Also sprach Zarathustra. Nietzsche. Kant. I had just shown the border guard my German passport and out came the great names of German philosophy. It was a strange welcome to a remote border crossing between Iran and Turkmenistan. Everyone that I had talked to described the crossing as a nightmare, one person even told of being detained for 16 hours while the guards demanded bribes. The Turkmen government can only sporadically afford to pay the guards and police their meager wages, so policemen demand constant bribes, sometimes literally even to cross the street.
I walked into the customs office, and the first man inside took one look at my passport and said, “Visa problem” shaking his head. I told him that I was sure there was no problem, the Embassy in Tehran had issued it such. “Visa problem” he repeated. I pointed to the dates, the letters of invitation. After about five minutes of this back and forth, he waved me forward.
The next guard smiled at me. “After, you come to my house and we drink schnapps.” I was becoming less and less intimidated by the moment. He asked me to open up my backpack and we went through all of my stuff. As another border guard tried on my sunglasses, it felt as if they did this more out of curiousity than anything else.
I repacked all of my stuff and was brought into a small, dark, dank room and yet another guard shut the door. “$20 Transit.” I repeated the story once more, pointing to the visa, the dates. “Everyone transit! Alexander transit! Jason transit! Nicola transit!” I just smiled and shook my head. “OK, $10,” he then said, and I knew the battle had been one, and just repeated the same smiling shake of my head. “$5?” He now looked almost pleading. I pointed at the visa and said “$50!” He shrugged, stamped the passport, opened the door and beckoned me through the gates to the taxis waiting outside.