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“ You can’t just tell the stories of those who chose to leave their countries to settle down elsewhere for a better life. Many of us didn’t have a choice.” She claimed while putting the cube sugar in her mouth and taking a sip of her cup of dark amber tea in the clear cup. Just as she always took her tea.“ I didn’t choose where, I didn’t choose how and I didn’t choose who to go with.”
“ What do you mean? You sure chose to leave?” I questioned. Looking around at the beauty she surrounded herself with, I mentioned, “ You moved to create all this beauty, didn’t you?”
She lived in California. An Iranian Immigrant. A part of the wave who fled the country after revolution, I assumed. At this point in her life she had spent more years in US than in Iran. That’s probably why I was a bit surprised when I visited her. Once you closed the front door of the house behind you, you were transferred to a different world. A world of Persian history and culture, a world of traditional arts and crafts. I could even smell the scent of a Persian home; antique silk rugs, Heavy wooden furniture, thick wall decorations and drapery ,and of course, freshly home cooked meal. I was surrounded by distraction. A good kind. Every little corner had a story, a memory attached to it. One would wonder how much elaborate effort was put into creating this warm and unique space that spoke a million words about it’s inhabitants. A space that took you beyond time and physical distance.
“ Not really. I didn’t have a choice. It was a destiny dictated to me. I was too young and too naive to choose.” She continued, noticing my distracted presence, she chuckled, “ I know! Too many things from Iran. See, I had to live my lost childhood one way or another!”
“ Why lost? Tell me!” I struggled hard to focus on our story.
“ I was just ten years old when the revolution happened. I didn’t understand much at that time. Things were changing. I could feel that adults are stressed but didn’t know the depth of it. My father used to be a National Guard pilot, a very prestigious profession. We travelled a lot. The world was our playground but home was home. Home was Iran. It was always the most satisfying pleasure to come back to that familiar, warm place. My parents loved it as much as I did. They had created a heaven for us. Me and my younger brother. We had a good life. Upper middle class but quite open minded and worldly.
After revolution, my father retired himself at a very young age. He just couldn’t handle the stress of the totally different environment that was governing the workplace then. He was never big in religion even though he was a very principled man. He was asked several times to join the army, but war had just started. There was no coming back home if he chose to fly again. He decided to stay put and wither, gently, slowly. He was old, way before he was due for old age.”
“ What about your mom? Did she stay home too?” I interrupted her. Curiosity is my last name and can be my enemy at times. Makes me forget I need to listen.
“ She was a school principal. After my father quit work she worked for a couple of years but decided to retire and stay with him. They were lovers and best friends all their lives. That’s how I knew marriage was supposed to be.”
“ That’s truly nice to hear. It’s a rare environment t be brought up in these days.”
“ I guess.” She responded thoughtfully,“My brother was 2 years younger than me. The pressure was on my parents to send him out of the country or he would soon need to join the army and take part in the war. But he was too young to be sent away alone. They started researching for different ways. And that’s how they found my husband.”
It was time to use another cup of tea as an excuse and spend a few minutes peeking into the shelf of antiques as I could tell she was getting a bit uncomfortable and emotional.
I said,“Can I bring us the next cup of tea? I promise to pour it just like you want it to be.” I sensed her relief.
“ Sure, that would be sweet. Thank you.” She sighed as I made my way to the kitchen counter where hot water was gently simmering in the Samovar with the elegant teapot on top of it. It was such a joy to even pour tea from this Samovar. Bringing back so many memories for me, it made it even harder to focus. It was almost like I was being forced into my own story as well.
“ I hope the tea is up to your standard.” I said charmingly as I walked back to the living room. Trying to lighten up the conversation.
“ It’s great. Thank you. Nothing connects me to the moment more than this cup of tea!” She smiled.
“ I agree. It’s amazing how it has become such an indivisible part of our culture and our togetherness.” I added.
“Yes. Not forgotten yet. Unlike many other parts of our history.”
As a tradition, you wouldn’t put sugar in your tea. You would put a cube sugar in the corner of your mouth and gently sweeten your tea as it flows from your cup to your mouth. Quite an acquired skill.
She re-engaged in the conversation calmly,“ I was telling you about my husband! My brother and how my life changed because of the males in my family.”
“ As my parents started researching ways to send my brother away, one of the relatives suggested introducing us to this gentleman who lived in US and was looking for an Iranian wife. He could not come to Iran for a visit due to political restrictions. We were told that he is educated and successful and is particular about finding a wife from a good Persian family. The thought was that if I married him and moved to US, I could take care of my brother as well. He could move in with us and go to school. That was part of the deal.”
“ The deal?!”
“ Yes. I was underage. I could hardly push 15. A very immature and naive one. You know what I mean. Times were different. We were not raised being exposed to sex like kids these days. A 15 year old then, in Iran was totally uneducated about marital life. I was still a kid, playing with dolls and toys. I had no idea what was expected from you as a married woman, as a wife.”
I could easily understand what she meant. We were almost same age and raised in the same culture. It was easy for me to relate to her story looking at it from that stand point. But is was still hard to imagine making such a decision for one’s child now that I was a mother. Would I do this to my son?
“ So how did you meet if he couldn’t come to Iran?” I asked.
“ We met him in Greece. My father and I travelled for a week. We spent a few days with him and prepared the documents. He was kind. Not much younger than my father. But he tried to be gentle and understanding. He offered his full support for my brother as well and promised my dad that he will take care of us with all his life. That was the extent of my encounter with my husband before getting married to him.
In many ways I felt lucky. He was educated and well-off. And he was a truly respectable and kind man. I always thought, it could have been worse! Later in life I heard a lot of horror stories about Mail-Order brides.
My parents took care of the details in a determined sorrowful deligance. They didn’t want to let us go. They had never imagined tearing our life, our home apart like that. But what choice did they have? Life in war is uncertain. Life in war is merciless. One does what one can to save loved ones.
Adults decided on having a small ceremony in Turkey, from where I could leave directly and meet my future. There was no fluff, no lavish party, no fancy dress. A practical and respectful gathering, heavy with doubt, depleted of joy, loaded with mutual understanding.
My parents had packed me as much memory as they could pack in three suitcases. Not much clothes but a couple of silk rugs, some antiques and Persian crafts. I guess it was their way of trying to keep me connected to them.
Three months after I moved my brother flew to US and joined us. His room and his school was already well arranged. My husband made every effort for us to be comfortable and feel supported. He is a good man.”
“ I see you are still married.”
“ Oh, yes. I learned to love him. In fact, I learned what true love is through him. He raised me, he cherished me, he provided for me, he loved me with all his heart and never let me down. I never felt the age difference to be an issue.
So, in a way our marriage was an arranged marriage. I know how much its looked down on in many cultures but I really don’t want it any other way. Maybe I got lucky! We got lucky! Because I hear a lot of couples that fall apart as soon as they settle in a new environment or migrate. As for me, I had a choice to follow the common belief, yearn, desire, fall into homesickness and self pity or to make the best of what life had offered me: a good husband, safety, security and comfort. I chose the latter. I was determined not to let my family down and it all worked out.”
“ What about your parents? Could they visit?”
“ Yes, they started visiting us once or twice a year after a few years and every time they would bring us any piece of Iran they could put in suitcases. Gradually, I guess they transferred my childhood home here, you see!” She opened her arms, pointing at everything around her joyfully. “I love it. It gives me joy and a sense of peace to know that I was able to keep my brother safe, make my parents happy and have a loving marriage.”
“ You are a brave and wise soul.”
“ Maybe. At the end of the day, all life, is a result of the choices you make, taking responsibility for them and for what you give priority to. True happiness comes from being aware of those choices and priorities and accept them with contentment.”
Easy to say…. Hard to do….