both silently acknowledged the routine matter of our situation as Iranians returning to the US even though mine was a bit exceptional. After another half an hour of waiting, Officer T returned with all of my other belongings and a binder filled with xeroxed copies of my documents.

We moved into a small disorganized office with two desks with computers and a few chairs. I sat across from his desk.

Now we have a lot of questions,” he said. “But before we get started do you have any questions?”

No,” I said in my best poker face.

Most people ask us why they are here.”

I guess that's a good question,” I replied.

Our other departments view travel histories, backgrounds, occupations and then tell us who we should be talking to. What we do is interview and do an initial evaluation. So let's get started. First of all what were you doing in Iran?”

I was there to visit family and work on my documentary film.”

You said you were staying in Tehran. Did you go anywhere else?”

I went to Qom which is about an hour away,” I said preparing for the onslaught of new questions.

What did you do there?” He said this while starting a new page in his notebook made for my file.

I was there to visit a religious shrine and do some shopping. I can tell you what I bought there but you already saw all of it.”

You didn't visit any training camps while you were there?”

No, nor did I see any 'training camps.' I didn't go to Pakistan.”

He looked at me and saw that I was visibly offended of the notion of going to the kinds of terrorist training camps shown on television at any mention of Al Qaeda.

Are you working with the Iranian government in any capacity? Did you meet anyone in high levels of the Iranian government?”


Who is Alexander Kluge?”


Alexander Kluge. We found his name in your things.”

Where in my things?”

In your notebook. Who is he?” He said this while showing me the copy of the pages in my notebook.

You see, I'm a filmmaker and I use that notebook to write down ideas. So anything you see in there might not make any sense to you. Alexander Kluge is the name of a filmmaker that one of my professors recommended.”

Ok. But now you see how this is going to work.”

This is going to take forever,” I whined.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My welcoming committee to the US part III

My luggage was all taken out and searched by Officer T who was now wearing latex gloves while sorting through my belongings. After sorting my things into three main piles, Officer T instructed me to pack up my belongings in the pile containing clothing. The other two piles consisted of CDs, DVDs, my laptop, cell phone, Ipod, and digital still camera. The other pile consisted of my magazines, papers, notebooks, and film documents. Officer T collected both piles with difficulty and carried them to another area in which I never saw.

I was made to wait in a general holding area where others were being singled out from the customs line. I sat there for about two hours while Officer T, backed up data and made photo copies.

About 45 minutes into my waiting I asked another Homeland Security agent whether I could use a bathroom or not. A blank face fell on this agent.
“Let me check,” he said. I wondered how many people were denied this request and hope I wasn't one of them. A few minutes of waiting inspired me to display to this man that I had a plastic water bottle and I was ready to use it. I got his attention and shook the bottle over my head.

“Any word yet on the potty break?” I said sounding like Ward Cleaver.

After checking with my holding officer who was in an undisclosed location at the time the other agent instructed me to use the bathroom within the customs area. I was given a foot long red plastic square with the words “BATHROOM PASS” on it to take with me to the lavatory.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My welcoming committee to the US part II

I was instructed to collect my luggage from the carousel and bring it to a table and to include all of my carry on and items on my person. This area was in plain view of the baggage carousels and a general holding area for those being singled out by customs. I asked Officer T if there was anyway I could make my connecting flight to Tucson in an hour and he said that I wouldn't be making my plane.

Can I make a phone call to my folks to tell them I won't be making my flight.”

We'll see,” he said.

The two officers began removing the contents of my bags and separating clothing from papers and any electronic and optical media.

The other officer asked me a question as he opened the camera case. “What religion are you?”

I'm a Muslim,” I said.

Did you go to any religious schools when you were there?”

I sarcastically replied “Of course.”

Oh boy,” he sighed. After this comment the officer was called away by another officer and I never saw him again.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My welcoming committee to the US

As some of you already know, my arrival from Iran to the US was quite an encounter. Now that I feel safer about telling the story I will release it to you.

On 1/13/08 I was exiting Air France 0388 from Paris to Atlanta at 3:45pm. Upon exiting the aircraft into the jet way I noticed that there were two homeland security officers in uniform checking passports. I found this odd considering my last international flight had no such passport check before the customs line. One of the officers, who I will call Officer T, was a tall white man with a military haircut. The other, who I will call Officer C, was a man who resembled Tone Loc with a police uniform on. After looking at my passport Officer T looked over to the other officer and told me to follow them into an elevator which went directly to the customs baggage claim area. Both officers stopped checking passports and accompanied me in the elevator. During this time my passport stayed in their hands. The other officer inquired as to what the contents of my metal case carry on was.

“A camera. I'm a film student.”

He followed that response with “Oh yea? Have you ever seen that movie The Kingdom” in a semi threatening tone.

I replied, “No.”

To be continued...

Monday, February 04, 2008

this news is good news

From what I hear I will be getting a call from the feds this week about my film.  I wonder if they took notes I can use for editing.  (sarcastic LOL)