Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Moving to the US (Part 3)


The day that I left Maryland was one of the saddest days of my 17 years of life, for one reason only, leaving my father. My gentle, kind and mild mannered father was the person that I loved the most in life. When I was a child he traveled often for his job. Sometimes I would not see him for weeks at a time. The days that he would come home from his trips were always joyous for me. In fact, the happiest moments of my life to this day were on a Thursday afternoon when I was about four or five years old. My mother had just given me a bath and was helping me get dressed when I heard my father's voice. He had just arrived from a long trip. Hurriedly, I got dressed and ran upstairs to the family room where my father was. I saw him, ran to him and threw myself in his arms. He embraced me tightly and kissed my cheeks. I was overwhelmed with joy. I felt so safe. I clang to him tightly. My world was absolutely perfect at that moment. It was complete, and it felt like it would always be. I truly believed that my father was able to make everything better, and for as long as I was in his arms nothing in the world could ever harm me. It seemed to me that he was a kind of a God. Those moments in my father's arms on that day have remained the happiest moments of my life. I have never felt so secure and protected as I did that day.

Throughout the years I have remembered that day and those moments with my father. In moments of absolute loneliness and despair when even God is nowhere to be found, I have longed for that Thursday afternoon.

I came to the US so that I would have an opportunity for higher education. My parents came in order to seek medical treatment for my father. My father had been sick for awhile and no one knew what was wrong. A few months after we arrived here, he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, but on the day I left Maryland, we didn’t know what was wrong with him. He was terribly sick. His urine had been full of blood for days. He was weak in bed. We were all in a state of panic and confusion. The initial Dr. visits had not helped in diagnosing the problem. On that day my father was terribly worried for me. I alone was going to move to Kansas and finish my last year of high school there. I went to the bedroom to say good bye to him. He was laying in bed. I tried to comfort him. I told him that I would be OK, that I wasn’t going to be alone. I told him that Mahta and her husband Mehran, my relatives, would help me. I kept telling him that he didn’t need to worry about me. As I sat on the edge of the bed, I leaned forward to give my dad a hug. He sat up. As I embraced him, he put his head on my chest and sobbed painfully. That was the first time I saw my dad cry. I held him tight in my arms and kept telling him that he didn’t need to worry about me. I will never forget the pain that he and I both felt on that day. Looking back, staying in Maryland and graduating from high school a year later probably wasn’t a bad thing, but the idea of it seemed terrible to me at the time. I just didn’t want to delay finishing high school. I was young and felt that life might move by quickly and leave me behind. I was driven and determined.

On the day that I was leaving, my brother took me to the airport. He never told me that my flight to Kansas had a stop in Indianapolis. My English wasn’t good enough to be able to read the ticket for myself. I had noticed that giving out as little information as possible was typical of my brother who practically was a stranger to me. He had left home when I was seven. He had come to Iran twice for a visit in the ten years he had lived in the US, but he was very distant in his behavior and mannerism. I knew that he would never be a person in my life that I could rely on. His attitude was that I came to the US alone and struggled; you’ll have to do the same. That was fine with me. I didn’t mind making it on my own. I didn’t have a relationship with my brother after I left Maryland. I never asked him for anything. In all these years, I have seen him only a few times. Many years later in a phone conversation, he said, “Throughout all these years in the US, you never asked me for anything. I thought at some point, you would ask for help in some way, but you never did.”

I got on the plane and sat next to two men who were traveling together. They were kind to me. I was seventeen, but I looked younger. They were curious to know why I was traveling alone, especially since I could barely speak English. With my broken English, I tried to explain to them my situation. They understood that I was going to Kansas. When plane landed in Indianapolis, I was totally confused. I thought I was supposed to go to Kansas. How did I end up in Indianapolis? As I was about to leave the plane, the two men stopped me and explained to me that the next stop is going to be Kansas. We were in Indianapolis for one hour. The two men decided to leave the plane and walk around the airport during that time. They asked me if I wanted to go with them, I gratefully said yes. I was afraid of being alone and not understanding something else and being totally lost. They were so kind to me that when the plane landed in Kansas, I felt sad that I would never see them again. A part of me wanted to cling to them just like a helpless child, which I actually was.

At the Kansas City airport, I found Mehran and Mahta very quickly. It was good to see them. I stayed with them a little over a month. They were young and newly married. They now live in Australia. In fact, in a few weeks, I’m going to Australia for their daughter’s wedding. They are two lovely people who created a beautiful family. They now have two grown children. It has been a joy for me to see their happiness from afar.

The night I arrived, I called my parents to reassure them that everything was fine, and I was happy. I didn’t want my parents to worry about me. They had so many problems themselves. I decided to never complain about things when talking to them even if things were terrible. In the years that followed, there were many difficulties in my life, but I learned to keep them to myself and deal with them the best I could. I wanted to spare them from the pain that I was going through.

In a day or so, I went to the high school to register with Mahta and Mehran. I met my advisor Mr. Blackman. He was a nice man who tried to put me in classes that were suitable for me. In contrast to the school in Washington DC there were only five foreign students in this school which had about 1600 students. The first day I went to my American History class, I met my teacher, a woman in her thirties. She started to talk to me very fast saying a bunch of stuff I didn’t understand. I thought if she would speak slower, maybe I would understand something. She stopped talking after about a minute and waited for a reply from me. Since I had not understood anything, I said, “Please repeat”. At which point, she gave me a dirty look and said, “Just take a seat”. I knew life was going to be miserable. This language thing was going to kill me. It seemed like an impossible challenge. I would ask myself, “How am I going to learn an entire language and be proficient in it? How am I going to go to college?”

It was the same way in all of my classes. I hardly understood anything. I was lost. My teachers ignored me. I would go to class, be totally lost and then go to the next class and be totally lost. The only good thing was that all my courses from Iran were accepted at this school. So other than American History and American Government, I could take whatever I wanted. So I had a lot of easy classes like Gym, Home Economics and such. A couple of weeks after I had started school, one day, I noticed that the teacher in my American Government class passed around some papers. I had no idea what it was. Then I realized that it was a test. I had no idea that we were going to have a test that day. At that point, I quietly started to cry. I felt so overwhelmed by not understanding English. Tears rolled down my face, and I could not stop them.

At home every night, I would try to read my school books with an English to Persian dictionary. It would take me two hours to look up all the words in a paragraph, and then when I would put all the words together, I still didn’t fully understand the content. The sentence structure and how words are used in English are so different from Persian. It was very difficult to do a direct translation of the text.

Since the American History class that I was in was too difficult for me, my advisor decided to put me in a different class, a class that only had a few students and was moving at a very slow pace. It was the Special Ed class! My teacher was a sweet and gentle woman who had aged prematurely. She was 44, but she looked like she was 58. All of her hair was white, and her skin looked much older than 44. One of the first things that she said to me was that I was very small and skinny. I was five feet tall and weighed 90 pounds. I have a small frame, and I had always been one of the smallest kids in my classes, but here I was even smaller. The average American is taller than the average Iranian. In that class there were two mentally challenged students and me. My teacher gave me a very small and thin American History book. I would read it on my own and ask her questions when she wasn’t busy working with the other 2 girls. This book was much easier for me. I think it was written for grade school kids. I still had to look up words, but it took less time and the text was easier to understand.

A month and a half after I moved to Olathe Kansas, Mahta and Mehran moved to Lawrence Kansas so that Mehran could go to grad school at University of Kansas. During my stay with them, they helped me find another place to live. There was a college in Olathe called “Olathe Nazarene College”. Mehran and Mahta both went to school there. As the name suggests it was a religious college. Through someone at the college, Mehran found a lady who was 70 years old and had a basement that she wanted to rent. She also needed someone to do house cleaning for her. We met her. She seemed nice enough. It was decided that in exchange for cleaning her house, I would rent her basement for one third of the usual price. That sounded reasonable to me. My parents had given me some money, and I was determined to make it last as long as possible. They were not wealthy, and I was very mindful of that fact. The only thing that I did not like about my upcoming living situation was the fact that Mrs. Philips, the lady I was going to live with, had two dogs, and one of them was a huge German Shepherd. When we went to meet her for the first time, I was frightened by the German Shepherd. I had never been around dogs. In the Middle Eastern culture, people do not typically have pets. Animals are not allowed in the house as they are considered unclean. Growing up neither me nor any of my friends had pets. I had never petted a dog before. And this one was huge and scary. It weighed more than my 90 pounds.

Two days after Christmas on a cold snowy day, I said good bye to my relatives and moved into Mrs. Philips’s basement.

To be continued…