Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Moving to the US (Part 1)

I moved to the US when I was 17 years old totally unprepared for what was waiting for me here. Life under the Islamic Republic of Iran was very difficult for us Baha’is, the largest religious minority in Iran. Baha’is were and still are persecuted by the Iranian government. Baha’i youth are banned from attending universities and colleges. If I had stayed in Iran, I would not be able to pursue my formal education. I will write more in the future about my life in Iran as a child and the circumstances under which I left Iran.

Growing up, I always thought that I would live in my own country, go to college there, get married and have kids there, grow old and die there. When our lives became difficult in Iran, it was my mother who initiated all the work needed for me to move to the US where my brother had moved to 10 years before. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to leave home. The thought of losing all that I was familiar with and was attached to was painful. It was with mixed emotions that I decided to leave Iran. During the time that we were trying to secure visas and such, I wished something would go wrong and prevent me from leaving Iran. I thought that I would probably have a better life in the US, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity if it became available to me. But if the decision was not mine and the circumstances prevented me from leaving, then I would not have a reason to blame myself for making a bad decision.

Not knowing English scared me the most. I knew as much English as kids here, in the States, typically, know Spanish. I knew the English grammar and had limited vocabulary, but I wasn’t conversational at all. In fact the language that I had started studying and liked was French. French sounded much more pleasant to my ears than English. So the summer of my sixteenth year of life, I went from getting ready for my senior year of high school to getting ready to move to the US. I remember when school started on September 21st, I watched my classmates go to school with longing. I so wanted to be with them and graduate from high school with them. I left Iran in early October. During the last couple of weeks before leaving, I looked at everything differently. In my own way, I said goodbye to my house, my belongings, my school, the streets of my hometown, the shops, the trees, the mountains, my bicycle, which was my constant companion, my books and so many other things. I would walk on the streets, look inside the shops that I used to go to and look at the familiar people who worked there thinking that I may never see them again. I went to my favorite bookstore and left it remembering all the excitement that I felt every time I would go there to buy a new book.

There were so many people to say goodbye to. When I went to say goodbye to a couple who were good friends of my family, the wife said, “Soheila, marry an Iranian when you want to get married, don’t marry an American.” Her husband said, “She is going to America, what are the chances of her marrying an Iranian.” I smiled and said nothing. Marriage was the last thing on my mind, and American men were this incredible unknown. How things have changed since then, I have married and divorced two American men. I have dated many American men, and American men are the only creatures on the planet that I know very well, in fact too well. There is, absolutely, no mystery to them for me anymore. During the last days my oldest sister, Zhaleh, who has always been like a mother to me, since she is 20 years older than me, kept giving me advise about different things. Finally one day when we were in the kitchen of her house without making eye contact with me after a long introduction she said, “Soheila, make sure you won’t end up pregnant when you are all on your own.” I was shocked to hear those words from her. I knew how difficult it was for her to say them. Our culture is very conservative, and certain things are understood but never talked about. I was surprised that she felt that she had to verbalize those thoughts. And, I also thought that it was not necessary for her to even worry about such a thing. I was a very serious, driven and goal oriented young girl. I wanted to do great things with my life. I thought I would never be so irresponsible, or so immoral. Having kids out of wedlock was definitely considered immoral based on my upbringing. I smiled at her and said, “Of course not”.

When I was packing my belongings, I put all the things I wanted to take with me in my suitcase. It was hard to decide what to put in a single suitcase. I had about 10 books that I wanted to bring with myself to the US. These were my favorite books. I often wrote my thoughts about the story or the subject matter in the margins of the books I read. That was another reason that I wanted to take those books. I wanted to be able to know in the future what my thoughts were as a teenager. When I was done packing, my mom looked inside my suitcase and said, “You can't take all these books. We have to put this Persian rug in your suitcase. You might have to sell it someday.” She proceeded to take all of my books out of the suitcase and then put the small Persian rug, which was about 2.5 feet by 3.5 feet, in my suitcase as I watched sadly. I still have that little Persian rug. It is on the floor of the guest room in my house. It has a great sentimental value to me now, and I do not want to part with it.

The night before I was going to leave home when no one was in the house, I sat on the floor of our family room, cried and prayed to God fervently. I begged him to take care of me and not ever leave me alone. I knew I was going to start a new life that would be full of challenges and unknowns. I have remembered that night from time to time. I have thought about that young girl with her unshakable faith and determination to do everything right in life and the naïve belief that it was possible.

I left Iran about 3 weeks after my seventeenth birthday. The day of my departure was a beautiful sunny day with the temperature about 80 degrees. In my mind's eye, I can still see the events of that day clearly. On that day, I said goodbye to my family, got on a bus with my parents, left my hometown of Hamedan and traveled 8 hours to Tehran, the capital. The next day, we flew out of Tehran. My parents were, also, coming to the US with me. They were planning on staying in the US for a couple of months and then return to Iran. They wanted to come to the US for medical treatment for my father who was not yet diagnosed with prostate cancer.

I remember the hustle and bustle of the airport on that October day. The airport was packed with people. Hurriedly, we went through the crowd trying not to miss our flight. Soon I was seated in a window seat flying over Tehran. After we took off, I looked out of the window at the city that was getting smaller and smaller until I no longer could see it.  As the city disappeared, I felt a deep sense of sadness.  I had left my home and was getting further and further away from it.  I remember wondering when I would see it again and hoping that it wouldn't be long. But I knew it would have to be a long time before I could go back home.  I had just left a country whose government's official mandate was to persecute my coreligionists.  Life for the Baha'is was going to be fraught with pain and calamity.  Little that I knew that being back home would remain a dream that may never be fulfilled. I have not been back to Iran since I left it when I was seventeen. The policies of its Islamic government have not changed.

In the last days, as I said goodbye to friends, there was one person whom it was difficult to say goodbye to. It was the boy who loved me. My departure was the most painful for him. For the first few years of my life in the US, he wrote to me, called me and always managed to find me. Finally, after about 4 years, I told him that we should end our communication, because I wouldn’t move back to Iran, and he couldn't leave Iran. I have heard from friends back home that still after all these years from time to time he seeks out people who may have some news about me. He still lives in my hometown and has a business. I have wondered if I could have found a good life partner in him, since that is something that has eluded me in life. I sometimes wonder what he looks like now, what his life is like, if he is married, if he has any children. I hope and pray that he is happy.

To Be Continued...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Oh No, Please!

As I was reading an online publication last week, I saw the title, ‘Sarah Palin says “refudiate,” and creates a word controversy. What’s the big problem with refudiate?’ My first reaction was, “Oh my God, she doesn’t know that the word is repudiate and not refudiate. Refudiate is not a word.” I was shocked and somewhat disgusted. She had used the word in one of her tweets that thousands of people read. Again, I thought, “This woman is uneducated. The fact that she wrote refudiate and not repudiate indicates that she probably has not seen the word in the written form, which indicates that she doesn’t read.” Repudiate is not an obscure word. This woman tweets to thousands of people and doesn’t bother to do the most basic check in writing, the spell check. If she had checked the spelling of her writing, she would know that refudiate is not a word. I write a little blog that only a few people read and at the minimum, I check the spelling of the words I use. By the way, English is my second language, and I don’t aspire to run for the presidency of the United States.

In her response to the criticism that refudiate is not a word. She replied, “English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!” Yes, English is a live language. Words are created out of necessity. Some of the words created or used differently than what was originally intended are: email, google, input. We say, “I emailed you; I googled it; I inputed the data.” All these are new additions and new ways of using the English language. And, yes, Shakespeare coined new words, but his coining new words was not out of ignorance. He had characters in his plays that were supposed to be uneducated and used words incorrectly. There is a big difference here. Her response indicated that not only she is ignorant, but also she is insolent. If she had said, “I made a mistake and didn’t use the correct word.” I would think, “She is human, and she admitted to her mistake.”

When I first saw Sarah Palin introduced as John McCain’s running mate, I was hoping that she would be someone that I could come to respect and even admire. But during the months before the 2008 elections, I came to be disappointed by her lack of knowledge and simple and narrow views on issues. I remember when she was asked about what she read, I thought, “Name something, anything, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times...”. But she didn’t. Another thing that bothered me about her was her divisive way of talking in her speeches that were repeated over and over. She used phrases such as “good patriotic Americans” to refer to people who shared her political views, as though people who didn’t have the same views were unpatriotic. This sort of language only fuels hatred and judgment and is not constructive. Even her Tweet that had the non-word refudiate in it had a prejudiced tone. My issues with her have nothing to do with her politics, and they have to do with her person. It is obvious that she is not well informed. Her perception of things is limited and yet she is extremely ambitious. She didn’t even finish her first term as Alaska’s governor so that she could pursue her political goals.

America, today, is the greatest nation in the world. I have come to understand that this country has become what it is today, because of the vision and the foresight of the founding fathers and some enlightened early Americans. It is because of their insight that this country has such a strong foundation and a great system of laws. I have, also, read about the Women’s Suffrage in this country. The struggles of these amazing women who fought for their right to vote are no less than heroic. I have seen the rise of women CEOs, scientist and inventors in the recent history. I would love to see the first woman president in this county someday. I hope that she will be one that I can admire, respect and be proud of, someone with a great mind and intellect who is, also, educated. It is terribly jarring to hear the leader of the free world use words that are not in the English language. I’m still trying to digest president Bush’s use of the non-word “misunderestimated” in one of his interviews.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I'll write very soon

I have been so busy with life and work, but I will post something within a week.

On a different note: Today was a great day. I was so happy, productive and content with everything.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Human Rights Abuses in Iran

UN Secretary General voices concern over human rights abuses in Iran

UNITED NATIONS, 18 October (BWNS) — The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has once again expressed strong concern over Iran's ongoing human rights violations, including its persecution of Iranian Baha'is.

In a report issued Thursday, Mr. Ban highlighted his continuing concerns over Iran's use of torture and the death penalty, its poor treatment of women, and repeated violations of due process of law and of freedom of assembly, speech and religion.

The report also strongly criticized Iran's failure to protect the rights of minorities, including the Baha’i, Sufi, Baluch, and Kurdish communities.

Over the last year, Mr. Ban said, there was "a noticeable increase in application of the death penalty, including in cases involving political opponents and juvenile offenders. Discrimination persisted against minority groups and in some cases amounted to persecution."

The Secretary-General has been "deeply troubled" by reports of "excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests and detentions, unfair trials and possible torture and ill-treatment of opposition activists in relation to the post-election unrest in 2009."

This year's report quite specifically highlighted Iran's ongoing "discrimination and harassment" of its Baha'i community.

"Members of unrecognized religions, in particular the Baha'i, who comprise the country's largest non-Muslim religious minority, face multiple forms of discrimination and harassment, including denial of employment, Government benefits and access to higher education," said the report.

"Some members of the Baha'i community have faced arbitrary detention or the confiscation and destruction of their property.

"Fires had been deliberately set to partially or totally destroy homes and vehicles, and a cemetery in Marvdasht had been vandalized. The incident was allegedly reported to a number of
Government agencies, but no official action has been taken," the report said.

The report also took note of the trial and reported sentencing of seven Baha'i leaders, observing that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed "deep concern" over the absence of international observers and the lack of due process in that trial, which concluded in June.

"The High Commissioner voiced grave concern that the criminal charges brought against the above-mentioned individuals appeared to constitute a violation of the Islamic Republic of Iran's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in particular those of freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression and association," said the report.

Mr. Ban's report was released in response to last year's resolution of the UN General Assembly on human rights in Iran. That resolution specifically asked the Secretary General to report on any progress Iran makes during the year on human rights issues. It is the third such report that Mr. Ban has issued on human rights violations in Iran in as many years.

"What is surprising is the degree to which the government of Iran has completely ignored these annual reports from the UN Secretary General, who has so clearly articulated in them the international community's concerns about Iran's failure to meet its human rights obligations," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

"For three years now, Mr. Ban has called attention to Iran's abusive and illegal treatment of women, juveniles, minorities, and journalists, not to mention common citizens who merely wish to voice their own concerns.

"Mr. Ban has also repeatedly expressed concern over Iran's systematic and on-going persecution of the Iranian Baha'i community, who are discriminated against solely because of their religious belief.

"We believe that the time has come for the UN General Assembly - to which this report is directed - to appoint a special envoy to monitor the human rights situation in Iran," said Ms. Dugal.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


My birthday was last month. It was on a beautiful and sunny Sunday with the temperature in the 80s. I was determined to have a good day. I went to a BBQ with some friends at a park. What I enjoyed the most was playing with my friends’ three-year-old son. He was such a happy child full of energy and life. And he had the most adorable face being half white and half Hawaiian. He had big round brown eyes and red hair. He was at first shy of me and hid behind his dad when I tried to talk to him, but within a couple of minutes, he ran to me, pulled my arm and made me run with him on the grass and play with him. The urge to pick him up, kiss and squeeze him was overwhelming.

As I watched the children play, I thought of my two miscarriages, and my heart ached. If my babies had lived they would have been 9 and 7 years old. I keep track of the years and try to imagine what they would have been like at different ages. I have grieved those losses and have come to term with them, but sometimes I can’t help be reminded of what I have lost.

I didn’t feel much emotion about my birthday until the next day. Monday at about noon, I came across a piece of writing that really upset me. All the thoughts that I had pushed back resurfaced. I saw my life as meaningless and empty. I thought of what I had expected my life to be like and what it actually was. I thought of all my futile struggles in life and all I had not been able to achieve. I thought of all the people who have hurt me, and how gullible and vulnerable I have been. I thought about all the times that I felt used by different people. I thought about all the times that I trusted people when I shouldn’t have. Sitting at my desk at work, I started to cry. Life seemed really ugly to me. It seemed like a burden, a burden I could not get rid of. I remember thinking, “Some day it will all end, and I’ll be free”.

Half an hour later, I checked my email. Don, a man that I dated briefly about 3 years ago, who lives in Albuquerque, had sent me an email wishing me a happy birthday. I read the email and started to cry again. I replied to the email with an emotional response, telling him that I felt like a failure in life explaining to him all that I thought was wrong with my life. Everything poured out of me, totally, unfiltered. I felt comfortable telling Don how I felt. I guess, through our conversations over the last couple of years, I have come to feel safe with him. This is a major change considering during our very short time dating, I concluded that he was a superficial man wanting to explore as many women as possible, which would not have been difficult for him to do, since he has GQ looks, is an educated professional and intelligent. When we ended our very short relationship, I thought, “I will never see or hear from him again”, but nine months after the last time we had spoken, he called me one night from Albuquerque. He said that he has thought about me from time to time and wanted to be in contact with me. When I told him how insignificant he had made me feel when I last saw him, he apologized to me. We have stayed in contact since, and I have come to know him better. My opinion of him has changed.

What ensued from the original email were a series of emails going back and forth between Don and me for the next few days. In his first reply, he listed all that he thought I had going for me. He wrote, “You are not a failure! You are intelligent, beautiful ... Don't live in your head so much. You are your own worst judge.” He was right. I analyze everything too much. I think about everything too much. I judge myself too severely. In the next email I wrote, “My being "intelligent, beautiful…" hasn't brought me much happiness." He responded, “That is because you don't trust the validity of the experiences those qualities bring you. We heady people screw up most in the moment. Perhaps you should and be more in the moment.” I have always had a hard time living in the moment. Our correspondence helped me move on from the place that I was stuck on emotionally. Don made some good points using his own life experiences. By the end our week long communications, my outlook towards my life had changed. Yes, my life has not been what I had expected, but what I have has a lot of good in it. I am grateful to Don for taking the time to help me sort through things. He gave me all the assurances that I needed in order to feel better about myself. Despite all appearances, I am very fragile emotionally and struggle with life constantly. I often feel like I don’t know how to live and how to make sense of my life. Almost nothing in my life has turned out the way I wanted. On the outside, I may seem happy and confident, but often that is just on the surface.

So, after that Monday, I decided to live in the moment and try to enjoy what I have. I planned a series of activities for myself. Tuesday night, I got together with Vince. I had not seen or communicated with him for about a year and a half. I decided that it would be fun to have a conversation with a very smart and intellectual guy. Vince is a very interesting person to listen to. He is articulate, contemplative, well informed and discerning. He puts ideas and concepts into words in such a poignant way that I sometimes want to say, “Say that again, I want to write it down.” It is enjoyable to listen to him.

Wednesday morning, I had a meeting at 9:00 AM. I tried to leave my house early enough to get to the meeting on time. I would have been on time if the traffic on I-25 wasn’t so bad. At about 8:45, nervously, I called my boss to tell him that I would be a few minutes late. As I was approaching downtown Denver, I got in the right hand lane, which is only for buses until 9:00 AM. The traffic was bad, and I didn’t want to be too late for the meeting. As I was speeding in the lane that I should not have been in, I was pulled over. I thought, “Now, I’m going to get a ticket and be very late.” The police officer was a tall African American man with broad shoulders and dark blue eyes. He was striking. After a brief conversation, I gave him my driver’s license. I was sure I was going to get a ticket. I was at fault, but I decided to relax and not dwell on it. I was more concerned about my meeting. While the officer was checking my driver’s license, I put on my makeup. A few minutes later, he came to me and said, “You just had a birthday.” I said, “Yes”. He said, “How was it?” I said, “so so”. He said, “Why just so so?” I said, “I don’t know, just life.” He smiled and gave me back my driver’s license. I said, “No ticket?” He said, “No ticket.” I was so happy that I could have kissed him. This was the first time in my life that I was stopped for a traffic violation and didn’t get a ticket. I said, “thank you” and drove away carefully. I got to my meeting 30 minutes late.

Wednesday at noon, I went for a long walk at lunch. It was a beautiful day. I tried to be mindful of the beauty of the nature around me and the warmth of the sun. It was a pleasant walk. On the way back, when I was standing behind a red light, I noticed a nice looking and well-dressed man in his forties looking at me on the other side of the street. He continued to look at me as I crossed the street. Once I got to the other side, he got close to me and said something funny. I laughed. He then took out a business card from his wallet and introduced himself. He said, “I’m a lawyer. I practice Family Law; if you ever need my services or if you just want to go to lunch you should call me.” He exuded confidence. I looked at his left hand; he was wearing a wedding band. I said, “But you’re married.” He laughingly said, “Yes, that ring is a chick magnet.” I said, “I don’t think so” and walked away. This was the second time in the last couple of weeks that some married man had hit on me. Trying to remember all the things I’m grateful for, one more thing came to my mind. I’m grateful that I’m not married to this guy. I thought of his wife and felt sorry for her. I could not handle being married to a man who cheats.

On Thursday, another beautiful sunny day, I went shopping during my lunch hour. I went to my favorite store in downtown, The Loft. I love that store. They carry a good selection of petite sizes, and all the clothes in my size always fit me perfectly. It is as though, their designers used my measurements to make their size 2 petite. I found several things I really liked. I was so happy, I cloud not contain myself. I looked great in everything I tried on! For one hour, I was in a shopping coma; nothing else existed in the world. I had no other thoughts except to see what I looked best in. I was perfectly happy, didn’t need anything else, didn’t notice anyone else. Life in that little dressing room was perfect. I felt loved by the world or at least by the clothing industry. I do love those designers and manufacturers. They make me happy. This shopping experience was therapeutic. I, totally, lived in the moment. I lived in the hour! Five items of clothing and $230.00 later, I had no regrets. I was exhilarated. Walking back to work, I thought, “Shopping, clothes, shoes and accessories make me so happy. How did Mother Teresa wear the same habit decade after decade?”

A side note, after mother Teresa’s death, the text of some of her letters and diaries were published. They revealed that she struggled with feelings of abandonment by God for nearly fifty years until the time of her death. She had a spiritual experience, in 1946, which she called the "the call within the call". This experience led her to dedicate her life to serving the poor. But for many years after that, she felt disconnected from God and struggled with faith. She wrote, “Where is my faith? Even deep down ... there is nothing but emptiness and darkness ... If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul ... How painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith. Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal, ... What do I labor for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.” When I first came across such writings of Mother Teresa, I was surprised to see how she struggled with faith. I was not disappointed. I think we all struggle with faith from time to time, but by the life she lived, I thought that she probably always lived in the state of knowing and believing. What is referred to in the Baha’i faith as “Certitude”. She was more human than I thought. She had her struggles just like the rest of us.

Thursday evening, I went to some networking party with my friend Lisa at a restaurant called “Little Europe”. The owner was from Ukraine, and the food was mostly Russian, and it was free that night. My job doesn’t require me to do any networking, but I went mostly for the free food and hanging out with Lisa. I met several people throughout the evening. One was an older heavyset man, named Frederico, from Chile. He owned a translation company. I told him that I have done a lot of translation from Persian to English and vice versa. He got my number to let me know of translation jobs that may come up. We talked for a bit. He said, “I love Persian food. You will have the key to my heart if you cook me Persian food.” I thought, “I don’t think I want the key to your heart or anything else you might own.” I told him that one of the authors that I like is Isabel Allende who is from Chile. He said, “Oh, I don’t like her. None of her work is original. She just imitates the style of the great Latin writers. Literary people of the Spanish language do not respect her.” I was somewhat disillusioned. About ten years ago, I read 4 of her books that were translated to English. I thought she was a gifted storyteller. She writes historical fiction, and her stories are well researched and fascinating. I had read some Latin American literature before reading her books, so I had noticed some similarities. She uses “magical realism” in her writing, a style of writing originated from Latin America. Listening to him, I wished I knew Spanish so that I could read and find out for myself. As I expected, a couple of days later Frederico called me to ask me out on a date. I told him, I gave my number to him for translation work not to go out with him. I told him I wasn’t interested in dating him. He was polite and told me if he had any translation jobs, he would call me. Of course, I know he won’t. That wasn’t why he wanted my phone number in the first place. I get asked out by guys that I would not even consider going out with a lot. It gets frustrating at times.

Friday morning, as I put on a pair of pants that I had just bought, I thought, “I hope my butt looks good in these pants.” When I got to work, Andy, the young man that I work with sent me an instant message saying, “I know you told me not to give you any more compliments, but you look really hot in those tight pants.” I thought, “I guess, I don’t have to wonder how my butt looks in these pants.” The reason that I have asked Andy not to give me any compliments is that all of his compliments have a sexual undertone, and that makes working with him uncomfortable for me.

Friday night, I went Swing dancing. I learned the East Coast Swing a few years ago, but I hadn’t gone dancing in a long time. That night I had the most fun I had had in a long time. The place was filled with people who were serious dancers wearing dancing shoes and clothes. As I started to dance, what I had forgotten came back to me. I danced with Dave the dance instructor who taught me the Lindy Hop. Once I learned the steps, I was able to dance with him in sync. As we moved in perfect harmony with each other and the music, I laughed. I became aware of what I was feeling. This was “joy”. Something I hadn’t felt in years. I tried to hold on to that feeling for as long as I could. I wished that I could freeze that moment. I danced with a lot of different people that night. It was really nice to dance with guys who knew how to dance well. Everything would fall into place naturally, and I was able to follow their lead easily. There were some really old dancers there. After all, Swing is a very old dance. I danced with guys in their sixties and seventies. At one point, I danced with a guy who was about 80 years old. He looked very frail. When he asked me to dance I thought, “I hope he won’t have a heart attack while we dance.” He didn’t. He had very strong arms. He pulled and pushed me into different moves and led me into sophisticated turns. He was a good dancer.

Sat. morning as I was getting ready for my day, I was listening to a program on NPR. It was an interview with an author. He read a piece he had written about his struggle with cancer. He was first diagnosed with cancer in his twenties. Now, at the age of 46, cancer had come back as the result of the radiation that he had received to treat the cancer when he was in his twenties. He explained that what had to be done was the removal of one arm and one shoulder; the area invaded by the cancer. That was the only treatment possible. He had written about trying to get used to the idea of not having an arm and a shoulder. He was trying to visualize it in order to minimize the impact of the loss when it finally happens. As I listened, my heart ached for him. I kneeled and put my forehead on the floor. I cried and prayed. I asked God to give him what he needed in order to go on with life, to give him strength. Then I thought of all the suffering that exists in the world. I remembered that my nephew who is in his twenties is battling stage 4 Lymphoma. He will have to receive radiation after his chemotherapy is finished. He could be going through what this man is going through later in life. I thought of the story of the concentration camp survivors and the unimaginable and abhorrent cruelty they went through and witnessed. An image came to my mind; a picture I saw at the Holocaust museum in Israel. It was of a teenage girl in one of the Nazi concentration camps. She was skin and bones, barely able to walk; two people were holding her arms so that she could stand upright. She was looking straight at the camera. She was one of the human guinea pigs that Nazi doctors used to perform experimental surgery. She was standing next to a hospital bed. I remembered the story of a Tutsi woman in Rwanda, a genocide survivor. In a documentary that I saw a few years ago, she explained how her husband and two children were killed in front of her. Then she, who was pregnant at the time, was imprisoned and raped daily for about four months. One day, she begged one of the men who was about to rape her to not do it, at which point, the man stabbed her in the belly and then raped her. Months later, she gave birth to her child alone and sick in a field. Unable to take care of the baby, wild dogs surrounded her and ate the baby alive. I have often wondered how she continues to live; how can one go on with life after such experiences. I remembered more of other people’s sufferings. We live in a cruel world. Life in the US is so amazingly comfortable and good compared to so many other places. As I laid on the floor crying, I felt ashamed about complaining about my life. Much has been given to me in ways that I take for granted. I have been spared so much. I could have been the Tutsi woman in Rwanda. I could have been the girl in the concentration camp. I could have been so many other people dealing with extreme suffering.

That morning, I spent a long time thinking and acknowledging all that I have in my life. I thanked God for all that I have received without deserving. I thanked God for not testing me beyond my abilities. I, also, decided that I’m not going to be attached to my ideas of how things should be. That has caused me a lot of misery in life. It has stopped me from enjoying things the way they are, and things are good a lot of the time. I think the happiness that we, often, dream of is mostly an illusion. It is a mirage. It is a fantasy.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Never Let Me Go"

I saw a movie last weekend at the Esquire movie theater in Denver. It was called “Never Let Me Go”. It was a British movie based on the book written by the Japanese born British writer, Kazuo Ishiguro, who is also the author of the novel “The Remains of the Day”.

The story is a very powerful and emotional story told masterfully. It is the story of an enduring love in very unusual circumstances. The lives of the characters are described and their emotions are expressed so poignantly that it is impossible not to identify with the characters.

The story, also, takes the subject of Genetic Engineering beyond the intellectual realm. It forces the viewer to consider the human aspects of what we may someday be able to do. It raises some serious ethical questions.

This was the best movie I have seen in a long time. It is deeply moving and thought provoking. Time magazine named the novel the best novel of 2005 and included it in its “TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005”.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

50 Great Voices

National Public Radio (NPR) started a series in January of this year called “50 Great Voices, a year devoted to 50 of the most acclaimed singers from around the world.” I have listened to this program and have known some of these great voices.

One voice was the voice the great Egyptian singer, Umm Kulthum. She is, perhaps, the most famous singer of the 20th century in the Middle East. She sang in Arabic. Although we speak Persian in Iran, she was still famous and was listened to by Iranians. She has a soul stirring voice and way of singing.

Another singer celebrated on the program was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He has been referred to as The Voice of Pakistan. I first heard his voice about 13 years ago on the sound track of the movie “Dead Man Walking”. It was a great voice. He was chanting in Urdu. I loved the way he sang. I do like classical Indian and Pakistani music. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s music often has a meditative quality to it.

Another familiar voice featured on this program was the voice of the American singer Roy Orbison. I have listened to this program throughout the year wondering whose voice will be featured next. I have been impressed with the effort that has been put into discovering these voices globally.

Monday morning, as I was driving to work and listening to NPR this program came on. I heard the words “… Mohammad Reza Shajarian may be the most famous singer in Iran. Shajarian is the latest singer we are featuring in our year long series 50 great voices…”. As I heard these totally unexpected words, I felt overwhelmed with emotion. Tears rolled down my face as I listened to the program explaining the qualities that make him the greatest Iranian classical singer while his songs were being played in the background.

On the program, Iranian-American scholar Abbas Milani talked about Shajarian’s voice. He said, "When I still hear it, I get a chill to my bone and think that this is not the voice of a mere mortal — this is the gods speaking to us." What he said, totally, resonated with me. I heard Shajarian’s music throughout my childhood. I came to appreciate classical Persian music and specifically Shajarian’s voice and style of singing as a teenager and have listened to him my entire adult life. His music has always made me feel close to the Divine and has helped me find that quiet and peaceful place within my heart. It has nurtured my soul and has helped me transcend this material world. It has put me in touch with that which is noble and sanctified within me. This is the power of art. Baha’i writings state that art is the ladder of the soul, and its existence is necessary for achieving exaltation and progress in the world. In a talk given by the Baha’i painter, Otto Donald Rogers, he describes art as “our human response to a voice on high”. Art gives sustenance to our lives, without it life would not be bearable.

There were other reasons for my emotional reaction to the program that day. When you are an ex-pat living in a foreign country any sign of what you have left behind makes you homesick and nostalgic. When I hear Persian music, when I inhale a fragrant that often permeated the air of where I lived, when I eat certain foods, when I see a building that is similar in some way to the Persian architecture, when I see a plant or flower that was common at home and so on, I am taken back to my childhood and life in Iran. For example, the smell of burnt wood always takes me back to my mother’s ancestral village as it was present in the air most of the time. When it rains gently, I’m always reminded of my hometown as the rain was always very gentle and quiet there; vivid memories come to surface by these little reminders with a strong sense of longing. Hearing Shajarian’s voice had the same effect on me.

Another reason for my reaction was the mere shock of this program choosing someone from Iran and further realization of the contribution of this artist to enriching a culture, which is mine and very close to my heart.

In an era, which almost all the news that comes out of Iran is about the cruelty and inhumanity inflicted on the people of Iran by the Islamic Republic of Iran, a government, which has been in power for the last 31 years; In a country, where people’s basic rights to live, believe, think, read, write and express have been taken away from them; At a time, when people of the Baha’i faith, the most persecuted religious minority in Iran, are denied the most basic human rights; In a place where Baha’is are put in prison, tortured, executed, their properties confiscated and their youth are prevented from attending colleges and universities solely because of their religious beliefs; At a time, when Iranian women are stoned to death for committing adultery; And when women receive 100 lashes for showing their hair in public; In a land, where the life of a woman is worth half of that of a man; In a place, where if a man is murdered the punishment of the murderer can be death, but if a woman is murdered, merely, paying a sum of money is sufficient punishment, because a woman’s life is less valuable than that of a man; In a country, where it is legal for a man to have 4 permanent wives and many temporary ones; In a place, where participating in a political demonstration will get you years in prison, raped, viciously tortured and killed; At a time, perhaps the darkest period of the Iranian history, when so much has been done by the fundamentalist Islamic regime to suffocate a nation; At a time and place where evil reigns, humanity is still alive. The violence inflected on the people has not been able to extinguish what is sublime and beautiful. It has not quenched the light of the soul of a nation. The human spirit is amazingly powerful and resilient. It is a sign of God’s mercy to mankind. It is a sign of God’s marvelous creation. It is a reflection of God in this physical world. It is beautiful.

P.S. I know that the style of the last paragraph is different. It has been written in a Persian literary style. I have received comments about it from different people saying that it doesn't fit the English paradigm well. I was aware of it. This is how it came out. May consider revising later.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Picture

This picture was taken 3 days ago.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A First Impression

As I walked along the Las Vegas Strip at 2:00 AM the night I arrived, there were too many lights, too many tacky imitations of world’s architecture, too many people walking on the streets with drinks in their hands. The imitation Eiffel Tower, the fake Egyptian structures, in fact, all the fake facade looked so gaudy and cheap. The pavement was littered with flyers for places dedicated to the satisfaction of carnal desires.

My hotel lobby was filled with middle-aged gamblers sitting at slot machines and card tables, concentrating intensely. They seemed unaware of their surrounding, deeply involved in pushing the buttons and flipping their cards as though they were in a semiconscious state of being. Heads were down, eyes were focused, serious expressions were on the faces. The smell of alcohol and cigarette smoke filled the air.

Young and mostly over-weight women were wearing very short and revealing dresses, flaunting fat and cellulite, young men, all with drinks in hand, were happy and loud. Looking around, almost everyone was fat and out of shape. Everyone seemed totally happy, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. This was the picture of happiness. Fat Americans enjoying a city entirely dedicated to the pleasure of the senses. The place was devoid of what makes life worth living for me. It had no soul.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Calamity (Part 2)

Continuation of the previous piece:

I told Soudi, in the gentlest possible way, that Firuz was in the hospital, he was OK, but there was a tumor in his chest. Then I said that they have done a biopsy, and it may be cancer. Soudi started saying, “Oh my God, oh my God…” Then she asked, ”Is it cancer?” And I said, “Yes, it is cancer, but he is in a very good hospital with very good doctors.” At that point, Soudi started to sob painfully. She dropped the phone. I listened to her sob for a few minutes. She was unable to speak. My sister Azi picked up the phone and told me to hang up. I hung up the phone, while I could still hear Soudi’s cry. Feeling horrible about the bad news that I had just delivered, I laid in bed imagining the atmosphere of Soudi’s house and what she and her husband were experiencing, perhaps, the most painful moments of their lives. I felt like the executioner who has just delivered the final blow. Life had changed for them forever. I will never forget the sound of Soudi’s cry; it still resonates in my ears. An hour later, I called again. I talked to Soudi for a few minutes. She was still crying, but managed to ask a few questions. I kept telling her that I will do whatever I can to help Firuz, and he is not alone.

Firuz has been doing his best to cope with his situation. At times, he has cried and has found life unbearable and his future dark, and at other times he has been determined to fight the cancer and has had hope for the future. He has started chemotherapy, and is no longer in the hospital.

When I was with Firuz in Aug., one day he was told that his cancer had not responded to the chemo and was now in stage 4. The tumor had grown to 12 centimeters. His oncologist told him that once the tumor gets to be longer than 10 centimeters the cancer is in stage 4. They would have to modify his chemo treatments. On that day, future seemed even bleaker for him. He took the news the best way possible. I was impressed with his calm and resolve. During the 3rd week after his first chemo treatment, he started to lose his hair in handfuls. He shaved his head so that he would not have to see the hair coming out in bunches. Most of the time, he had pain, extreme night sweats, which is one of the signs of this kind of cancer and difficulty breathing. He was also trying to recover from 4 operations. He was very weak.

Soudi is now with Firuz in Nevada. She has lost so much weight in the last 6 weeks. She tries to stay strong for her son, but she is in terrible emotional pain. She cries every time I talk to her on the phone.

No one knows what things will be like a year from now. Life has been terribly unfair and difficult for Firuz. The worry is constant. We all wonder how he will overcome stage 4 cancer. And if he beats it will it come back again? It is painful to see him weak, sick and in pain. What breaks my heart is to see someone so young in this situation. He hasn’t really lived life yet. His dreams and aspirations may never come to fruition. Will he be able to pursue them with an illness that may never really be cured?

I am sure of one thing; Firuz is a very strong person. He has handled this situation with so much grace. He has been tested to the core. He has accepted his fate and has come to terms with it. At times, he has comforted me when I couldn’t hold it together. If he can overcome this, he will become a much stronger person. My dream is to see him and his parents happy one day.

I, continually, ask for God’s mercy. I have worried for Firuz for many years. I have fervently prayed to God for his wellbeing for many years given the difficult to manage illness that he was already fighting. But things got worse for him instead of better. This has been a test of faith for me.

In my personal life as well, for a long time now, the harder I have tried to achieve what I want the further away I have gotten from it. I have struggled with no positive results for so many years, it seems as though the doors have been shut and will never be opened. Life for the most part has been an ugly and unpleasant struggle. The disappointments have been many and great. I have lost my faith in people and am constantly working on detachment from all that pertains to this life. I used to think that opportunities were unlimited and my fate was in my hand. Now, I feel powerless, unable to change my fate, neglected by God, resigned to accept my defeats in life, knowing that the only thing that I truly have in life is me and me alone. I am the only person I can depend on and trust.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Calamity (Part 1)

The last several weeks have been unbelievable. For the first 10 days I was in disbelief. It seemed like I was in a nightmare, but it was, all, real.

About five weeks ago, on a Saturday, I got a phone call from my nephew, Firuz, from the emergency room of a hospital in Nevada. He was unable to breathe, he had a high fever; his left lung had stopped working and was filled with fluid. There was a mass in his chest cavity. He had been told that there was a 60% chance that it could be cancer. In the subsequent phone calls, I found out that the mass in his chest was a cancerous tumor, which had spread to different parts of his abdomen.

Life was already very difficult for him before all this, how could it get any worse? He has been dealing with another chronic illness not related to the cancer for most of his life, which at times has paralyzed his life and has nearly brought it to a halt. I have seen him suffer greatly and fight vigorously. I always worried for him and tried to help him. He came to live with me and my ex-husband as a teenager, and he has been a part of my life since. Given the challenges that he already faced, this was more than he could handle and more than I could bear to watch.

I never forget the phone call that put all doubt and hope to rest, the one where he told me that it was definitely cancer. My heart dropped, I started to cry and didn’t know what to say to him. All I could say was, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry that you have to go through this.” I couldn’t believe this was happening to him, he was so young only in his twenties. I wanted to spare him from the pain and agony that was waiting for him. I wanted to make it better somehow, but there was nothing I could do. All pain was just starting, and I already felt that life had come out of him, the physical and the emotional pain was all too much for him to go through and too much for those of us who love him to see.

Three weeks before the day he called me from the emergency room, during the early hours of the morning, I had a dream about him. I dreamt that I was hearing him calling me from the depth of a well saying, “I have fallen into a well, and I don’t know how to get out.” In the dream, horrified, I looked down the well realizing how deep it was I thought, “Oh my God, this time I cannot help him.” I woke up in horror. I was so relieved to realize that it was just a dream. But three weeks later what I felt in the dream became a reality, and there was no waking up.

Soudi, my sister who is nine years older than me and is Firuz’s mother, lives in Iran with her husband. I am the closest person to Firuz in the US, and he has always come to me in times of trouble. So this time also I was the person he called from the emergency room, and the person he continued talking to as things unfolded. The emotions he felt ranged from horror to devastation, depression, anger and despair. I felt all those emotions along with him. I felt his pain and was angry at God for testing him so severely, feeling helpless just like my dream; I tried to be there for him. I kept telling him that I love him, and that I’m here for him. Between me, his sister and his dad’s sister, we made sure that someone could be with him at all times. He had 4 operations in the span of two weeks. His days were filled with agony and pain, and my days were filled with the thought of his agony and pain.

When Firuz was first diagnosed with cancer, advanced stage three Lymphoma, his initial reaction was that he wanted to die and didn’t want to fight it. His compassionate oncologist is credited with igniting in him hope and optimism. A week after his diagnosis Firuz decided that he needed to tell his parents in Iran that he had cancer. He first told my sister Azi, his aunt, in Iran via a painful and emotional phone call. Then he called me and said that he didn’t have the heart to tell his parents, and he wanted me to tell them. We arranged for me to call them on Friday afternoon at about 4 PM Iran time, which would be 5:30 AM Friday morning Mountain Standard Time in the US. We asked that my sister Azi be present at Soudi’s house when I call. On Thursday I pretty much cried all day at work. I just couldn’t stop the tears. I didn’t know how to break the news to my sister Soudi. How was I going to tell her that her young son had advanced cancer? I wasn’t able to sleep that night. I tossed and turned and went over what I was going to say over and over in my head. I wondered about my sister’s reaction when I would tell her. At 5:30 Friday morning, I got up, said a prayer and dialed Soudi’s number knowing that what I had to say to her would devastate her and change her life. I already could feel the pain that was going to be inflected on my sweet and loving sister. The phone rang and Soudi answered the phone. I said hello. I could hear the anxiety in her voice as she spoke. She knew something was wrong, otherwise why I would call her at 5:30 in the morning. She immediately asked, “Is Firuz OK?”…….To be continued.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I'll write soon

A lot has happened in the last 3 weeks. I have not had time to write. I will post something within the next week.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Intruder

It was about 10 o’clock at night. I was in my bedroom sitting on my bed, which was by the window. The shade was down. I was studying. Suddenly, I heard someone trying to open the window from outside. He was shaking the window. In one instant, my body was covered with sweat, and I froze in fear. I could still hear the man struggle to open the window when I got up and went to the kitchen and picked up a kitchen knife. I turned on all the lights so that the intruder would know that I have been alarmed and may also think that someone else was in the apartment with me, although I knew that he knew that I was alone.

With the kitchen knife in my hand, I decided to call the emergency number. I was so nervous that instead of dialing 911 I kept dialing 119 and couldn’t register that it was the wrong number. After a couple of tries, frantically, I called my friends’ house and in a shaky voice told them that someone was trying to get into my apartment, and I don’t seem to dial the right number for emergency. They told me to make sure and dial 911 and that they would be there as soon as they could. By this time, the noise had stopped, and I was worried that the intruder was already in the apartment or was trying to get in another way. I looked around me in horror and called 911. I was relieved to hear a person’s voice. Stuttering, I told her that someone was trying to get into my apartment and that he had tried to open the window. She, calmly, said, “Are you sure you’re not imagining things?” I said, “No, I heard him. He was trying to get in through my bedroom window. I’m not imagining things.” Hesitatingly, the woman got my address. I pleaded with her to send someone to my apartment, since by the tone of her voice, I could tell that she didn’t believe me. I hung up totally baffled at the reaction of the 911 operator. I could be raped and killed, and she didn’t care. With the knife in my hand, I started to pray. I didn’t hear any more noises, but it took about 20 minutes for two police officers to arrive. I was wondering why it took them so long. I lived in a small town and less than two miles from the police station. I was relieved to see them when they finally arrived. Two minutes later, my friends Sima and Shahram arrived. The police examined the area outside by the window. There were huge footprints there. They were very visible since it had rained the night before and the area by the bedroom window was muddy. Fortunately, the window of my bedroom was a storm window. It had two layers of glass with a screen in the middle. The outer window had been unlocked and was wide open. The screen was torn, pulled out and thrown on the grass. The third window was still locked. The intruder unable to open the second window had given up probably because he knew that he had lost his window of time for getting in. I felt extremely lucky that the second window was so difficult to open from outside.

I knew I could no longer stay in that apartment. Living there had been difficult for the past six months. I knew someone was stalking me. I had seen him. One winter night when I came home at about 8:00, as I was entering the apartment, I saw a man about six feet tall with a big build wearing a jacket with a hood standing about 20 yards away looking at me. Since it was dark I couldn’t see his face. He stood there and watched me unlock the apartment door and get in. I was scared. I, quickly, got in and locked the door. Shortly after that incident, every night as soon as I would come in to my apartment the phone would ring. I would pick it up and say hello, and I could only hear someone breathing on the other end. I would hang up and a second later the phone would ring, again I would say hello and he would say nothing. This went on for weeks. During that time, I was always scared of being alone at home. I talked to the manager of my apartment complex and also to the police, but nothing could be done. No one had seen anything, and no crime was committed. At the time, I was 20 years old and a college student, and that was the only place I could afford to live. The apartment complex was in a terrible neighborhood. I saw police cars in my neighborhood quite often. Some of my neighbors were drug addicts and one was arrested for selling stolen merchandise. All the men looked at me with hungry eyes and were vocal about what they wanted from me. I knew I had to find another place to live, but I hadn’t found anything I could afford. It was at about that time that I started to have difficulty sleeping. I used to be able to sleep through anything. Before that time, I remember when I was sleeping, and the phone would ring next to my ear, I would barely wake up. But during those few months, I was always scared at home. I made sure that the door and all the windows were locked at all times and all the shades were down. At night, I slept with so much anxiety that the movement of the leaves of the trees outside by a gentle breeze would awaken me. I would get up to make sure there was no one in my room. The smallest noise would make me jump and in the darkest hours of the night I couldn’t sleep.

After that night, I spent the next few weeks at the homes of different friends sleeping on the floor or the sofa. The spring semester ended and I moved to Maryland for the summer to work for my brother. I moved to a different place when I came back to school in the fall. Living in fear for those few months, and the experience of that night had a lasting effect on me. I have not been able to sleep deeply since then and I wake up with the smallest noise.

Another consequence of that night was the recurrence of a nightmare that haunted me for many years. The nightmare was always the same. I was walking alone in the middle of the night in a city, which was abandoned. There was no one in the city. As I was walking I would always notice that there was a tall man with a limp following me. I would start to run, and he would start to run. I would always tell myself, he is a tall man, but he has a limp maybe he won’t catch up with me. But as I was running, I would see him get closer to me. I would try to lose him and hide in a building, but he was always behind me. I would find a staircase and run up the stairs, he would follow me and get closer to me. Finally, as I was running up the stairs he would get really close, stretch out his arm and grab me. At that moment, I would always wake up breathless. My heart would be beating fast and I would be covered with sweat. I would lay in bed terrified telling myself that it was a dream and no one was going to hurt me, but that didn’t help much. I could not shake off the fear and the thought that someone might be in the house. It always took me a while to go back to asleep.

I had this recurring dream every 3 to 4 months for nearly 16 years. While I was married to my ex-husband Jason every time I had this dream I would wake up in fear like always. Then I would stretch out my arm and touch Jason. When I was reassured that he was laying next to me, I would feel better. After a few years of sleeping next to Jason the nightmares didn’t scare me as much, and I finally stopped having them.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Summer

I pull the shades and open the window with anticipation. My eyes gaze on the beauty of the summer, the blue sky, the green leaves of the trees, the lush grass. The sun shines on my cold body with its loving warmth. I close my eyes and bathe in the warmth while the gentle breeze caresses my skin and fills my being with the sweet smell of the honeysuckles. I take it all in and hold on to these beautiful moments. I am loved by the universe. I am filled with joy. I am grateful for this generosity and bestowal of the nature. There is no sorrow, there is no pain, there is no regret, there is no past, there is no future. There is only the present. There is only love and joy. I say, “thank you”.

Monday, May 31, 2010


I was not yet born when Malihe came to live with my family in the 1960s. She was about 13 years old at the time. In those days in Iran, it was very common and inexpensive for middle class families to have a maid. There was so much poverty that a lot of very young girls from low-income families would offer their services as maids.

Malihe was slightly retarded, able to understand conversations and respond appropriately, but unable to perform the simplest tasks without a lot of supervision. Having been neglected and abused since birth, she was ignorant of the most basic things such as how to use a bathroom properly, how to bathe and how to dress herself. It was going to be my mother’s task to teach her everything.

When my mom was looking for a maid, someone told her about Malihe, but they didn’t tell her about all of her limitations. When she came to live with us, my mom and the rest of the family were, totally, surprised about her state of being. After a few days, when my mother realized that Malihe needed a lot of care, training and attention and that was not what my mom had expected, she decided to take her back to her family. Mom remembers that Malihe, who was somewhat homesick, knew the way to her mother and stepfather’s house. My mother followed her on a 40-minute walk to a rundown house in a very poor neighborhood in my hometown. She saw Malihe’s mother in the yard working. When the mother saw Malihe, the first thing she said to her was, “What are you doing here Mali? You shouldn’t be here. Go back.” Mali is short for Malihe. When Malihe said that she had come to stay, the mother insisted that she should go back with my mom. At the same time, the stepfather came out to the yard with a large kitchen knife and told her that he would cut her head off if she didn’t go back. Terrified and in tears Malihe followed my mother back to our house and stayed with us. After that, she refused to see her mother and sister when they would come to our house to collect the money that my parents would give them for Malihe’s services. Her mother and sister always wanted to talk to her and see how she was doing, but she would disappear and hide in some corner of the house until they would leave. So, finally, after many years they stopped coming to see her. Malihe never referred to her mother as mom or mother. She always called her by her first name, Farang. I remember her running upstairs after opening the front door and seeing that her mother had come to see her saying, “Farang is here, I don’t want to see her.” She had come to adopt my family as hers, and she, also, had bad memories from her childhood with her family. She no longer felt a bond between herself and them. When my mom told me the story of Malihe’s parents not wanting her, I asked her how could they not want her. My mom said, “They were very poor and had too many challenges in life. They didn’t know how to deal with her.”

Malihe had a very small and slender frame, thick hair and big beautiful eyes. She was the most energetic person that I have ever known. She was up at 6:00 AM before every body else and loved to be busy. She loved having company. She was the happiest when we had guests. She loved to listen to the radio all the time. She had a portable radio that she carried with her everywhere she went. She fell asleep listening to it and woke up listening to it. She, also, loved jewelry. My mom had bought her long gold earrings and several bracelets. You could hear her jewelry when she entered a room. Since I was born after she came to live with us, her feelings toward me were maternal. She was a kind soul. I remember her playing with me all the time when I was little. I remember being in her arms going to our backyard feeding my dad’s chickens. She shared her food with me all the time. I even remember one day when I was about three years or so, she was working in the kitchen. I noticed that she was chewing gum. I told her that I wanted some gum, since she didn’t have any; she took out the gum out of her mouth and put it in mine. I was too young to know better. But she gave me everything she had if I asked for it. She was my friend and I loved her.

One day when I was about five and Malihe about nineteen, Malihe and I joined my mom and my sister, Zhaleh, in the family room. Apparently, someone had just died and they were talking about death. I asked my mom and my sister, “Is everybody going to die?” They said, “Yes, everyone will die someday.” I got all upset and while crying said, “But I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.” At the same time, Malihe got upset too and said, “I don’t want to die either.” My sister said, “Everyone dies, it’s not a bad thing.” Both Malihe and I said, “But we don’t want to die.” When my mom and sister saw us both so upset, they said, “OK, OK, you guys won’t die.” I asked, “Are you sure?” They repeated over and over, “We are sure, you two won’t die. Don’t worry.” After that Malihe and I relaxed feeling assured that everyone will die except for us. Happily, we went our way. Mentally, we were both about five years old, OK maybe Malihe was a little bit older than that, but not much.

When I went to first grade, I decided whatever I would learn at school, I would teach Malihe. I decided to spend a little bit of time with her every afternoon after school teaching her what I had learned that day. This way we would both learn to read and write together. I tried for several days, but it was too hard for Malihe, and she wasn’t that interested. I didn’t know how to explain things to her. Sadly, I gave up after a few days. I really thought I could teach her and how great it would be if we could read and write together. When I was in the middle school the first school for the mentally challenged was opened in my hometown. I remember thinking that was the place that Malihe should have gone. By then, Malihe was in her late twenties. The school was for children.

Malihe loved to work, clean and tidy things up. But her way of doing it made no sense. When she wanted to put things away, my clothes would end up in my dad’s closet, my sister’s in mine and so on. If we couldn’t find something, we knew that Malihe had probably done one of her infamous cleanups where things could be lost for days or weeks. Something that should be in the kitchen would end up in the basement or some other unusual place. We always had to ask her to find things that she had moved. No one could think of all the odd places she would put things. I remember, everyday when I would go to school, I would ask Malihe to stay away from my room, closet and things. When she would tell me your room is messy, I knew that meant that she was dying to go and clean it up in her own way of course, which terrified me. When I was a teenager and would sleep in until 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning during the summer, Malihe would get upset. Every day I was awakened by Malihe walking by my bedroom door and shouting, “Get up you lazy girl, it’s almost noon. Shame on you for sleeping so long.” Everyday I would say, “It’s my summer vacation, and I want to sleep in, don’t wake me up.” But the same exact thing would happen the next day. When I would get frustrated with her, my mom would say, “Malihe is like a mother to you. She washed your diapers when you were a baby.” meaning that I should be respectful to her. In reality, her picking on me was her way of mothering me and trying to discipline me.

When one of my cousins got pregnant, Malihe would ask me what do you think she is going to have? I would say, “I don’t know.” She would say, “I think, she’ll either have a boy or a girl.”

I always felt sorry for Malihe, because of her limitations in life. Her world consisted of helping my mother at home, cooking, cleaning, watering the plants, taking care of the garden, going to the bakery or other stores near my house to buy things for my mom, going to my sister’s house or friends’ house with us. It was a very simple life with no long-term goals. She was happy to be around people and the kids in the family. She was gentle, kind, giving and child like. Her vulnerability and simplicity was painful for me to see. I often felt like I needed to protect her. When she was upset about something, I made sure I talked to her and comforted her. As I grew older it was me who felt maternal toward her and protective of her. I knew that she would always need protection in life. She was no more than a child no matter how old she was.

The day I left home, when I was coming to the US, I said goodbye to her, hugged her and told her that I loved her. And I wondered if she really understood how much I loved her. Throughout the years I have thought about her often. I have talked to her many times on the phone. I have seen pictures of her. I have sent her presents. I will see her again someday. Throughout all the years that we have lived outside of Iran, Malihe has lived in my sister Azi’s household. Azi is a kind and gentle lady, and it makes me glad to know that Malihe is with her. Malihe has lived with my family for more than 40 years. She has seen three generations of my family be born. When I was at my family reunion in Dubai, over a month ago, I asked the youngest child who had come from Iran who she missed the most at home. She said, “I miss Malihe.” Malihe showers her love and affection on this child the same way she did on me.

A number of times in my life, I have had dreams that were significant to me. Some foretold future events that have come to pass. A couple of them have been about being close to a loved one. A little over a year ago, in a dream, I saw that Malihe was walking towards me. She looked about twenty years old and as beautiful as she used to look at that age. She was wearing a beautiful and clean red dress with white flowers. I was so happy to see her. When she got close to me, I asked her to sit next to me. I wanted to sit as close as possible to her. I kissed her face over and over and held her hands in my hands pressing them against my cheeks. She kissed my face and held my hands in hers. It felt so good to be near her. There was a glow around her body. In my dream, a veil had been removed, and I could feel the essence of her soul. Her essence was pure innocence. I could feel it. She was as pure and as innocent as a newborn child. I wanted to sit next to her beautiful being forever and bathe in the beauty of her loving soul. I was very attracted to the innocence that emanated from her. I didn’t want to be away from it. When I woke up, I started to cry, talking to Malihe, I kept telling her, “Don’t leave me yet, I need to be near you. I need you. I need you.” I wanted to hold on to what I was feeling in my dream. I didn’t want her to go away.

As I awoke, Malihe got further and further away from me. But I knew that through my dream I had seen and felt a glimpse of her innocent soul. In my dream, she had no limitations. She was whole and perfect. I knew that her mental retardation was just a veil and once removed there was a perfect and strong being underneath.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Seven Iranian Baha'i Prisoners

There are many Baha'is in prison in Iran solely because of their religious beliefs. Among them are the seven leaders of the Baha'i Faith in Iran. Below is an excerpt from the Baha'i World News Service website:

"NEW YORK — As seven Baha'i leaders in Iran enter their third year of imprisonment, new details about the harsh conditions of their incarceration have emerged, prompting renewed calls for their immediate release.

The prisoners are Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm.

"These innocent Baha'is have now been locked up for two full years in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, under conditions which clearly violate international standards," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations. "We call on the Iranian authorities to release them now, and ask the international community to join us in this plea. The dictates of justice demand no less."

The prisoners, former members of an informal group known as the Yaran, or "Friends," used to attend to the spiritual and social needs of the several hundred thousand Baha'is of Iran. They have been held in Evin prison since they were arrested in 2008 – six of them on 14 May and one of them two months earlier.

No court hearing was held until 12 January this year when they appeared in Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court. Charges including espionage, propaganda activities and "corruption on earth" were all denied. Further appearances took place on 7 February and 12 April.

"In the three trial sessions that have so far taken place, no evidence has been provided whatsoever of wrongdoing – making it all the more obvious that the prisoners are being held only because of their religious belief," said Ms. Dugal."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Reunion (Part 2)

Continuation of the previous blog entry:

A few minutes later, we see two young women coming towards us excitedly. They are Azi’s daughters. The last time I saw them one was eight and the other was one and a half years old. We hug each other several times and cry. I am in disbelief trying to register who they are. They are both familiar and unfamiliar. I am at a loss for words not sure, what is the right thing to say. Azi is waiting in front of the apartment building. I see Azi in the dark. She is crying. I walk towards her. I’m all chocked up barely able to speak with a weak voice I say, “It’s Soheila.” knowing that it is difficult to see in the dark. She says, “Oh, Soheila” and we embrace each other tightly both sobbing. I am unable to talk. In the midst of her cries Azi, occasionally, says, “Thank God, thank God…” We hold each other and sob for ten minutes while her daughters watch. I cry with so much pain. It is the pain of all that I have suffered alone in life. Her loving embrace has a healing effect on me. For ten minutes, I only feel love. There is no other feeling. There is no fear. I have no other concerns. That night and every night after that we all stay up late and talk. That night and the next day, we find ourselves crying and emotional at the immensity of what we are experiencing. Sometime the next day, Azi, while talking, refers to me by my childhood nickname. I feel a knot in my throat and start to cry again. I have not heard her call me by my nickname since I was a child. I spend the entire next day with Azi talking and bonding with her. I want to get to know her. I want to know what she is like. She is soft-spoken, very calm and mild mannered. She is a highly principled lady with an unshakable faith. She is a person who lives her life according to what she believes is pleasing to God. Every action and decision is based on that principle. Unlike me, she seems very much at peace with her life. I am often dissatisfied with myself and my life, a life which most of the time has made no sense to me. It is difficult for me to see God’s hand in my life. But, what do I know, maybe, God has had a hand in my crazy and totally out of order life too. At times, I notice that Azi looks at me looking baffled as though she is trying to figure me out. We are both trying to figure each other out. She has never known me as an adult and one thing is very obvious, we are very different. At times, I wonder if she and her daughters find my, sometimes, irreverent sense of humor and uninhibited words, laughter, mannerism and silliness too forward or odd.

Over the next several days, I get to know Azi and her daughters more. What is obvious are the cultural differences. I have lived most of my life in the US and my approach to things, perceptions and viewpoints are much less conservative than theirs. I am not as proper as they are. They find me more assertive than they are, and they attribute that to my living in the States for so long where women are not expected to take a backseat in society. I do appreciate the differences.  We spend seven days together, talking, bonding and sightseeing.

Dubai is a very modern city. It is a city that has been, basically, built in the last twenty years. Everything is new. It is the city of skyscrapers. The highways are nice and wide. There are a lot of flashy buildings and structures that remind me of Las Vegas. Dubai looks like a small, new and clean version of the US. There are numerous malls. The tallest building in the world is in Dubai. There are man-made islands of sand in the Persian Gulf that house luxurious buildings. The place is full of American and European chains. If you don’t see the Arab men and women around, you would think you are either in Europe or the US. In the more touristy areas you see non-Arab women in revealing clothes. Most of the people in Dubai are foreigners. They are either visitors or workers. Practically, all the workers at shops, hotels and restaurants are foreigners from other Asian countries.

One of my dreams was realized when I was in the waters of the Persian Gulf. The first time on the beach, I closed my eyes and tried to remember how warm and gentle the water felt on my body. I kept telling myself, “I’m in the waters of the Persian Gulf, remember this, remember this…” The water was clear, warm and gentle with very small waves.

The most fascinating thing to me was the co-existence of the conservative Islamic culture and the western culture In Dubai. In malls, on the streets, on the beach, in the restaurants you see Arab women with their long black coverings not even showing their faces walking, shopping and eating. Next to them, you can see foreign women wearing short skirts and low cut tops. I wonder what the Arabs think about the non-Muslim women showing flesh. Do they find it offensive? Do they find it shameless and vulgar? In the Islamic cultures modesty for women is a necessity, and it is enforced by law in certain countries.

One day, while shopping, I see an Arab woman who is covered from head to toe in black with only her eyes showing. She is window-shopping. I start to talk to her. She can speak a little bit of English. I ask her, “Isn’t she hot wearing all that black?” She says, “No” and she puts her hand on mine and says, “See”. Yes, her hand is cold, but we are in an air-conditioned mall. I ask her what she thinks about wearing all that covering. She says, “She doesn’t mind it, and it is the law of Mohammed that Muslim women should cover up.”  She says she is from Saudi Arabia and all women there have to be covered up totally with only their eyes showing. I knew that, imagining all women being covered from head to toe in black walking on the street with only the eyes showing is a depressing image. She says that she feels that non-Muslims are afraid of her when they see her in all black. She asks me if that is the case. I tell her, "I think it is just something very different and unusual for them to see." Personally, I find it jarring to see women like that, but I don’t say that to her. I have always seen the covering of women as a symbol of oppression of women by men. In the heat of Arabia, man walk around in white cotton gowns and women are covered in layers of black. It seems so unfair, but it is obvious that she is at peace with it. To her, it means that she obeys her religion, and it is a symbol of her piety. I ask her if her husband has more than one wife since Muslim men can have up to four wives. She is slightly embarrassed by the question and says, “No, my husband only has me, and he is a very good husband.” She says that a man having more than one wife is an uncommon occurrence. She is very sweet and friendly. She invites me to go and visit Saudi Arabia. She says that people are nice and friendly there. She is 27, mother of four children and has been married since she was seventeen. She might have a high school diploma. I’m impressed by her English and the extent that she is able to communicate with me.

I find it fascinating that Arab men and women with their traditional clothes sit at Starbucks, drink coffee and have cheesecake while Lady Gaga’s music with its very irreverent lyrics is being played.  I, also, find it fascinating to see women covered in black at expensive stores such as Versace and Dior buying $500.00 purses. There is western influence everywhere. I thought it might be frustrating for their youth to be near people who are so uninhibited in the way they live, dress and behave while they are so restricted.

Another thing that is interesting to me is that all the young Arabs from Dubai speak fluent English. A young man tells me that their curriculum in school is both in English and Arabic.  I’m also surprised at the number of people with Iranian ancestry living in Dubai. I am shocked the first time I see a man in Arabian clothes and headdress speaking, our language, Persian in a mall. Iranians are one of the largest minorities in Dubai and owners of many businesses. I come across several men of Iranian ancestry when getting information about different things. They all wear Arabian clothes. When they would find out that I’m from Iran, they would all insist on speaking Persian with me wanting to practice their Persian. Most of them are born in Dubai. Their identity is mostly Arab.

The only activity that I participate in that is different is going on a desert safari. I go with a small group of tourists and a guide. We drive over the sand dunes in the desert for a while. I pay a bunch of money to ride a camel for three minutes. I have my hands painted with Henna in the tradition of Middle Eastern and Indian women.

During the desert safari, after we drive about 30 minutes in the desert, we stop to take pictures. Because my sandals get filled with sand with every step, I take them off and start to walk barefoot in the sand. I am surprised at how soft and smooth the sand is. The sand is like powder, so much easier to walk on without shoes. It is the softest surface I have ever walked on. I absolutely love it. For the rest of the night, I walk barefoot in the sand. Arabs conquered Iran over a thousand years ago and brought Islam to Iran. Iranians had always been the more civilized nation with grand buildings, libraries, universities and art. Throughout my childhood, I remember people referring to the conquering of Iran by the Arabs as conquering of Iran by the “barefoot Arabs”, which was a derogatory term. Not wearing shoes was a sign of incivility. Walking on the sand, I thought if this were the surface you walked on, why would you ever want to wear shoes. This sand is a gentle and loving surface to walk on, so much softer and nicer than walking on grass or any beach that I have ever walked on. I enjoy my feet going deep into the powder-like and warm sand while walking. It feels tender like a loving touch.

I look around me in the desert. All I can see is brown sand and sand dunes. There are no plants or vegetation. Sand is all you can see until it meets the sky in the horizon. After looking at this view for a few minutes where every direction I look I only see brown sand, I feel terrified. I need to see something, anything, instead of what seems like vast nothingness. I turn around and look at the SUV and the people in my tour, and I feel better. It is like being in a room where all the walls, doors and door nubs are white and there are no windows. I think I would go insane if I had to live in the desert. How do the Bedouins do it? Yet, I hear a number of times from the locals how they enjoy the desert. It is their nature. It is where they go to escape the city. It is like going to the mountains for those of us who live in Colorado.

During the trip I have a couple of interesting conversations with the local men who approach me. The most interesting is with a young Arab shopkeeper who owns a store that is full of beautiful hand-made pottery, art and fabric. I am drawn to this shop. Everything in it is so beautiful. I go in and start to look. The young shopkeeper starts to follow me offering to show me some things. I’m trying not to look interested. I can tell everything in this shop is out of my price range. He is very friendly and insists on talking while I’m trying not to make eye contact with him. I don’t want him to waste his time thinking that he has a buyer. I, politely, try to tell him that I’m just looking but he, clearly, wants to talk. He asks me if I’m from Iran. I say, “Yes”. Our conversation is in a mixture of English and some Arabic words. My Persian pronunciation of Arabic words leads him to guess that I’m Iranian. While trying to get me interested in looking at different things, he pays me a number of compliments. I look at him. He is a man in his twenties wearing the traditional clothes of Arab men. He asks me if I’m married. I tell him that I’m divorced; knowing that in the Middle Eastern culture a divorced woman is not as desirable as an unmarried woman. He says, "Would you like to be married?" I am shocked. I look at him and say, “No, I never want to marry again.” He says, “But you are beautiful, you should marry.” I ask him how old he is. He says that he is twenty-five. I tell him that I’m way older than he is, and he should be talking to the young and beautiful women who live in Dubai. He says, “I don’t care about age. I was immediately attracted to you when you walked into my shop.” He keeps asking me if I would be interested in marriage. For the fourth time I say, “No”. In order to get him to quit asking me, I tell him that I’m not a Muslim. He says, “No problem”. I don’t know what else to say. I’m divorced, I’m older, I’m not a Muslim, all the things that would make me undesirable in an Islamic culture, and he is still interested. I want to leave, but he insists on talking. He keeps telling me that he is interested in marriage. I keep telling myself that there has to be a catch here. I wonder what else I can tell him to get him to lose interest. He is so OK with everything I say.  Maybe I should tell him how old I am, but I don’t disclose that information just to anybody. He, clearly, thinks that I’m a lot younger than I am. Finally, I leave his shop as he puts one of his cards in my hand and says, “I’m serious. You would love living in Dubai. Think about it, and I hope you’ll change your mind.” I say Goodbye. I leave the shop totally confused. I ask myself, “Was he for real?”

Finally, the day of our departure arrives. I am the first to have to leave. It has been a great visit. It was needed for all of us. When I left Iran, I never thought that the situation in Iran would remain so hostile and dangerous for such a long time. I thought that I would be able to see my family often. But that wasn’t the case. For years, I lived as though there was unfinished business in my life when it came to my family who lives in Iran. I needed some kind of closure. This trip gave me that. I feel fine about saying goodbye. I know what I need to know about my family. What needed to be said has been said. What needed to be felt has been felt. What needed to be experienced for me to fill the hole in my heart has been experienced. I know that I belong to my life, and they belong to theirs. It is time to go. We say goodbye and plan on another reunion in a few years if not in Iran in some other country. I kiss and hug everyone numerous times and tell them that I love them. As I say goodbye, I look at everyone’s face deeply, trying to remember smiles and expressions. I look at Azi’s face. For an instant, I remember Azi’s face when I said goodbye to her over 20 years ago. It is the same face, smile and expression just older. Azi’s face is the face I’m looking at when the elevator door closes. I take a deep breath. I am satisfied. I have found that piece of my heart that had been missing for so many years. It is now in its proper place. Things are as they should be.

Two things I will miss about Dubai, walking in the loving desert sand and being in the waters of the Persian Gulf, the body of water name
d after my heritage.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Reunion (Part 1)

April 2nd 2010

I’m on a plane on my way to Dubai. I have been traveling for the last 18 hours. We will land in Dubai in about two hours. For some reason, as the time of my departure grew near, I felt more and more numb. I haven’t been emotional at all. I have been wondering about meeting Azi, my sister whom I have not seen in over twenty years, and her two daughters.  After all these years, we are meeting in Dubai for a family reunion.  Iran is the country of my birth.  I left Iran when I was 17 years old and have not been back since due to the political situation in Iran.  I keep asking myself, “What if I don’t feel anything when I see Azi and her daughters?” So many years have passed. We have been separated by time and a culture that is so different from my own. I have changed so much. What if we have nothing in common?

The young American man sitting next to me is so polite and courteous.  He is going to Dubai to see his parents who work there. About half of the people on the plane seem to be from India, Middle East and other Asian countries. The announcements made by the flight attendants are in English and Arabic.

During the flight, I, periodically, look at the map of our journey on the TV monitor in front of me. We are flying by Iran. How I wish I were going to Iran instead of Dubai. That was my original plan, but the political situation in Iran has gotten worse and those of my family who don’t live in Iran decided not to take any chances by traveling to Iran for this family reunion. For a moment, I think about all the pain and oppression inflicted on the people of Iran by the Islamic Republic of Iran. So many young people are in prisons enduring unimaginable cruelty. So many people are suffering at the hands of the unjust Muslim clergy. This government has persecuted the Baha’is, people of my religion, since it came to power over 30 years ago. My heart goes out to all of them, and I say a prayer for Iran. In my mind, I visualize the map of Iran in flames. That is how I see Iran. The calamity endured by the Iranians during the reign of the Islamic regime has been great. People’s freedoms and human rights have been taken away so violently and in so many different ways.

The plane is descending. We are flying over the Persian Gulf. I remember when I lived in Iran, every spring during the Persian New Year holiday of Norooz, we would travel to the southern part of Iran by the Persian Gulf where my sister Azi and her family used to live. Iran or Persia has the longest border of any country with the Persian Gulf and hence the name. About fifteen minutes before landing, I see an island with four huge fires burning. It is the untamed gas that is burning continuously. The flames starch out to the sky for hundreds or thousands of feet. As a child, I saw similar fires in the oil rich areas of Iran. As we descend, I can see the city of Dubai. It is obvious that it is a new city. There are many roads and highways. The roads are straight and they, sometimes, form perfect squares when they cross. There is symmetry in a lot of what I see. There are very large highways with six or seven lanes going one way.

We land. The Dubai airport is new and beautiful. There are palm trees in the main area. I see Arab men dressed in long white gowns that are very clean and ironed. They have their traditional headdress on and all are wearing sandals. I see women wearing long black covering. Some show their faces, which are perfectly made up. Some only show their eyes. Some show nothing and are covered entirely with a black cloth over their faces. Some are wearing pants and long sleeve shirts with shawls over their hair. I feel almost naked with my hair and some skin showing. I didn’t expect to see women that were covered entirely in black not showing an inch of skin in Dubai. I thought because there is such an influx of foreigners in Dubai Arab women would be less conservative. The airport workers are all foreigners, people from the Philippines, India, Pakistan and other Asian nations. All are fluent in English. The foreign women are dressed like westerners. The only Arabs that I see working are the men at the customs, again, all dressed in white long gowns with their headdresses. I pick up my luggage, exchange dollars to Dirham and head out to catch a cab. I ask myself, “Is it safe for me to take a cab alone?” It is 8:00 PM. The temperature is in the 80’s and it is very humid. I catch a cab. The friendly disposition of the driver makes me feel at ease. He is from India. During the thirty minutes that takes me to get to my hotel, I look at my surroundings. Buildings are all new and western in style. The only thing that reminds one that she or he is in an Arab country is that all the signs for stores, banks and businesses are both in English and Arabic. Because there are so many Arabic words incorporated into the Persian language and vise versa, I can read a lot of the signs. As I look at my surroundings, I see Starbucks, Chilies, KFC, Ace Hardware, Baskin Robins, and other American chains.

April 3rd
This is the day that my family who has come from four different counties for this reunion will meet. With the exception of Azi and her daughters, I have seen everybody recently. I am nervous about meeting Azi and her family. At 6:00 o’clock, my sister Zhaleh, and one of my relatives Simon with her 2 kids and her husband Polo arrive.   Simon and her husband have rented a minivan for the duration of our stay. On the way to meet Azi, Simon’s husband, Polo and their two kids are going to be dropped off at SKI Dubai, a large building where fake snow and ski slopes are made, and people who have never seen snow can actually ski in the midst of the Arabian Desert.  The minivan is equipped with a GPS, which Simon refers to as “Lola”.

Finally, at 7:00 PM we start on the path to our reunion. Every few minutes, I remember that the long awaited moment of reunion is finally arriving. I am filled with excitement and fear, fear of not being able to connect to the people that I have not seen in so many years, fear of being total strangers.

We get in the minivan. Polo is driving and Lola, the GPS, is guiding us. The car is low on gas, and we need to find a gas station before going too far. There are so many new constructions and roads that Lola, the GPS, gets us lost. Lola doesn't have the latest information and is totally confused. After about 20 minutes of driving we end up in front of our hotel back where we started. We all get a good laugh out of this. At that point, Polo goes to a cab driver and asks him about the nearest gas station, which apparently is not easy to find. Polo gives him some money and asks him to lead us to a gas station. We get in the car trying to follow the cab driver that zooms through the traffic very quickly. Polo follows him making quick moves trying not to lose him. At one point, we’re not sure if we’re following the right cab. Polo is driving fast and Simon is trying to keep track of the cab saying things like “He turned here. He went to the left. He went to the right….” While behind a red light, Polo gets out of the car and goes to the cab driver and says, “Don’t make me drive all over the city. I’m almost out of gas.” Twenty minutes later, we are at a gas station.  After Polo puts gas in the car, he and the kids take the same cab that we were following to go to Ski Dubai.  Meanwhile, Zhaleh, Simon and I will go to meet Azi. Polo leaves. Simon gets behind the steering wheel and says, “I can’t put the car in gear.” I tell her, “You have to turn on the engine first!”   We both look at the starter and there is no key. Frantically, Simon looks in her purse and all over the car to find the key, but there is no key to be found. We are parked in front of a gas pump at a gas station. The three of us burst into laughter. Once we stop laughing, we start panicking. We talk to the gas station attendant. We tell him what has happened. He says, “But you have to move your car.” We keep repeating that there is no key. He tells Simon to call her husband. She says, “We don’t have cell phone coverage here. I can’t contact him.” Simon and I take a cab, go to Ski Dubai while Zhaleh stays in the car. We get to Ski Dubai and try to find Polo and the kids. As we are looking, Simon realizes that she has a message on her cell phone. It seems that she has coverage after all. The message is from Polo saying that he has the car keys, and he is going back to the gas station. We go back to the gas station and get in the car and drive toward our destination. So, finally, at 9:30 we get to our meeting place. We make a final call telling Azi that we are parked at the designated place by the apartment building where they are staying.
To be continued...