In Yazd the Hijabs go down to the eyebrows. While it is not Mashhad, not Qom, this major desert city wedged between the Kavir desert and the Lut desert surely carried and air of austerity, despite being a traveler hotspot in Iran.
Add in the flavor of two important and mournful religious days, the anniversaries of the death of Imam Reza and of the prophet Mohammed himself, the atmosphere definitely didn’t gain from it. In different discussions about street music in Iran many people were not to surprised about the good times we had in Ahwaz, Tehran or Shiraz – but rarely they failed to mention that for example in Yazd it would not be like that. Well, less for the need of money but rather to complete our picture we decided to give it a try. Staying in a hostel right in Yazd’s beautifully old town, we inquired carefully which days are no holidays. On a gloomy Saturday evening we headed down to one of the major boulevards close to Beheshti square and Maria fiddled about four songs until a rather cheerful crowd had gathered, we got invited to a nearby music shop and had to give a bunch of interviews. So far so good, apart from the meager earnings it was not much different than in most cities.
The surprise came as we returned to the hostel. The receptionist greeted us, smiled apologetically and asked us to hand him our passports. The police was here and ordered him to do so. They would come back later to pick the passports up. How was that possible? Maria stopped playing at least an hour ago and the police already was at the hostel? How did they even know where we stayed? We handed our passport to the man and plead him to tell us as soon as the police arrives, as we would like an explanation and the chance to explain ourselves at the same time.
Back in the dorm, we waited pretty dispirited. While we were very sure nothing really bad could result out of the situation, we thought back in time and tried to remember any missteps we might have done in the last weeks.
Was it our journey east to Zahedan that raised questions? I remembered the double interview I had to give a road police man in the middle of a cold night on the way from Bam to Yazd, explaining twice where we just came from and I had to name all the cities we have been so far in Iran.
Was it rather the stupid situation we had in Bam? Out in the bazaar we carelessly didn’t have our passports with us and stumbled into a police check. We had to wait 15 minutes until two guys in civil clothes interviewed us and announced they would come to our guesthouse one hour later to check our documents. They never came.
Or was it just the popularity we gained in Iran over the course of the last weeks, Maria becoming a small online star with her street music?
We were anxious to find out. As a measure of caution we deleted certain pictures from our camera, that showed Iranian friends with us to absolutely avoid causing problems for any of those people we met. Furthermore we called our two friends Anna and Paul in Shiraz and explained the situation, as a preparation for a highly improbable worst case scenario of us being detained. If there are no news in the next two days, they should call the German embassy.
One thing we were very glad about is the decision to take a hostel instead of requesting a couch in Yazd. We heard rumors of the police taking action against Couchsurfers in Yazd before and were surprised and the very little number or experienced surfers in the city. Now in this situation we would have been much more worried for our host than for ourselves!
After about two hours I went out to a small shop, as the receptionist confessed that the police has already been there and took our passport, without any willingness to talk to us. How childish, we thought! To be suspected by the authorities but not even confronted! Our mood worsened as we learned that we had to stay in Yazd for two more days. As the next day was a holiday and it was too late today, we could only visit the immigration police at the morning of the 22nd of December.
Great – if this was to be real trouble we could end up missing our Christmas appointment with Anna and Paul at the gulf! After a whole day of uneventful waiting in a sealed and deserted city during that holiday, the morning of our “interview” finally came. We gambled for the best, packed all our things and took the backpacks to the police station, to give us a chance to immediately head south if all went well.
From other stories of people getting in trouble we heard to not show off with your Farsi skills, as any questioning in Farsi would surely end up as a disadvantage. After making our way through the hordes of Afghan immigrants we greeted an officer with a modest “salam, haste na boshi” and introduced ourselves in English. Our names were already familiar. The guy became quickly rather cheerful though and whispered a “moshgel nist!” (no problem!) in my ear before sending us to the head officer’s office. Being pretty friendly and firm in English, we got asked by the head officer what we are doing in Iran, how we like it and more of the usual questions. As he realized we even reacted on Farsi and in Farsi, he was quite impressed and seemingly found a liking in us. We still stayed one full hour in the office, told about the concept of street music, how this can not be considered “work” and should not collide with a tourist visa, how we always inquired about eventual religious days before playing and what we precisely did in Yazd music wise.
It turned out that the street performance was not the major issue. Somebody spread a rumor, that we actually had some kind of party in the hostel in our first night there. In reality, we joined a bunch of Tehranis singing Persian songs and Maria added two titles with her violin – that’s it! We assured that no dancing or else was involved.
We were believed and assured that it all was no major problem, they just have to do their duty (…why so much trouble then??). Afterwards we were explained about some important historical sights around Yazd, were asked to sing a few verses of “Sooltane Ghalba” to amuse the officers and had to sign a paper that we were not aware about the religious celebrations and would not play music on such days again. At least that is what we thought to sign, as it was in Farsi and our reading not advanced enough.
So far so good, we were bade farewell quite heartily and left the station in a hurry towards the southwards leading highway. Bandar Abbas here we come – with our own passports as early Christmas presents in the pocket.
A bunch of things are still unsolved though. Who actually told on us and made up that fantasy? How could he find out our names or where we stay? And why the hell all this procedure instead of solving the issue right in the moment instead of letting us wait two days?