K. and I have been traveling back and forth to the Iranian embassy in The Hague. The embassy is in a semi-residential, semi-governmental neighborhood near the sea. It’s in an ugly white, cement building. After the Islamic takeover of Iran’s revolution, Iranian exiles came to the embassy to protest the crackdown on political dissidents. Now the neighborhood feels quiet and peaceful.
The embassy itself is often filled with Iranian emigrants legalizing their status and their children’s status so that they can travel back to Iran to see families they have left behind. The television plays fuzzy satellite images from Iran. There is the obligatory ticker tape running across the bottom of the page, floating images of Khomeini and Khameini, a couple of mosques and burial vaults shown.
The waiting area is small and crowded and filled with women uncomfortable in their headscarves, children bored with waiting, and men filled with nervous energy.
We are quickly taken care of. What amazes me most, is that the man taking care of our request really wants to help us. This is the first time I have encountered a bureaucrat who wants to solve my problem rather than making new problems for me. Hmmm…
This is the same man Katayoon called when she needed a new passport in a hurry. She spoke to him almost every day and cajoled him into getting her her passport on time. This was also the same man who made sure that K. received his passport in time to go see his mother in Iran.
On the final day of our 3-days of voyaging to the embassy, we were admitted to a small and stuffy room where the final paperwork was done to get me papers to travel in Iran. When we were left alone in the room, I asked K what would happen to people like T if the regime fell? “Don’t be stupid,” K. said. Sometimes I forget that there are subjects that are better off discussed elsewhere.
Mr. T returned to the room with more papers for us to sign. K said to him, "Considering the situation now with America now and their talk of regime change, I don't want their to be any problems for T in Iran because it would not just be family problem, it would be a political problem too since she is an American. "
"We want to make sure that does not happen," Mr. T responded. "We love Americans."
I looked from him to K and saw many familiar features: heavy eyebrows, large eyes with long black lashes, small rounded noses, and heart-shaped mouths. “He looks like your brother,” I said to K. later. “He does,” K answers. “He is from our city. He knows my family.”
K and Mr. T talk. I hear the words, “Bush” and “cowboy.” Mr. T turns to me and says in Farsi, “I hope that our two countries will have good relations.” “I do too,” I answer. “Inshallah,” says Mr. T.
When we leave, K says that he was surprised that Mr. T said that.
We left. K and I went into the shopping area and ate herring from a roadside stand. This was the first time I ate herring the traditional way. (I have eaten lots and lots of herring, mind you. I love it.) It was served whole. I lifted it by the tail and dropped it into my mouth. I could taste the sea. It was a bit like eating really good sea urchin.
“I will never make fun of Dutch food again,” I told K. “The key is to get the cheap food: the herring, the bitterballen and kroquettes, and the tomato soup. Those are all fantastically delicious.”
I tell the herring vendors that this is the best herring I have ever had. “Of course,” the fishmonger says. “You see me deboning it, if you don’t see someone doing this don’t eat it. It means they bought their herring from someone else and it’s just been sitting. Plus don’t eat at recreation parks or festivals. You have to see your herring and know it is fresh.”
Later we return for a second herring. “Where are you from,” the woman asks us?
“America,” I answer.
“And I am from Iran,” K says.
“We need mediation.”
“Netherlanders are good at that,” the fishmonger laughs.