Falling from the sky
I have never felt such a sense of fulfillment
By Jason Rezaian
December 19, 2001
Our flight to Mashhad was delayed an hour, which was okay because it
gave me a chance to look around without moving. The first couple days everything
was on the run, either from a car window or zooming through the bazaar.
Now I had an hour to contemplate. It was beginning to settle in that I had
finally made it to my destination.
I meandered around the departure hall while we waited. I saw two things.
The first was a woman breastfeeding a baby under her chador. That was kind
of cool. I wasn't positive, but I thought this would be the closest thing
to sex I'd be seeing for a while. As we sat there I noticed a TV. The show
looked like a local version of Jeopardy except that the contestants
were all women, very covered, and not a hint of a smile. No one in the airport
spoke. This place seemed serious.
Dad and I whispered in, what we thought to be, inaudible murmurs. A middle-aged
woman, showing a few hairs smiled and tried to understand us. She couldn't.
It's just as well, because we were already getting accustomed to using English
vulgarities, as I would ask question after question.
Some Dutch coins fell from my pocket. They weren't worth much. The same
woman picked them up, I motioned to her to keep them and she giggled. At
that, a man seated to Dad's right mustered up the courage to practice his
English with us, something else I would quickly get used to.
"Is it your first visit to Iran?
"Yes," I answered.
"It is a very good country, but also very bad. Welcome."
My father spoke to him momentarily in Farsi. I didn't understand nor
try to. All I recognized were some numbers and the words for sister and
He turned to me again.
"Your family misses you. Have a nice time."
How could they miss me, I wondered, they've never met me.
He rose to get in the line. What had been a quiet holding area was now
bustling with people pushing to get in line. We joined in the frenzy and
quickly boarded the Iran Air Topolof, a Russian jet that Iranians often
call Telop-ofs, which means "falls from the sky". Some
folks I met were passionate about never flying in the Tolopofs, but I had
used Soviet aviation on two trips to Cuba and felt comfortable enough with
After only a few minutes on board, we were taking off, one step closer
to delivering me to the home I'd always wanted to know. During the flight
Dad and I didn't talk too much. For the past three years our conversations
revolved exclusively around subjects Iranian. It was a way for me to learn
about my heritage, but more importantly strengthen my relationship with
For him it was a way to teach me about something he knew and spend time
with his boy. Now we were there and I was seeing for myself. He told me
a few stories, but mostly I just looked out the window at the arid land
we were hovering above. I have never felt such a sense of fulfillment as
on that flight.
When the stewardesses, beautiful and young dark-skinned women, with large
eyes and smiling mouths, came around offering lunch, Dad told them no thanks.
There would be plenty of food, and much better waiting for us in Mashhad.
I had no idea how right he was. With the stewardesses and all other people
in the tourist industry, he always spoke in English.
As we began our descent, I was flooded with a new wave of emotions. The
day I never thought would come was happening. I was living it. From the
sky the first thing I saw in Mashhad was gold. It was the dome of Imam Reza,
the holiest Shi'ite monument in Iran, a fully operational Islamic Taj Mahal
or Vatican; the final resting place of generations of Rezaians.
I realized we were making a turn, which seemed uncalled for given that
the airport was a few miles in front of us. Altitude was still dropping.
The sight of this monument mesmerized me. Soon it become apparent we were
circling the mosque. We did this three times.
"Someone has their orders," My Dad said, smiling.
I continued to look out the window with the wonder of a little kid flying
for the first time. The lower we got, the clearer the scene became: Thousands
of pilgrims in the midst of their Friday afternoon prayer. Finally I
understand the magnitude of Imam Reza, I thought. But I really hadn't
seen anything yet.
When we landed, we were among the last to deplane. Iran is a Third World
country, and getting from the plane to the terminal involves that ridiculous
bus system familiar to anyone who's been to one of these countries. I suppose
they don't want people running around the tarmac, but it always seemed to
me that there would be no harm in letting folks walk. Anyway, we were on
that bus, standing in the front.
I noticed a look on Dad's face that I'd never seen before. It was as
though I'd been transported back to his youth and all the kicks in the teeth
he's taken over the years had never happened. He looked like a little 61-year-old
kid, and I loved it.
"You alright?" I asked him.
"Are you ready?"
"Are you ready?" He said, smirking.
We got off the bus and began walking to the terminal. People were hanging
out the doors and small kids were peaking from around the waists of the
armed guards. As we walked closer Dad started giggling.
"My family," he said.
"Daie Taghi! Daoe Taghi!" Children were calling his name.
The first face I made out was my Amme Tahere. Seven years earlier she
and her husband, had spent six months living with us in California. She
cried and squeezed me.
"I'm your Amme Tahere!" She said in Farsi.
Unfortunately, "I know" was not something I knew how to say
This sequence continued with a lot of people. Only two or three I'd met
before. There was Mehdi and his wife Farzaneh, who had spent two months
with us earlier that year, and a few others whose pictures I'd seen. Looking
around, I'd say there were about 200 people at the airport and at least
80 of them were there to welcome us. Many showered me with flowers. It was
the most overwhelming experience of my young life. I trembled and sweat.
I was disoriented, so I hope they forgive me for not instantly knowing who
The warmest reception came from my Amu Reza, at 80, he's Dad's oldest
relative, his paternal uncle and his favorite. They cried when they saw
each other and I realized that hellos at his age mean something else than
they do to me: a confirmation that your world still exists and there's reason
to get excited.
Finally, I saw my cousin Mohammad Ali. When he was 16 he moved to California
for his education. Fifteen years later he moved home to start his life.
Very few of my relatives, who came to live in America, ever moved back.
I was sad that he did, because I always liked him. Earlier that same year
he had come back to work on a project for six months. We saw each other
a few times and I was really looking forward to meeting again.
"Howya doing Buddy?" He said.
Relieved to see a familiar face and one that I could talk to, I hugged
"Hey man, you're shaking," he said. It was true. "Quick,
there's a flower shop outside. Let's go make a few bucks."
We laughed and were on our way back to my Amme's house, my home for the
next two months.