I had never heard of a visa run before. I had just been hired as the director of a program at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi. We arrived in Abu Dhabi from Doha, Qatar and I was immersed in my new job, finding a place to live and so on. Technically I was provided a work visa and my wife a 30 day tourist visa that needed to be converted to a residency visa within the 30 days.
I was not aware of that. At about day 27 I spoke with someone at the university and they said, “you just need to fly her out of the country and then come back when the paperwork is completed here. We will contact you. Should take a day.” I asked where we could fly to because my wife’s passport does not allow her to enter most neighboring countries. We could not go by land. Had to fly. They said, “go to Kish Island, all the workers go there. No visa is needed.” So they rushed us to Kish Travel, a travel agency and we bought the tickets for what is about a 45 minute flight from Dubai to Kish.
What nobody had thought about was that I was American and tensions were high between Iran and the USA as always. I was only thinking of my wife. Before I left campus, a retired air force pilot from the USA advised me, “careful over on Kish. Every so often an American gets picked off there.” Thanks. I dismissed it at the time but believe him now.
We hustled to get a taxi to Dubai. I thought it was exciting. At the ticket desk in the airport, they asked me for a deposit of 9000 dirhams which is well over 2000 dollars. I was shocked. I can’t remember if I charged it or we went and got cash. The cash would be used to fly my wife to her home country if the visa was rejected. High stakes stuff! I still was blissfully unaware of the situation being a trusting soul. The plane was full. The plane was almost entirely full of females from the Philippines. Workers from the UAE. The exceptions were me in my suit, my wife and a small Saudi family. Everybody was looking at me strangely.
The flight was short and when we arrived things began to get interesting. All females must be covered in Iran so they provided the abaya for my wife before entering the airport. When exiting she would have to return it. She actually looks great in an abaya. Farsi is the language there so it was very difficult to communicate. As we approached the customs and immigration area, all of the workers were looking at me, talking about me and pointing at me. I waived back and smiled. I towered over all the filipinas. They let my wife through but not me. They sent the Saudi father to another place. The Saudis are enemies of Iran as is the USA. I have no problem with Iran and they have every right to hate us. We armed Iraq with gas weapons against them, we overthrew their government to put the Shah in place, have taken draconian efforts to destroy their economy and of course don’t let them pursue nuclear weapons while Israel has our green light. Anyway, I digress.
I was kept seated for a long time. My poor wife had no idea what was happening to me. She was out of sight. The airport lights started being turned off. There were no more flights. Finally I was taken to a small, plain room I will never forget. There was a grey, heavy office desk that I had to sit at and nothing on the walls except a very small framed portrait of their leader. I was left to sit alone. Eventually a man came out of a door behind the desk and gave me a piece of paper and something to write with. It was a poorly copied, off centered document I was to fill out. It asked me things like what was my great grandfather’s middle name. I had no idea and neither did they so I lied. Later I had to do a biometrics test. The language barrier was heavy. On the screen it said right hand but they told me to put my left. Weird stuff. I was then released. My poor wife. We made our way to the hotel which was supposedly very nice. It was ok but smelled like fuel for some reason. We thought we would only stay the one night and be summoned back to Dubai.
My wife hated Kish, as she feared for my safety. I honestly enjoyed it. It is true that everybody stared at me and some with not such positive vibes but most were just curious. Those I could communicate with were fine. People looked very different there physically and in their style of dress. My wife concurs that the women were striking. I did notice a tremendous number with surgical tape on their noses, so part of their appearance may be due to cosmetic surgery. We shopped a bit there and I picked up a blue suit and a nice suit coat. Always enjoyed wearing them.
The economic sanctions imposed on Iran have been devastating and inhumane. It is only hurting the people. The duress was in the air. The inflation rate was so crazy that it changed the exchange rate dramatically each day. I was paying millions per night for the hotel. It was challenging to calculate. My wife recalls how they wouldn’t let me eat breakfast at the hotel in short pants even though the other men were in shorts. People did observe my every move. I went to an internet cafe to talk with my university and the visa was delayed. Much internet traffic was blocked also, which added to my anxiety. How long would we have to stay there? The internet cafe was full of filipinas. The hotel next to the cafe was full of filipinas also. The visa run is big business. Plane, hotel, internet cafe. I met people that had been stuck there for months . My wife’s visa did come through and we only had to stay two nights. Quite the experience!