Mhd. Shariff Malekzadeh, deputy for tourism at the Iran
Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization,
invited me to cover the First International Tour Operators
Convention in Tehran in November 2008. When I had free time,
I urged my driver and guide to take me to see the American
Seized by militants in the 1979
Islamic revolution, the American Embassy is now headquarters
of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
My driver parked half a block away
from the entrance. He and the guide took a walk in the
opposite direction. I walked back to take my pictures.
A woman in full black burqa
emerged from the gate and crossed the street. I snapped a
shot. A man in plain clothes at the open gate waved a
finger. I was across the street, far from his grasp, so I
I took a few steps and raised my
camera. I shot pictures of the anti-American slogans and
anti-Israel threats splashed on the walls like colorful
Without warning a man in plain
dark suit grabbed my arm and pointed vigorously at my
camera. I was startled as he barked in what I assumed was
Farsi. I didn’t understand a word. He kept pointing to the
camera, he kept barking, and I kept struggling to disengage
from his heavy hand on my arm.
"What do you want?" I shouted. "I
don’t understand what you want."
I knew damn well what he wanted
but I certainly was not going to surrender my camera. I kept
repeating, like a high-pitched mantra, "What do you want?"
I’m in the country as a guest of
the government so I kept telling myself to keep cool. But I
would not allow this man, who is trying to intimidate me, to
drag me across the street into that black hole.
Then, just as suddenly as he
appeared, he let go. I walked a few paces with measured
steps. I refused to show fear. I glanced back, curious to
see him, but he was gone. Just like a ghost.
I felt relief that he didn’t force
me across the street and through the gate. I also felt
disappointed on losing a rare opportunity to explore the
IRGC stronghold from the inside.