max 30th July 2014 The big mistake of travelling with a microphone Revolutionary Guard – photo courtes of the WSJ It’s almost three o’clock in the morning. After an evening of celebrations and goodbyes, I get on a car with an old friend of mine to reach the Imam Khomeini international airport. But, after a month of work, sleepless nights and exhaustion, I decide to interview him as well. I want to hear him talking about his new life as a married man, what’s it like to passionately love the woman of your dreams and how marriage changes your life. I unpack my bag, get my mic out and I start asking questions. He comes out with the sweetest things and the hour-long trip to the airport flies by. We say goodbye with the promise of seeing each other soon, I drop my bag at the gate and I go through custom. But only moments before passing through airport security I realize the gigantic mistake I just made: the microphone is in my bag-pack. The first check-point seems to ignore me. Good. The second check-point, while the x-ray machine is scanning my bag, seems not to care about me that much. I think I’m safe but I always forget about the third check-point: the Revolutionary Guard at the International departures gate. I tread carefully but I act with nonchalance. A couple of enormous-looking guards look at me. “Agha” they shout at me. I pretend not to understand. “I’m sorry, I do not speak Farsi”. They look at each other and then stare back at me. “Please give me your bag”. As I hand them my handbag, I try to think of a plausible excuse. They open it and freeze. They look back at each other and the tallest of the two give the other one the sign to call a back-up. In a minute, I’m surrounded by five or six Revolutionary guards. Big, muscular, a little angry-looking. Mainly because it’s four o’clock in the morning and I’m a small Italian pretending not to speak any Persian. They inspect my bag, take the mic out and they put it on a table in front of me. “What is this?” one of the guards asks me. I take a second. “It’s a microphone” I reply. “And what are you doing with a microphone in our bag” the same guard enquires. I try to remain calm but pressure is high and I know people, colleagues and friends who got thrown in jail for less than that. “I’m a sound engineer, I like to record sounds, voices, noise from everywhere I go”. They look at each other and one of the guards, the one that stopped me, is translating for the others. They whisper something I cannot catch and then they’re back to me. “So, let us hear what you’ve been recording”. At this stage, my brain is completely gone. They seem to be impatient and I’m petrified. I know there are five tracks on the recording kit, the ones that I was so lazy to download and store on my hard drive. That’s how procrastination comes right back at you. I start from the oldest track and with my sweaty finger I press play. Traditional Iranian music played with a setar. I briefly close my eyes and thank all the Gods in the universe. When I reopen them, the guards seem content and they nod at each other. Then, the guy holding the recording kit looks at me once again with a big grin. “Another one” he says. I try to play it as cool as I can but I’m pretty sure that’s evident that I’m on the verge of a meltdown. With the same sweaty finger I skip to the second track. Voices from afar. Then another Persian tune played with the setar. I crack a timid smile. The guards satisfactorily nod for the music selection. One of them hand me my bag pack back and I try to stash everything back in and get out of there as soon as I can. But when I reach out for the recording kit, the guard holds on to it. “I like the music – he utters – do you want to play another one?” At this stage, my thought goes to a couple of young women that I met years ago in Iran and their vivid description of how they’d been tortured in prison, the endless interrogations, the sleep deprivation. Because that’s where I’m headed if I click on ‘Play’. Another guard puts a hand on his shoulders and shows him my ticket. “He doesn’t have time, the plane started boarding already”. Then he turns to me. “Well, next time” he says while keep on looking directly in my eyes. Yes, next time. I grab the kit and put it in my bag. I pass security and turn around the corner – then I miserably faint at the gate. A couple of gentle passengers help me to get back on my feet and I explain them that it’s alright, “just dehydration, I’m not used to this hot weather”. If you’re still asking what the third track was, well, you can find it here – an interview with a gay Iranian teacher that would have been hard to explain to the Revolutionary guard.