Trapped in Iran
133 pages
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Trapped in Iran

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133 pages
English

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In 2009, Samieh Hezari made a terrible mistake. She flew from her adopted home of Ireland to her birthplace in Iran so her 14-month-old daughter, Rojha, could be introduced to the child's father. When the violent and unstable father refused to allow his daughter to leave and demanded that Samieh renew their relationship, a two-week holiday became a desperate five-year battle to get her daughter out of Iran. If Samieh could not do so before Rojha turned seven, the father could take sole custody—forever. The father's harassment and threats intensified, eventually resulting in an allegation of adultery that was punishable by stoning, but Samieh—a single mother trapped in a country she saw as restricting the freedom and future of her daughter—never gave up, gaining inspiration from other Iranian women facing similar situations. As both the trial for adultery and her daughter's seventh birthday loomed the Irish government was unable to help, leaving Samieh to attempt multiple illegal escapes in an unforgettable, epic journey to freedom. Trapped in Iran is the harrowing and emotionally gripping story of how a mother defied a man and a country to win freedom for her daughter.


Prologue
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Epilogue: One Year Later
Acknowledgments

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Publié par
Date de parution 22 août 2016
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780253022615
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0025€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

TRAPPED in IRAN
TRAPPED in IRAN
A MOTHER S DESPERATE JOURNEY TO FREEDOM

Samieh Hezari
with Kaylene Petersen
This book is a publication of
INDIANA UNIVERSITY PRESS
Office of Scholarly Publishing
Herman B Wells Library 350
1320 East 10th Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
iupress.indiana.edu
2016 by Samieh Hezari and Kaylene Petersen
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition.
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z 39.48-1992.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Hezari, Samieh, author.
Title: Trapped in Iran : a mother s desperate journey to freedom / Samieh
Hezari ; with Kaylene Petersen.
Description: Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 2016.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016000919| ISBN 9780253022486 (hbk : alk. paper) | ISBN
9780253022530 (pbk : alk. paper) |
ISBN 9780253022615 (e-book)
Subjects: LCSH : Women-Iran-Social conditions. | Custody of
children-Iran-Case studies. | Parental relocation (Child
custody)-Iran-Case studies. | Mothers and daughters-Iran-Case studies.
Classification: LCC HQ 1735.2 .H49 2016 | DDC 305.40955-dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016000919
1 2 3 4 5 21 20 19 18 17 16
This book is dedicated to my daughters, Saba and Rojha- everything I have ever done has been for you- and to my parents .
TRAPPED in IRAN
PROLOGUE

Searing heat, unlike any I have ever known. Sweat runs down my face, soaking and pooling below. My skin burns, my throat aches for water from a bottle that has long been drained and discarded. I look down at my five-year-old daughter, Rojha, collapsed for the second time on the hard mountain face. My legs hurt, Mummy. I can t walk anymore, she whimpers.
We have to keep going, Rojha. It is not safe here, I plead, pulling her up to her feet. Iran s harsh Zagros Mountains had looked so enticing and magnificent from a distance, but close up they are covered with loose rocks and rise at a treacherous incline. As we climb, I deliberately keep Rojha to the right of me. One wrong step and we plummet to our deaths, but this desperate journey is the only way I know to get Rojha and me out of Iran. I d rather we die than go back and subject my daughter to the lifetime of oppression that awaits her there with her father. We have to get out of here. We re never going back to him .

Map of Iran. Map base Daniel Dalet, http://d-maps.com/carte.php?num_car=105846 lang=en .
ONE

Finding out that your partner wants to be with someone else is difficult. For me, at the age of thirty-four with a broken marriage behind me and now a failed two-year relationship, I struggled to cope. I was living in Dublin, where I thought my dreams had come true. In many ways, yes-Iran, where I had grown up, happy but with limited freedom after the revolution, was behind me, and I cherished the liberties of my new country. But I had grown apart from Jabbar, the husband I had left Iran with. We had filed for divorce in 2003, and the relationship I then entered into with an Irish man had also floundered. Too much Muslim for him, too little for my ex-husband. For a year I tried to pull myself together, but I found myself increasingly unable to focus on my work as a financial advisor and I had very little interest in life. I was immensely depressed, immersed in feelings of failure about who I was and where I was going. I no longer knew where I belonged: in the traditional and conservative culture my ex-husband and I had come from, or with the freer way of life I had discovered on my own in Ireland.
Lost and alone.
I didn t know where to turn, so I did what many people do in hard times-I went back to my parents. I returned to Iran. I was granted a month s leave from work and, with my six-year-old daughter, Saba, traveled to my homeland. She was excited at the prospect of a trip to see her grandparents. She had loved our last trip there and reveled in the attention my family lavished upon her.
It was so good to see my family again at our home in the city of Rasht, near the Caspian Sea in northwest Iran. I am the eldest of four children and the only girl. My brother Sina is two years younger than me, and I am seven years older than Salar. My youngest brother, Sasan, is sixteen years younger. I love him as if he were my own child. While I was growing up, my parents had worked long hours in their restaurant, and responsibility for Sasan had often fallen on my shoulders.
So many S names! It was traditional at the time of my birth for children to be named by the father, although these days it is usually a joint decision by both parents. It was also traditional for all of the children born to a couple to be given names starting with the same initial. This created great confusion for my madar-bozorg , my grandmother, because not only did she have to remember our four S names, but also one of my aunts had named her three daughters Susan, Simin, and Sepideh! We were always greatly amused watching Grandmother trying to remember the names of her grandchildren. She used to call out the wrong name or tell us stories about our earlier days and get our names mixed up, resulting in much laughter and cries of That wasn t me or I never did that!
My grandmother was a beautiful woman with a wicked sense of humor. She had the brightest blue eyes I had ever seen, and I would often gaze into them longingly, silently wishing I had inherited them. She doted on me particularly, for I was always polite and respectful. I always made time to listen to the stories she told about my grandfather, my pedar-bozorg , that my brothers and cousins dismissed as boring. I could sit for hours listening to her talk about my grandfather, watching her blink back tears as she reminisced about her lost love, who died of a heart attack when I was just five. Even as a young girl, I wanted to meet a man I could love as deeply as she loved him.
I was glad I had taken the chance to come to Iran to rejuvenate in the hometown I loved. As a child, when anyone asked me where I was from, I would always grin broadly and proclaim with great pride: I am from Rasht city! Like Iran s capital, Tehran, Rasht is considered a modern city. It is close to Russia, so it benefits from all the latest imports of electrical goods and furniture. Caviar production is a big industry in Rasht and it is exported all over the world-I never tried it, as it was only available in very upmarket restaurants and caf s.
Rasht is also the capital of the Gilan Province, known throughout Iran for many delicious types of rice and silver fish and the famous Lahijan tea. Iranians are big tea drinkers, and the tea from the town of Lahijan, which has a strong aroma and an even stronger taste, is a national favorite. There is nothing particularly remarkable about Rasht itself, with the exception of the huge Parke Shahr (City Park), but I loved it regardless and have many wonderful memories of growing up there. My school, Hefdahe Shahrivar or Foroogh High School, was one of the most reputable girls high schools in the city; year after year it achieved the highest university acceptance rate-something the school was understandably proud of.
Our family home stands right in the heart of Rasht near the food markets. When I lived there it had two big bedrooms, one belonging to my parents, where Sasan also slept, and the second shared by myself and Sina and Salar. The house had a large kitchen and a sitting room that doubled as a guest room. We knew the rules about the sitting room: do not mess it up under any circumstances, as back then people typically did not call before they visited, and my mother did not want to be embarrassed by our clutter. Over time, my father renovated our house, transforming it into three two-bedroom apartments, one of which was their modest home. My mother still took great pride in decorating. In years past, Iranian homes were furnished with Persian rugs and carpets, because people sat on the floor, but that was before my time. We did have a Persian rug in the middle of our sitting room, but that was just for decoration-we and everyone else I knew sat on a couch.
Like all the houses on our street, we had a big backyard. When we were children, my mother had been an enthusiastic gardener and our backyard was bursting with flowerpots holding geraniums, roses, and pansies. They were my mother s pride and joy. Even now I can hear her fretful warning: Stop running; you are going to break them! Later, too old and tired to be gardening, she insisted on lots of artificial flowers, which did not require any attention and were strewn lovingly throughout the apartment.
My siblings and I had often asked my dad if we could move a bit farther out of town, where it was quieter and less busy, but he had inherited our house from his mother and the street held far too many memories for him to just up and leave. Despite being seventy-seven now, my father is healthy and fit. A night owl, he was always reading, and I took after him in that regard. Many people have said that I look like my dad. We have similar-shaped faces and eyes and, like me, my dad is small in stature.
Rasht is close to the Masouleh Mountains, home of the famous Masouleh step village, so called because the land is so steep that one house s front yard is another house s roof. Beyond that village you come to the most beautiful waterfalls. The narrow roads leading up the mountains are lined with village women dressed in traditional and colorful Gilaki tunics and scarves. Women in Iran are not allowed to show their hair and are expected to wear loose clothing in public. These women sell traditional homemade bread sweetened with honey, saffron, and vanilla and served hot. The scent is so inviting that no matter how hard I tried, I was never able to walk past the women without buying some sweet bread.
Only half an hour from Rasht lies the Caspian Sea. It stretches all along the north part of the Gilan Province and shares a border with Russia. Iranian summers are very hot, and in the summer months people flock to the beaches to cool down in the water or just sit on the sand and feel the sea breeze brush their skin.
Above all, the people of Rasht are renowned for their hospitality and love of entertaining, and my mother certainly fit this mold. Whenever we had someone come to visit, she would busy herself in the kitchen for hours, making colorful dishes that would give off the most delicious aromas.
The only thing I did not like about Rasht was the climate. It rains almost all year round and is dreadfully humid. I m not the only person I know who sometimes took three or even four cool showers a day, as the heat and humidity make you sweat so much.
The humid climate of Rasht is particularly uncomfortable for women. Although males can wear short sleeves, by law young girls from the age of nine have to cover themselves up with long-sleeved tunics, shalwar (trousers), and roosari (scarves). When I was a child, I had constantly complained to my mother about this as I trudged around in heavy garments while my brothers ran around cool and carefree in their T-shirts.
That is the law, Sami, she always replied, the dutiful Shia Muslim, forever trying to raise her daughter properly.
Upon being told about this law in school I consumed myself with the injustice of it. Why should boys have the freedom to wear what they want and girls have to endure uncomfortable, heavy clothes in the hot, humid summers?
But of course there was an answer to that question. We were taught that if men see a woman s flesh, it would make them stare and could cause excitement. At the time, I did not understand this excitement. I only knew that it was very dangerous and to be avoided at all costs.
This law about women s clothing was one of many enforced by the Revolutionary Guards who patrolled the streets in Iranian cities. I cannot remember a time when I had not been aware of the Revolutionary Guards, even as a child. Those men and women in uniform came in after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and still today are the military elite whose role is to protect the regime, by force if necessary. The revolution certainly brought changes, but not the kinds of changes the people I knew so desperately wanted. The wealthy took the opportunity to leave Iran, but most people did not have the money to escape and had to stay and anxiously await what the future would bring. No matter what people may have thought of the police under the regime of the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Revolutionary Guards proved far more hostile and power-hungry. They did not tolerate resistance, and protesting against the new regime could, and often did, result in death.
The Shia clergy (Islamic priests educated in Islamic theology and law) were granted far more authority than they had ever had before, resulting in stricter rules being imposed on society. This included the way people dress, how they act, and whom they are seen with.
When I was growing up, alcohol was strictly forbidden, as was casual mingling of the sexes in public. Attending or hosting a party with both women and men and where music, dancing, and alcohol were present was considered a serious crime. If the Revolutionary Guards were not paid money to stay away-a cash payment could make a corrupt guard turn a blind eye to almost anything-they could show up unannounced and arrest people on the spot. Everyone was afraid of the Revolutionary Guards. Unless you had money or political connections, getting arrested-even for something minor such as listening to music in public-could result in a long prison stay. Sometimes women who were arrested and did not have money were given the option of having sex with a corrupt guard to avoid prison and a criminal record. A prison record almost guaranteed no chance of securing legitimate employment later on, so for many women allowing the guards to do what they wished with them was a price they paid reluctantly. Of course not all guards behaved this way, but the problem was you never knew what sort of guard was going to arrest you.
My brothers and I had little interaction with the Revolutionary Guards when we were children, as we were always with my parents, who were very careful to abide by the government s rules and not draw attention to themselves. This changed when we became teenagers and were free to roam the city.
The Revolutionary Guards patrolled the cities in white Toyota Jeeps with a green band around it emblazoned with Ghast E Ershad , which means Police of Islamic Guidance. That always struck me as odd, because the Revolutionary Guards did not guide anyone-they enforced rules, and often very harshly. Even now I can recall the sheer terror that would rise in me when one of their Jeeps approached. Whoever spotted it first would call out Gasht, Gasht! as loudly as they could without being noticeable. Everyone would instinctively look to the ground, averting their gaze and desperately willing them to pass by without stopping to interrogate. Although the guards mostly traveled around the cities in their Jeeps, they also patrolled on foot.
One summer s day when I was fourteen and out with my brother Sina in Parke Shahr, we were approached by a Revolutionary Guard. I remember suddenly looking up to see him standing there, his severe gaze bearing down on us. In his hand he held the standard baton wielded by all Revolutionary Guards, and his gun was clearly visible in its holster.
What is your relationship with her? he said to Sina harshly, nodding in my direction.
She is my sister, Sina replied immediately.
Show me your ID cards, the guard said, looking at Sina and then shifting his focus to me.
Why do you need to see our ID cards? I replied. Can t you see that we look alike?
All Iranian citizens have to carry ID cards in case they are stopped by Revolutionary Guards, a practice that angered me even as a child. The government should not be controlling people s lives.
The guard dismissed me by raising his voice and hitting the inside of his hand with his baton. SHOW ME YOUR ID CARDS AT ONCE ! he barked.
I nervously dug my hands deep into my bag, searching for the ID card. Finding it, I pushed it forcefully into his open palm. As he read the card, I couldn t help myself-I told him I would ask the next person who walked past if they thought Sina and I looked like we were related and I bet they would say yes.
Handing over his ID card, Sina glared at me. Quiet, Sami. You can t argue with them.
Don t tell me what to do, Sina, I snapped.
We continued to fight in front of the guard, who by now had checked our ID cards and realized we were bickering like brother and sister. He explained that he had to check ID cards because too many people were indulging in inappropriate relationships. I was enraged but could not say anything. Whom we chose to spend time with should be our own free choice!
My brother Salar, the most spirited of us siblings, suffered far more from the new regime during those years. Around the age of ten he started borrowing Hollywood movies from his friend for us to watch at home. Hollywood movies were illegal in Iran, but they were smuggled in, and if you knew the right person you could get hold of them relatively easily. My brothers and I loved watching the movies any chance we got. One movie was broadcast on television every Friday, but they were really old black-and-white comedies such as Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges, which I never found funny.
Salar, like my oldest brother, Sina, took classes in karate and loved Jackie Chan movies, so these were a prominent feature in our video-cassette player. I also remember watching Die Hard, Rocky , and The Exorcist . None of us could understand the words, because the films were in English and not subtitled, but we loved them regardless. The West was a strange, enticing world to us.
Our family looked forward to seeing which movie Salar would borrow from his friend each week. My mother always said she was too tired to watch the films, but my father would often join us. We would sit huddled around the small TV in our sitting room, stuffing our faces with nuts and sunflower seeds, my brothers carefully watching the karate moves, and me collapsing in hysterics.
Salar s journey to his friend s house and back usually only took about ten minutes, but one evening Salar didn t return. We waited almost an hour until the worry got too much for us and we went out in the streets searching for him.
Eventually a man admitted he had seen Salar being dragged off by Revolutionary Guards. My dad became frightened, frantically contacting his friends and eventually managing to locate Salar. He had been beaten black and blue by the guards for being in possession of non-Islamic material. They had tied his feet together with rope and beat him with sticks. My father brought him home, and upon seeing Salar my mother and I had burst into tears. I was so angry but there was nothing I could do. Salar was in terrible pain and unable to walk for a week.
Now, many years later, on this trip back to a repressive country that was so different from my adopted Ireland, I vowed to show Saba the real, enduring beauty of the country of my birth, taking her to all the places I had loved in the cheerful innocence of childhood. Despite its current government, Iran is a beautiful country and I love every corner of it. I took her to the Lahijan Mountains and introduced her to my favorite restaurants and traditional food, like the delicious chelo kebab -the national dish of Iran-which is made with ground beef, lamb, or other meat infused with aromatic saffron and served on skewers with Persian rice.
I hired a small boat to take us out to the Anzali Swamp, which lies parallel to the Caspian Sea and is covered in water lilies. The water was so clear that we could see the fish swimming below. Look, Mummy, Saba squealed, pointing. My eyes followed her outstretched arm to a beautiful silver fish that glided toward us and quickly disappeared under our boat. It was such a beautiful, peaceful place, and in that moment, with my daughter so happy beside me, I was glad to have taken the chance to come back to the hometown I loved.
As I peered over the edge of the boat, I saw my reflection staring back. I almost didn t recognize the woman who held my gaze and looked so tormented, her self-esteem in tatters. So weak, vulnerable. What had happened to the vibrant, defiant young woman who had left Iran with so many great hopes and dreams?
I dropped my hand into the water, and ripples shattered my reflection. I could not bear to look at that woman any longer.
TWO

Rasht had changed in many ways since I had left in 1995 for a new life in Ireland. Money from oil and agriculture had been pumped into construction, and it now seemed as urban and modern as many European cities. Streets had been widened, and access in and out of the city was now greatly improved with the construction of numerous fly-over bridges. Skyscrapers and multistory office blocks had sprung up amid the traditional buildings, and shops and restaurants lined the streets just as they do in any major city in the West.
Other changes had occurred on a more personal level. It amazed me how Iranian women now wore so much makeup. I recently read that Iran is the seventh largest market for makeup in the world and the second largest in the Middle East. It makes sense that Iranian women want to highlight the one part of their bodies they can freely expose-their face. I had always made an effort to look nice as a teenager and college student when I lived there, but what I saw women wearing now was in a whole different league.
Such a change from my experience. When I was seventeen, I was going to a private tutor in Rasht to help prepare for the college entrance exam. One evening as I was coming home, a white bus pulled up and two middle-age women got out and hurried toward me. Each of them was dressed in a black chador , the traditional large piece of cloth wrapped around the head and the upper body, leaving only the face exposed. Their pointy, angry faces made them look like two crows about to pounce on their prey-and that s exactly what they did.
Grabbed roughly by each arm and flung toward the bus, all I could manage to stutter was, What did I do?
Glaring at me, one of them squawked, You have not covered your hair properly!
Terrified, I knew that if my father found out, I would be in big trouble. He was always warning me, You must be careful. Never do anything to allow those people to harass you. These women were Revolutionary Guards, their role to arrest women because the male guards were not meant to touch females when arresting them.
Upon being pushed into the bus I found myself surrounded by young girls with eyes as big and scared as mine. We were driven to the nearest police station and taken in.
Fortunately I was not wearing makeup. Brandishing dirty cloths, the women moved from one girl to the next, harshly scrubbing their faces and cursing at them. The young girls cried in pain, but the guards were unmoved. Once the makeup had been removed, leaving the girls faces swollen, red, and raw, the guards started hitting them with the back of a heavy gun.
Unbelievable. Angry, I could say nothing.
Given that most young women wore makeup in Iran now, perhaps some things had changed since I was a girl. But while the laws regarding makeup may have been more relaxed, fear was still there. In the twenty-first century that fear was painted on the women s faces as clearly as the makeup itself.

Wanting to make the most of my visit, I made sure to visit with as many relatives as possible. It was at one of those get-togethers I heard that Farzad, one of my first cousins once removed, had been divorced recently and was eager to see me. One of my relatives had given him my phone number.
But I wasn t sure that I wanted to see him. Farzad was the eldest child in his family and the only boy. He had two younger sisters and had been the only grandson for more than fifteen years. I remember the extraordinary attention lavished on him as a child. He seemed to get whatever he wanted. Once, when I was about nine or ten, Farzad had a violent tantrum because he had been asked to give a toy to his sister and did not want to. He went into a rage in front of everyone, screaming, throwing things around, and smashing anything he could grab. I looked on in shock with my brothers; I had never seen a child disrespect his parents like that.
When I look back now, it is clear to me that Farzad s conviction of his own self-importance was difficult for others outside his family to accept. School friendships were fleeting; he passed by me on his way home every day and was always alone.
An intense teenager, Farzad had been attracted to me, calling to talk about books or movies that I had no interest in. At the time, I was too shy and polite to cut the call short or tell him to stop contacting me.
It had been fifteen years since I had seen Farzad-surely, he had changed. Out of both impulse and curiosity, I decided to meet him and see what he was like after all this time. I had been given his phone number by one of his relatives, and he seemed excited that I had contacted him. Because my mother was not particularly fond of her sister-in-law-Farzad s grandmother-I thought it best to keep the meeting to myself. It was only going to be a one-time thing, after all, so there was no point in ruffling anyone s feathers.
Farzad had suggested we meet in a caf in Golsar village, a trendy suburb in Rasht where the wealthy go to dine and shop. A broad smile lit up his face when I walked into the coffee shop. Sami, you have not changed a bit! he exclaimed. He looked me up and down, still smiling. No, you have changed, he murmured. You have gotten more beautiful.
I just smiled nervously. Compliments about my appearance have always made me uncomfortable, and it had been a long time since I had received a compliment from anyone.
I have to admit that Farzad had grown into a not unattractive man. His hair, once brown, was now a salt-and-pepper color. He still had thick glasses, which I remembered from years ago. As a young boy, Farzad had been watching a street protest at the time of the revolution. The protesters had been burning cars, logs, anything they could get their hands on, and he had been standing a little too close to the action. Something exploded in the fire and ricocheted into his right eye. I had heard that Farzad had undergone various surgeries over the years, but judging by the thick lenses, his eyesight was still very weak.
I am really glad to see you, he said. Do you travel here often?
Maybe once a year to see my parents, I replied, trying to avoid his steady gaze.
After the waitress took our orders, he leaned closer. I have been thinking about you a lot recently. I was shocked to hear that we had both been married and divorced. He pulled his head back and smiled. Maybe we were meant to meet each other again.
I said nothing. Perhaps this meeting had been a mistake. As our coffees were placed in front of us, I took time to study him more closely. That same intense expression I remembered, but he was now far more confident in the way he spoke and held himself.
I m an engineer now, he announced, sitting up straight with pride.
I was pleased to know that Farzad was doing well for himself. He had struggled in school and I d heard that his relatives had paid to get him into college. It was like that in Iran. Money could get you almost anything-but only if you knew the right people.
He returned the conversation to the two of us. You know, I have never stopped thinking about you since we were kids, he said softly, looking directly into my eyes. You know I loved you dearly, Sami.
Oh, boy . Sipping coffee, I thought about my next words. Yes, I remember, I replied carefully, putting my cup down. You were always following me around. I laughed nervously.
Looking past his shoulder and out onto the busy street, I realized I felt just as I had as a young girl when I had struggled to find something to say to him on the phone.
Perhaps thinking I was losing interest, he blurted out, I really want us to be together! I realize that I still have a lot of love for you in my heart.
My eyes returned quickly to his face.
Thinking of that conversation now, after all the pain that followed, it is so hard to believe I took him seriously. But I did. It had been such a long time since anyone had made me feel special, so I indulged myself a little by believing that his sweet words were genuine. Too many years of feeling worthless and depressed, and now this engineer was giving me his undivided attention. Nonetheless, I did try my best to talk about other things, but Farzad always brought our chat back to his feelings for me. I must admit I was flattered.
When we finished our coffees, he indicated to the waitress to come over so that we could order another. I gently refused, however, saying I had to return to my parents house and my little girl. Such an awkward, quick good-bye, given all that had been said.
On the way home, my cell phone beeped. It was a text message from Farzad. I opened the message and was surprised to see a love poem by the famous fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz.
I have no use for divine patience -
My lips are now burning and everywhere .
I am running from every corner of this earth and sky
Wanting to kiss you .
Wow . The possibility of a new relationship was the last thing I had expected on this trip, especially given my r sum of romantic disasters. I didn t even have time to reply to the message when the phone beeped again. Another one of Hafiz s poems.
For I have learned that every heart will get
What it prays for
Most .
The barrage of Hafiz poems continued throughout the evening and soon I started to just delete them. Same old Farzad, unceasingly intense. I wanted to tell him to stop, because the phone was my mother s-my Irish cell phone had no reception in Iran-and God only knows what she would have thought if she discovered Farzad sending me poems by the great Hafiz, but I did not want to hurt his feelings. Thankfully, the messages eventually stopped.
That night as I was turning in for bed, Farzad sent me a text message inviting me to join him for a meal the following day. Wanting to clarify our relationship and with plenty of time at my disposal, I agreed.
We met in an Italian restaurant called Pizariya, again in Golsar. I love pizza and was studying the menu when Farzad gently pushed it down onto the table so he could see my face.
Sami, he began, looking into my eyes, I thought about you all last night and I want us to be together.
He took a sip from his water, still holding my gaze.
I want us to get married.
I stared at him in disbelief. This has gone too far . I m sorry, Farzad, I replied firmly, but I am not ready for any kind of commitment.
There is nothing to worry about, Farzad urged. All that matters is I love you very much.
I knew I did not love him. How could I? I didn t even know him. But Farzad was very good at choosing the right words to make me trust him.
We have known each other since childhood, Sami, he explained rationally. That is far more than many people who marry.
He had a point, but not the one I thought needed making.
I am not the fifteen-year-old girl you used to call on the phone, I said patiently. We don t even know if we would get along.
Farzad shook his head and leaned forward. Come on, Sami, you cannot be serious. We know each other very well.
This was getting out of hand. I tried to get the attention of the waitress to diffuse the situation, but she was nowhere to be seen.
He placed his hand on mine. I ve never wanted anyone in my life as much as I want you.
Gently pulling my hand away, I smiled faintly and picked up the menu again. He did the same.
Farzad became relentless in his pursuit. He continued to mention the proposal throughout that evening and over the following days when he called. His constant attention and words of endearment, which no man had spoken to me for so long, began eroding my resolve. If I let this man go, would I ever find another who wanted to be with me so desperately?
Eventually I consented to see Farzad one more time. As Saba was at my brother Sina s house playing with her cousin, I agreed to meet him.
Quietly leaving my parents house, I spotted Farzad parked in his little gold Peugeot a few hundred yards down the road. As I ducked my head and got into the car, Farzad smiled at me warmly and offered his hand for me to shake, which I took.
Pulling quickly away from the curb, Farzad took off down the road at high speed. He was clearly not a careful driver, but that is not uncommon in Iran. Taking his eyes off the road, stealing glances at me, he finally said, I can t believe we are together, Sami.
This surprised me. We were not together at all, but knowing how much he wanted to be with me made me feel good.
Soon he began again.
I love you, Sami. I want us to be married.
But I am leaving, Farzad. My holiday here is over soon.
I saw the sorrow spread across his face.
Looking out the window as the city of my childhood sped past, I thought of my life in Ireland. Whom was I returning to? No one . No special person, few friends at the most, for my circle of Muslim acquaintances had shunned me when I filed for divorce. I had been so sad and depressed in Ireland. Maybe I needed a change. If Farzad, devoted Farzad, were in Ireland with me, perhaps I would not feel so alone and lost.
Sami . . . Sami-
Deep in thought, I did not hear him.
Do you think you could extend your stay a little longer? he pleaded.
I looked over at him-so worried, so much caring for me. I am not sure, I replied softly, but I could try if you want me to.
He started to laugh. Of course I want you to.
Still looking directly at him, I went on. But I need to tell you something, Farzad.
Anything, he replied, nodding eagerly.
All this talk of marriage is making me uncomfortable.
A slight scowl flashed and vanished. I thought it was making you happy.
Shifting awkwardly in my seat, I explained calmly. We don t know each other well enough. Today is the third time we have met in fifteen years and you are telling me you want to marry me. It takes at least a year to know someone, Farzad.
Not wishing to glimpse the inevitable look of disappointment, I turned my face to the window again. Rasht continued to fall behind us.
In what world, Sami? Your thinking is too Westernized. Your parents and my parents met on the day they got married.
True, but things were very different back then .
I turned back toward him. Crushed, he looked at me so intensely that before I could stop myself the words were out of my mouth.
Yes, Farzad, I said, sighing. I will agree to a relationship with you for now, and if things work out we can marry in a year.
Farzad was visibly delighted. We are going to have a wonderful life together, Sami! he shouted. This is a wish come true for me!
I don t want to rush into this, I emphasized. We have both made mistakes in the past.
Yes, yes, he said, not really listening.
One thing I knew with certainty was that I had no intention of staying in Iran. This was no longer my world. I told Farzad that if things worked out between us, I wanted him to move to Dublin with me, because I was not prepared to live the rest of my life with so little freedom.
But I have never thought of leaving Iran, Farzad said, now unsure.
I understood what he was saying. Iran was his home just as Ireland was now mine. If this was going to work out, someone was going to have to give, and I knew with total certainty that it was not going to be me.
This isn t just about me, Farzad. I have to think of my daughter. Saba s father lives in Ireland.
We drove on a little farther in silence.
Nodding his head decisively, Farzad finally spoke. It will take me at least a year to finalize this project I am working on, and I will then come to Ireland to be with you.
And just like that, I was engaged for the second time in my life. I had no idea at the time how much I would live to regret my words and promise.
THREE

The long road to the coffee shop, to that fateful decision, began when I set out many years ago to become educated and see the world. My father had drilled the value of learning into us from a young age. You must educate yourself, he would say. Success in life comes from education. Like many young Iranian students, I was desperate to go to college. Higher education meant I could travel, and I dreamed of settling in a country like England or America where I could live without the restrictions that were part and parcel of life in Iran.
At the age of eighteen I packed a suitcase and boarded a bus with my father for a twelve-hour journey to Ilam, a small city in the northwest of Iran, on its border with Iraq. I was going to study nursing at the Medical University of Ilam. Leaving my beautiful hometown of Rasht for the first time, I was nervous.
On that September afternoon in 1990, seated next to me as the bus idled in the station, my father sensed my fear and said it was not too late to change my mind. I had also been accepted to a college about twenty-five miles away from Rasht, the Azad University of Lahijan (Azad universities in Iran are private universities), to study for a degree in microbiology, but it was a private college and I knew my father lacked the funds to send me there. He insisted that he would find the money somehow, but I could not and would not place that financial burden on him.
No, I told my father as the bus pulled out of the terminal. I will go to Ilam.
The bus first headed toward the city of Qazvin, about two and a half hours from Rasht and for me the most enjoyable part of our journey. The bending roads climbed high up into the Alborz Mountains through lush green scenery. We passed the little town of Rudbar, famous for its olive oils and pomegranate paste, which Iranians use to make curry dishes, and then on to the windmill town of Manjil. At Qazvin we came to a junction where the road diverged. One way was the road to Iran s capital city, Tehran, and the other road, which we took, led to Ilam.
I occupied my mind with the same thoughts as every first-year college student. Will I like the courses? Will people like me? Will I be able to cope with the workload?
I soon discovered that I should have also asked myself, Will I make it to Ilam alive?
Continuing farther up the Alborz mountain range, my father remarked that the area we were approaching was notable for its bitter winds, even in the summer. That observation did not particularly interest me, but my father s next words did.
These roads are sometimes closed, he grunted, cocking his head to the right and trying to see ahead. Heavy stones fall down from those mountains. Satisfied we were safe for now, he nodded and settled back into his seat.
Thanks a lot, Dad . Now terrified, I kept my eyes fixed on the mountains, scanning for boulders that might be hurtling toward us, praying to God to keep us safe.
Once we had safely passed the Alborz mountain range, the magnificent Zagros Mountains came into view. The roads over these mountains, nearly three miles at their highest peaks, weave up and down and around very dangerous bends. On one side of the road loomed an awesome mountain range; on the other, a dangerous, dizzying chasm. Any minute, I thought, our bus would topple over the edge and we would hurl to our deaths.
I decided on that journey that once I was safely in Ilam, I would not be visiting my family often.
I had never been to Ilam but had heard a great deal about it growing up. The city had been a regular feature on the nightly news, as it had come under intense bombing during the Iran-Iraq War. The government in Iraq, seeking to take advantage of the volatile and unstable political situation after the revolution in Iran, had attacked on September 22, 1980. Saddam Hussein had hoped for an easy victory over a disorganized and fragmented enemy, but that proved not to be the case. The war lasted eight years and resulted in staggering losses on both sides.
It was an incredibly frightening time, and at age nine I was fully aware of what was happening. I saw the bodies of dead soldiers being brought home to grieving families, whose anguished faces and wails I will never forget. I thanked God I was the eldest and did not have older brothers. Every day I left my house to go to school, not sure if I would return. Although Rasht was not in the direct line of fire, I could hear the air-raid sirens. If they sounded when I was at school, our teacher would lead us to an underground bunker where we would huddle together and pray until the alarms stopped. Sometimes when word came that Iraqi war planes had been spotted on radar, the teachers would allow us to run home as fast as we could, into the safe arms of frightened parents. During the evening, all electricity was turned off in the cities and homework had to be done by candlelight. Many times I sat outside in the pitch dark on my own, looking up in wonder and fear, wondering what the night sky might reveal.
Two years after the war ended, my father and I arrived in Ilam. Traces of conflict were still everywhere, with many buildings in ruin. Although heavy construction was under way to build it up again, Ilam was still very much broken. As we drove into the city center, my father pointed out bullet holes in houses. It shocked me to see how close the war had come to the people of Ilam, literally exploding on their doorsteps. Stacked-up sandbags, which had served as life-saving barriers when Iraqi planes strafed from the sky, still littered the city. Looking at those sandbags, I could not help but think of the men, women, and children taking refuge under them, and I wondered where they were now.
Ilam was very different from Rasht, and living there became a major turning point in my life. For the first time, I was exposed to people from across the country. I met students from Tehran, who spoke in posh Persian accents, and others from Iran s famous ancient city of Isfahan. There were students from Ahvaz, Abadan, and Khorramshahr, in the south of Iran, and a girl from Mashhad, the most religious city in Iran, which every year attracts millions of pilgrims.
I stayed in the college hostel, where my designated roommate was a beautiful and kind girl from Tehran named Haleh. Within six months of starting college, I secured a position as a trainee nurse at Taleghani Hospital in Ilam. I no longer needed my father s money. I was the most independent that I had ever been in my life-and I loved it.
Jabbar Qureshi was one of a group of young doctors who had traveled to Iran from Pakistan to work at Taleghani Hospital with trauma patients. Short in stature, Jabbar had thick black hair and bright eyes. He also had a sweet smile. Even before I got to know him, I knew by his smile that he was a kind man. Jabbar s skin was a lot darker than that of most Iranians, and looking at him I was reminded of the prohibited romantic Indian movies I had watched as a teenage girl. I liked him as a person immediately, especially upon seeing how respectful he was to the patients and staff.
One evening when I was working on the wards with him, Jabbar started asking me questions about a particular patient. I rattled off the answers with ease.
You have a good grasp of this patient s medical history, he said, nodding at the old man lying on the hospital bed between us. It is as good as any young doctor would have.
He asked me why I had not studied medicine, remarking that I was a bright girl and that my interests seemed to lie more in medicine than nursing.
I did want to study medicine, I told Jabbar. I liked that an older and respected doctor thought I was bright. And it was true that it was medicine that had originally interested me. Unfortunately I did not get the marks needed for medicine, I admitted as we moved on to the next patient. Jabbar smiled and nodded his head sympathetically.
When I next saw Jabbar several days later, he asked if I would mind going to a book fair that was being held at my college and buying a couple of medical books that he wanted. He claimed he was being run off his feet at the hospital and would not have time to go himself, as the book fair was being held for only a few days. I agreed. The following evening after finishing my shift at the hospital, I set off to give the books to Jabbar. Such a bitterly cold evening; I carried those expensive, heavy books through the hospital grounds as if holding a newborn baby.
To my great surprise, the next day Jabbar gave me a gift to show his gratitude and to say thank you.
There was no need for you to give me a present, I said shyly. I didn t mind doing you a favor. This was the first time a man outside my family had given me a gift-and a generous one, too. It was an expensive bottle of perfume that I could not afford on my student nurse salary, and it caused quite a stir when I brought it back to my room at the college hostel that evening.
That s nice perfume, commented my roommate, Haleh. Where did you get that from?
Dr. Qureshi gave it to me, I replied, holding up the bottle and examining it.
That is expensive. He must love you to give you a present like that, she said, now very serious.
Don t be silly, I laughed. This was just his way of saying thank you, because I did him a favor.
Haleh shook her head. She had been secretly going out with a young doctor from the hospital for a year, and he had not bought her a single present in that time, even though he owned a pharmacy. She scrunched up her face. Actually, I m the one buying presents from his pharmacy for myself so that he stays interested in me, she admitted ruefully.
Taking the bottle of perfume from my hands, she studied it closely. Trust me, she finally declared. That Dr. Qureshi is definitely in love with you.
I had not thought of Jabbar as anything more than a kind colleague, but after he gave me the perfume I noticed his eyes constantly on me whenever our paths crossed. I began to wonder if maybe Haleh was right and he really did have feelings for me.
A few days later Jabbar and I exchanged numbers, and over the following weeks we started to get to know each other better. We mainly talked over the phone. I did not want to be seen with a man in public, since that is how rumors spread-and rumors always cause big problems in Iran. As I have said, Iran is exceptionally strict about relationships between unmarried men and women. If I had been seen with Jabbar outside of the hospital, I would likely be thrown out of college and Jabbar would lose his job, or we would have been forced to marry. It was way too risky, so we got to know each other on the phone and whenever we were working together.
I soon learned through our conversations that Jabbar was thirteen years older than me and especially close to his family. Never having spent so much time with a foreigner before, I found it funny how he pronounced some Persian words. Of course I didn t say anything that might hurt his feelings, but I did find his efforts at pronunciation cute and would try to stifle my giggles.
One day I asked him something that I had been curious about for some time: why had he come to work in Iran?
Iran pays a good salary to foreign doctors, so I can save money, he replied.
What are you saving for?
I want to go to England and study there, and I need money to do that and to support my family in Pakistan.
The doctor had a plan. I had read about England in books and thought his future sounded exciting. I could only dream of living and working in a European country. Despite my love for Iran, I was increasingly interested in living in a country where women could have more freedom. It was a hope cherished by many young women I knew in Iran, but for most it would never happen.
Would you like to come to England and study medicine with me there, Sami? he asked me one afternoon as casually as he would ask for a patient s file.
I was so stunned at his request, it took me a few seconds to be able to respond.
As far as I know, young women need their husband s or father s permission to leave the country, I said slowly, looking at Jabbar with some confusion. My father does not have the money for me to go to study abroad.
Then marry me, Sami, he said without a moment s hesitation.
We were standing in what was known as the Doctors room, a small room that doctors used for talking to patients and deciding whether or not they needed to be hospitalized. Not the most romantic of settings for a proposal, but not the worst either.
I was dumbfounded, not even sure if he was serious, but it turned out he was. I was just twenty years old, and marriage hadn t seemed imminent in my future. But Jabbar was a good man, and the idea of leaving Iran and living abroad was enticing. So was the idea that I could go to a Western university and pursue my long-held dream of becoming a doctor.
I will need time to think about this and talk to my parents, I told Jabbar, my calm demeanor not betraying the surge of excitement inside.
Take all the time you need, he said, smiling.
I did not want to rush my decision. As young girls, my friends and I often fantasized about what our future husbands would be like. Tall, dark hair, and devilishly handsome were obvious prerequisites, followed by kind, intelligent, funny, and easy to get along with. I also knew that my husband and I would be so madly in love with each other that we would never be apart. Ardent love between Jabbar and me? Perhaps not at this point, but he was indeed kind and career-minded, and the opportunity for me was irresistible. I accepted.
I was fairly certain my parents would not want me to leave Iran-or to marry a man from Pakistan. I knew that many Iranian people believed they were superior to Pakistanis, so I was going to have to do a bit of gentle coaxing.
First, my mother. Imagine if your daughter was a great doctor from a London university? Just think about how that would be, Mum, I said.
She wasn t convinced. We don t know anything about him or where he is from, Sami.
Come on, Mum, I pleaded. I work with him and I know what he is like. Just meet him once, and if you don t approve, I will not marry him.
She nodded her head and I knew the marriage was sealed, because everyone liked Jabbar.
The day Jabbar came to meet my parents, my grandmother, who was also living with my parents at that time, made sure she was there. I knew she wanted to get a good look at the man I was hoping to marry and leave Iran with.
Sina and I set off to pick up Jabbar at a designated landmark-in front of the Ordibehesht Hotel in the famous Shahrdari Square. I was suddenly anxious for Jabbar and myself-so much weighed on this meeting-but I needn t have been. As we pulled up, I spotted Jabbar, dressed smartly in a suit, smiling and looking much at ease. Once in the car, I introduced him to Sina. My future husband then promptly informed us that he had just been ripped off by a taxi driver! I was so mortified. Jabbar had hailed a taxi and asked to be dropped off at the entrance of the Ordibehesht Hotel. The taxi driver, realizing he was talking with a man who was not familiar with the city, had eagerly told Jabbar to hop in.