IRAN: We need your fingerprints

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The guard behind the glass looked at my passport and frowned. I was going to take time. It was 3:40 a.m. at the Imam Khomeini international airport in Tehran; all the other passengers had cleared passport control. The guard flicked through pages, found my visa, typed numbers onto a screen, sighed, flicked through some more pages and stood up.

‘Come with me.’

We went to another guard who pointed us to another guard (a superior, I presumed) who pointed us to a cubicle. We stepped in. The door closed.

Tissues smudged with blue dotted the counter. It looked as if the Blue Meanies, or a family of Smurfs, had sneezed. It was hot. My guard slipped a piece of paper in front of me and opened an ink pad.

‘We need fingerprints. Thumb here. Press. No, no, no. Press like this. Now the other fingers, just like this. That’s good. Now the other hand.’


He spoke quickly. It was awkward, but he was pleasant. I knew the drill. I was first fingerprinted upon entering Iran in 2002. It was Tehran’s answer to the U.S. government, which had enacted similar measures on Iranians visiting America. A tit-for-tat game of geopolitics played out between two strangers in the wee, wee hours. There’s a weary intimacy to it, like a Frank Sinatra song without the booze. It’s good to have a sense of humor — the fingerprints I left were blurry attempts at following orders. The guard led me to a bathroom, pointed to a sink.


I washed as best I could, but my hands stayed faded blue. I dried them. The guard led me back to his counter and stamped my passport. Thunk. He smiled as another load of passengers headed toward him.

‘Have a nice time in Iran,’ he said as I descended the escalator for my bags.

Jeffrey Fleishman in Tehran