A road trip with student leader Amir Abbas (Siavash) Fakhravar
February 17, 2006
“This is beautiful country, I am starting to wonder if I shouldn’t come back to live here.” I have drawn the attention. All three my companions turn and look at me with astonishment. I could see it in their faces...
“Would you really consider coming back?” Parastoo asks me full astonishment from the front passenger’s seat of the car.
“I have always wanted to come back... It just never seemed a viable option” I answer.
“Does it seem viable now?” asks the man sitting on the back seat next to me.
“No” I respond then pause, “it doesn’t seem viable to my mind, but my heart.” I paused again. “I love the people and the beauty but I don’t understand how anything works here. I mean everything is weird, it all seems pretty hopeless to me”
These people have planned my rescue mission from Tehran. I had not yet been in Iran a week and already the pressure had gotten to me. See, in my daily European life I have my own life, I have a shitty job that doesn’t pay that well, I have a small apartment with a leaky shower with barely any current, but I love it because it is all mine, it is my shitty apartment, my crappy job, I am the one in charge. I am a single 25 year old woman with a half decent education, mediocre job, and a place to hang my hat. In Iran I am an unmarried little girl who is everybody’s responsibility but her own. For some one who has always stood on her own legs this is a very tough pill to swallow. Less than a week in Tehran and I was ready to run back to my safe haven in The Hague. So Aria and Parastoo had taken it upon themselves to make sure I had a good time in Iran.
As a part of that mission they planned a trip to the north. We are driving through snowy mountains of Firouzkooh to a place in the north of Iran, where my friends have assured me no one will nag me, and I won’t have to do anything I don’t want to.
My companions are Parastoo, who is unlike any one I have ever met in my life... born and raised in Iran yet the closed society and repressive government have not infiltrated her essence. She is a free spirited intelligent girl, with very European views, but a dokhtar irooni nonetheless. Our friendship is sealed in our mutual love for art and literature. Her fiancé Aria who is the driver on this Persian adventure, is a sweet natured well brought up young man, with excellent knowledge of the English language and my soul sister’s soul mate. He is also very funny and bright and falls in the category “Persian Eye-candy”.
Next to me on the backseat a long haired young man is sitting, a few hours ago he was introduced to me as Siavash. Siavash is a very likable young man very sociable and down to earth, at the same time polite and gentlemanly like with remarkable green eyes. The color of the eyes is not what makes them remarkable, his eyes are unusually communicative. One look in this mans face and I couldn’t help feel like I was naked, with one handshake this man knew all my deepest darkest secrets. To be quite honest it felt like he knew things the rest of us had missed. The face was some how familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Being with these people already made me feel more comfortable in my own skin. They were real.
“Just look at her” Siavash said gesturing towards me, I was looking out of the car window with a huge smile on my face... I had not engaged my self in much of the conversation which had mostly been about politics, I had vocalized my some what leftist ideas occasionally but I had been mesmerized by the beauty of the mountains, at his comment I turned around to see him smiling at me .. The way one does when looking at a little kid who is doing something new and amusing without realizing. “One would believe you have never seen mountains before” he said in a friendly demeanor.
“Well, I live in Holland” -- he looked at me amused and puzzled --, I continued “Holland is as flat as a pancake, there is a little 100m heap of sand in Holland, they call that a mountain Heck, they are so deprived they’ll call a speed bump a mountain..” I said sarcastically.
At this he started laughing...
All of a sudden it hit me I did know this guy. The green eyes, the political talk... The man sitting next to me was one of the leaders of the student movement in Iran. I had read an interview he had done with some American publication.
“Hold on, you're that guy ... ” My stressed and confused mind had not yet connected the dots.
“What guy?” he said smiling mischievously.
“That guy ... the writer guy...” I responded.
At this Aria and Parastoo started laughing, “Sahari jan, khab boodi tahala?” (Sahari were you sleeping till now?) Aria managed to ask while laughing..
“Fakhravar? Right?” I said calmly looking at the man next to me ... “yeah they call you Siavash” I had him finally figured out.. There he was just sitting next to me simply a very nice guy. [See letter: "The year of freedom"]
He just looked at me and smiled confirming my suspicion.
“You don’t look like your picture” I said conclusively.
“It was an old picture, what did you think of the interview?” he asked very politely.
“I think you are deluded, did you really say you are not against military action?” I asked accusingly
“Do you always say exactly what’s on your mind?”
“Yes, it’s the European in me... , answer the question” I boldly answered.
“Yes,” he had gotten serious now ... and he did look like his picture now.
“You don’t really mean that? Do you?”
“Well, we have tried changing this government from inside, it obviously didn’t pay off.. So we are now open to other options.. To all other options.”
“You don’t know what you are saying,” I said somewhat more passionately that I meant.
“Bezaar kafshaato bebinam” (let me see your shoes) he said out of the blue... at this the other two burst out laughing.. which got me smiling again.
“What the ... my shoes?” as I looked at my (reasonably expensive) sneakers.
“I should have known...” he said now laughingly looking at my sneakers. “Jooje chappy” (leftist chick lit) he said accusingly.
I stretched over and looked at his shoes... he was wearing the same sort of shoes. “You are wearing sneakers too... ” I said trying to retaliate.
“Yes but these are made in USA! and I don’t quote Marx...” he said laughingly .“Asan be ghiaafe man mikhore chap baasham, ajabaa? ” (Do I look leftist to you?)
“Religion is the opiate of society... and, actually ... ” I responded returning his smile and mischievously looking him over “those are very proletarian pants you are wearing and the shoes... well ... if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck... ”
Our two companions in the front had been following our conversation and were now laughing so hard that Parastoo had tears in her eyes.
At this point Siavash reached over and pulled my scarff of my head. “Well you look like ‘Khaahar hezbollahia’ (hezbollahi Sisters) with that thing on your head, bacheh gherti.”
“Eh agha cheraa fosh midi?” (Hey mister why the insult?)
“Khob halla hollandiyi ya irooni?” (So are you Iranian or Dutch?)
“Ham har do o ham hich kodoom” (both and neither) I saw the expression on his face “I am not ashamed of being an ostrich,” I said defending my self.
This went on till we reached our destination. Everything that came out of my mouth was so obviously leftist to my monarchist and republican friends.. But they had succeeded in distracting me from my personal situation in Tehran. Upon arrival we all agreed to disagree on the left-right issue... and agree that “mullah khar ast” (mullah is donkey)... this had become our catch phrase. Anytime we disagreed on anything one of us would yell out “mullah khar ast” and we all started laughing. It had become the phrase of our unity.
Upon arrival at our destination I took a look around and was again mesmerized. The woody mountains the white hill tops, the rice fields at the bottom of the valley...
“Hey jooje, what's wrong?” I suddenly heard Aria ask me, worried about the look on my face...
As the other two joined us and stood still near us to hear my response.
Looking at the mountains I tried answering, “I have traveled so much... I have seen Nevada, Arizona, California... Switzerland ... I have seen Venice... Paris... Istanbul... London...”
“Khob baba, dige delle maaro ab nakon” Parastoo said jokingly (stop bragging)
As I turned to them and smiled as I looked the three of them each in their faces, “and I have never seen a place more beautiful than this” I said with a smile.
Parastoo at this hugged me “joon be joonet konan, dokhtar irooniyi” (you are a Persian girl no matter what) yeah we had both gotten emotional ...
That night we sat outside next to an open fire all cuddled up in our warmest clothes... Aria and Parastoo went inside to fetch some stuff from inside.
“So how long have you been outside?” Siavash asked me while sitting down next to me.
“I have lived abroad 16 years,” as I grabbed the can of vodka and refilled my drink, and then offered him some.. He shook his head and grabbed the fruit juice and topped my drink with juice and then poured him self some juice.
“You don’t drink alcohol?” I asked surprised.
“No” he said smiling ad me.
“Religion?” he shook his head laughing looked at me and again at the fire “you sure you are student activist?” I asked most sarcastically he smiled again. In Europe anything that has remotely to do with students consists of large amounts of alcoholic beverages.
“So how old are you?” Siavash asked me.
“Well then its ok!” he said all knowingly.
“What is ok?”
“Well, if you are younger than 30 and you are not a leftist you have no heart, if you are 30 and you are still a leftist you have no brains.”
I looked at him and as our eyes met we both burst out laughing.
“So how old are you?” I said while still laughing... It was now my turn.
“I am 30, but I was always wise beyond my years.”
And now we both burst out laughing again...
“You left Iran when you were 9?” I nodded conformingly, still too busy laughing to use words, “khosham miad az in dokhtar loosaaye khaareji nisti” (I am happy you are not one of those spoiled brat from the west) I burst out laughing ... it felt like we had been friends for years.
“Mersi,” I said resuming my posture, “Khosham miad az in siasiayi oghdeyi nisty” (I am glad you are not one those frustrated political types” I returned the complement and we laughed again.
Aria called out from the house if we could help them, I got up and noticed that Siavash some how wasn’t getting up as smoothly as you would expect of a 30-year-old to. He was very carefully unbending one knee.
“It all goes down hill after 30,” I yelled out rebelliously. Yeah, I was on a role,“What happened to your knee, sports injury?” I had forgotten that this man had spent all of his adult life in Islamic republics prisons...
“Yeah, I was practicing some kickboxing techniques with the judge..”
“What?” I half way yelled and came to an abrupt halt. There it was the reality I had escaped for so long... I looked at him my vodka buzz had left me in split second. I was now looking at his back. He turned around and faced me. I could see it in his eyes this was only the tip the iceberg. “I was standing in the court, with my back to the wall and the judge kicked me in the knee, all went black before my eyes..” unbelievable the man was smiling while he told me this ... I felt a shooting pain in my knee and then all over my body.
“The judge?.... Not the guards? ... The judge?” he nodded “in court ? Not in jail or anything?” he nodded again.
There it was my European naiveté. My face must have spoken volumes cause he felt the need to console me. Took a step towards me and put his arms around me... unbelievable he is consoling me ... he was telling me not to be sad... Sahar you wimp, get your act together. As he loosened his grip and looked me in my eyes once more I dropped my head rubbed my eyes took a sniff of air pretending nothing had happened... Tried to smile as I looked up ... our eyes met and there I saw it... I saw the man, not the activist, not the writer, not the political prisoner, I saw the man, I saw a friend. He could have been my brother, my cousin, the boy next door... he could have been any one of us.
“Did you have a doctor look at it?” I asked as I pulled away pretending I was ok.
“Yeah its pretty messed up, I need an operation” we continued towards the house. The rest of that night we laughed and we joked and Siavash was once again the boy next door..., the toast of the night was of course our catch phrase ‘mullah khar as’.
I didn’t sleep one wink that night. I sat at the window looking in the dark trying to find the shape of the mountains which had been lost in the absolute darkness of the night... I couldn’t stop thinking about the man sleeping in the next room. Had this man been born any where else in the world he would have been in a leading position in any field he had chosen... even in Iran if he had chosen to shut up and not confront the inhumanity he saw he could have been among the most successful people..
How could a man who had gone through so much, be such a loving person? This man was a force to be reckoned with. In this thought I found hope. “The human spirit is tougher than any diamond” I found my self writing in my calendar. Yes, with people like that there is still hope for Iran. This man embodied the unbreakable spirit of Iran.
That morning I sat alone on the balcony of the old house and looked at the sun come up, cuddled up in blankets.. As my friends slept... and dreamt of a life in a free Iran.
I heard a door open behind me as I turned my head I saw those green eyes looking at me once again.
“Sahar?” he called out surprised “aren’t you freezing?”
“No” I whispered as not to disturb the mountains “look at that view.”
He sat next to me.. Pulling his jacket over his shoulders... while looking at the direction I was staring.
“What are you doing?” he asked with a sleepy voice.
“I am enjoying the view... trying to engrave it in my mind.”
“How come after all these years the coldness of the Europeans hasn’t had any influence on you?”
I turned around to see his kind face.
“I grew up in Bandar Abbas... stored enough sun in my heart never to freeze,” I said. “I could ask you the same thing ... how can anyone spend 14 years in and out of this regime’s jails, and not be a total raging lunatic?”
I looked him in the eyes and I knew, the love this man had for his country and countrymen was far greater than the hatred of this regime. I had stored the sun in my heart as a child, He had stored the love.
He smiled and asked me, “Would you ever come back?”
“You fix this country” I paused stared at the mountains again “I’ll come back, hell I’ll even vote for you if you run for the presidency.”
He put his arm around me and pulled me closer towards him “Well, start packing then, Jooje Hollandi (Dutch chick lit)” he said laughing “can I ..?” as he looked at the huge blanket I had dragged out with me.
I smiled and full of confidence answered, “Sure, we lefties don’t mind sharing” as I gave him a corner of my blanket. So he could cuddle up next to me.
He just laughed at me “wise ass” he said while he got himself settled. We sat there perfectly still smelling the sweet mountainous morning air.
“Siavash, I am glad I met you,” I said quietly.
“Lotf daarin” (you are too kind) he responded with his signature smile. I don’t think he realized he had given me the most incredible gift in the world; he had given me back my Iran.
I had gone on this trip trying to escape the chaos of Tehran, trying to loose something. Instead I found that essential nourishment for the human soul... “HOPE” as long as there are people like Siavash, Parastoo and Aria there is hope for a better Iran...
Due to security of the persons involved some of the names have been changed.