All of us were forever moved by the tragic events of September 11. On that day Shahram Hashemi was a young college student working diligently at his internship at a bank on Wall Street, towards his ultimate goal, law school and beyond. But that day would be more different for Shahram, much more than for any of us, as fate thrust him directly into the chaos that ensued as the first tower was brought down. Shahram did not run away, he did not stand by, he jumped into action and began helping the victims as best as he could. His image was caught by a Newseek photographer, linking him forever to the tragedy. I recently spoke with Shahram about the events of that day. I found him to be an incredibly poised, and passionately proud Iranian. He made me proud. Here is our conversation.
Shahram, tell us what happened on September 11 and where you were and how you first realized what was going on.
The day started off like any other weekday. I was on my way to the Bank of New York on Wall Street to do my internship as a LaGuardia Community College/City University of New York student, but the world turned upside down when I saw an airliner crash into the second Tower of World Trade Center. I knew it wasn't an accident because both towers were now burning. I saw people jump from the windows of the towers, apparently to choose a less painful death. At this time I had moved to just half a block away from the towers.
When did you decide that instead of just getting yourself out of there and to safety, that you would instead stay and help. I mean, help me understand how or what it was that seemingly snapped in your head to make you say, "I'm not going to go home, I'm going to stay and help."
A few minutes after the first tower collapsed, I found myself in a war zone. Women were screaming, crying, frozen with fear, and covered in dust. Some were leaning against other buildings' walls and some next to the subway. I simply couldn't ignore them, anyhow I'm very proud to be an Iranian and with our 3000 years of culture, it has taught me peace and sacrifice. I led the people I found one by one to a safe place. After rescuing several people I saw the Chief of the Fire Department, an older man who saw I was in my business suit, now covered in soot, and he offered me his fireman's jacket to give me some protection. He also gave me a mask so I could breathe. Moments later I heard a noise that sounded like thunder. It was the second Tower. The Amex building was the closest place that I could duck inside. After a few minutes, the challenge, was to make the area safe for the rescue teams, this meant putting out fires and pulling bodies from of rubble and debris. When I couldn't go on, I ended up in a hospital in Staten Island when building #7 collapsed which was around 5 p.m. By that time, I had become exhausted and overcome with the soot and dust and I couldn't see anything anymore.
What do you do in NY?
Currently I am an auditor in the Bank Of New York on Wall street. I started six month ago and I will graduate next semester and I'm planning to go to Law School.
Where in Iran do you come from? (What neighborhood?) What is your family life like.
I'm from Tehran an area called Babayan (In the southwest part of the city close to Karon), I have a very strong and kind family which I love very much and I'm proud of them. My father, now retired, was a bank manager. My mother stayed at home and took care of us and our education. I have two sister and one brother. My older sister now lives in San Diego. My younger sister high school and brother middle school are both in Tehran.
Why did you come to the US?
I arrived in the U.S. about three years ago. I was with the determined to pursue my education, enjoy the freedom of this great nation and make a positive contribution to humanity in the world at large. I first came to New York and I simply stayed here since. I have an uncle in New Jersey and he helped me to move to New York. I love this city and it's multi-cultural environment suits me. Every day I learn about a different culture.
When you decided to stay and help, how did you let your loved ones and friends know you were alright and where you were and what you were doing?
At the beginning the phone lines were very busy and later there was no connection at all. But I was just able to call a friend of mine before the buildings collapsed. My family and roommate were very worried about me, especially my sister but I couldn't call everyone until I was released from the hospital and by the time I was able to call them all, it was after midnight.
How do you feel physically now?
My eyes were filled with dust and I felt they were scratched, but after a few weeks it got better.
How are you dealing with it mentally?
Thank God, for the most part I am okay. The last few months of my life have been a period of exceptional reflection on the past with enthusiastic optimism towards the future. I feel like I have been blessed. Inspired throughout my life in Iran by Islam, I found myself blessed in the name of Jesus during the most dangerous moments in my life. I was ultimately rescued by a group of Jewish rescuers and I found myself in turn blessing them. I feel like I can now see things differently than before. I hope that one day everyone can get to this place that I am in now, where I have seen a world of peace and unbounded happiness.
What do you think we as Iranians in the US can do to help Americans at this time?
I feel it's very important to let everyone know who we [Iranians] are and what our true culture and heritage is.
What do you do to relax?
I don't really have a lot of free time but when I get a chance I love to swim. I'm really into the re-emergence of Classical Iranian Music and I'm listening to Rubaiyat Khayyam (Deklameh: Ahmad Shamloo & Avaz: Shajarian). I love Enigma too.
Okay, Final question. What is your favorite Iranian dish!
I'm from Tehran, so of course it has to be ghormeh sabzi and khoresht match! My favorite restaurant -- Ravage -- is in New York City!