Photo: looking up into the dome of the Blue Mosque, Tabriz, Iran.


At the moment of truth in the passport line at the Tabriz International Airport, I was pulled out of line and gestured at to wait. For what, I didn’t know. The officer—who, in my jetlagged state, thirty-six hours without sleep and counting, looked exactly like Bill Murray—led me to a tiny office open to the hangar vaults above. My guide Mohamad had joined us by that point, and through him, the officer explained that he had to take my fingerprints, and apologized, but this was what the U. S. did to Iranian citizens. I told Mohamad to tell him I understood and it was completely fine. But the machine wouldn’t work. I put my thumb on the glass pad, and underneath it a green light flashed over and over, like a hypnosis device, but Bill Murray kept shaking his head and clicking his mouse and muttering.

I was told to sit down. Another officer in a golden-mushroom-colored uniform arrived and stood behind Bill Murray and rested his arm on the back of his chair. They gazed at the screen and clicked the mouse and muttered to each other. Then another officer arrived. Then my other guide Babak arrived and joined me and Mohamad on the other side of the desk. Then another officer arrived. Then another. There were now a total of five officers in golden-mushroom-colored uniforms staring at the screen and muttering to each other. Then another officer arrived, but he only stood at the door, sighing and looking in. Apparently this office was the hottest place to be at 4:15am.

One of the officers turned on an overhead light that gave a bright, ghoulish green light. Babak joked that The Interrogation was about to start. I joked that a disco ball was due to drop any second. In my dream state, I was babbling, hoping my small talk made sense, hoping I was adhering to decorum, hoping my personal filters were all in place, that I wouldn’t revert to Durham norms and destroy the delicate balance at hand, that I wouldn’t suddenly take it upon myself to pontificate to all present the concept of polyamory or blurt out that I was expecting my period any second now, really.

Instead I leaned over to Babak and Mohamad and said, like someone very drunk at a party and trying to appear not to be, “I am by default horribly transparent. Please do feel free tell me what is and is not appropriate at any given time.”

They nodded solemnly.


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9 Comments on “Fingerprinting.”

  1. Jackie says:

    Sounds tense. Hope it all ended with you peaceably leaving office. 🙂

    • Monica says:

      Very peaceably! They could never get it to work, so they just let me go. They were very nice about everything, though. Haha.

  2. jamjarhead says:

    I have been in this spot but unfortunately did not have Babak and Mohamad with me, just my smart ass self. Obviously they eventually released me. I never knew why. Perhaps my endearing sense of humor and my hat?

  3. Paul says:


  4. Greg B. says:

    This is great insight Monica. I experienced a similar thing in Tehran (I’m also a very transparent person worried about destroying the balance in that moment), though I had no idea what was going on because Babak had not joined me yet. Though the officers did offer me tea for which I was grateful though suspicious of the juxtaposition of the tea hospitality and the utter lack of transparency on their part of what the hell was going on.

    You’re going to have an incredible time! I hope you get to meet some amazing people along the way, it’s a beautiful country!

    • HI Greg! Babak was just telling me yesterday how the two of you met…and I said, THAT chance meeting is why I am here now. I love the chain of random chances, serendipity and kismet… ❤

  5. That’s been unfortunate! But hilarious; at least the way you tell it! 😀
    The soldiers – by their Iranian nature – are not at ease with this seemingly tough treatment. And of a lady! and the machine didn’t work! They must ‘ve been consumed in self-consciousness and shame; poor lambs!
    Actually it does remind me of the scene in “Silence of the Lambs” where Clara is surrounded by those sturdy officers who look obviously self-conscious. Only that the officers in your case where the lambs! Poor tongue-tied lambs.

  6. atdt1991 says:

    That’s pretty much how I feel when I’m visiting my wife’s parents and she hasn’t arrived yet.

    I wish I were joking.

    Glad you made it through, decorum intact.

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