It was 1985 and the war was getting worse. Tehran was now getting bombed nightly and we had become accustomed to a routine where around 2 or 3 AM the electricity would go out, the air raid sirens would go off, and our neighbors would dash down the stairs to the basement for safety.
Our place, on the other hand, was located on the first floor so we didn't find it necessary to leave our apartment during the bombings. My mom had created a little safety zone where my brother and I could sleep in the middle of the living room. It was the furthest point from any window and still close enough to the door so that we could leave in a hurry if we needed to.
The three of us spent many a night in the little safety zone where we would huddle together every night once the bombings started. My dad, on the other hand, refused to give up his comfortable bed and would actually sleep through the bombings under the rationale that if a bomb was going to hit our place it was just as likely to hit the living room as his bedroom so why not be comfortable?
I guess in retrospect that makes sense but at the time the safety zone provided some peace of mind. We were always amazed, however, at the fact that the bombings and sirens would never wake my dad up but if my brother and I even attempted to kick a soccer ball around indoors he'd yell at us for waking him up. It was selective hearing, I guess.
At around the same time, my dad got very sick. He initially went to the doctor and was diagnosed with cancer. Being somewhat stubborn, he didn't believe his first doctor and went to his friend's office for a second opinion where he was subsequently diagnosed with various ailments — which did not including cancer — but which nevertheless could not have been properly treated in Iran.
Due to the on-going war and subsequent lack of medical funding, medical equipment and medicine in general during that time period were grossly inadequate for soldiers and even worse for civilians. My dad's friend told him that his only option was to go to the U.S. for treatment or else he would surely die within the year.
My dad, again, being very stubborn, didn't believe him either and decided to get treated by the doctors in Iran. That only lasted for about a month, however, until my grandparents and my uncles in the U.S. persuaded him to go abroad for treatment.
Of course coming to the U.S. was no easy task at that time. Although nightly bombings, censorship, inadequate medical facilities and food supplies, are tremendous qualities to have in a place of residence, some people were actually willing to sacrifice all those luxuries to get the hell out of Iran. Go figure.
Luckily for us, my uncle had applied for a Green Card on our behalf in 1980 and by 1985, when we needed to leave, they were ready for our interview which was in Athens, Greece by way of Switzerland. We were all very excited, not having left the country in six years, we were going to two exotic places in Europe during the summer, and the U.S. right after that. That sure beat hanging out in war-ridden Tehran during the brutally humid summer.
We flew on Swiss Air which was a huge step up from Iran Air, which we normally flew on. My mom had a cousin who lived in a small town in Switzerland called Fribourg and he invited us to stay with him while we were in Switzerland waiting for our interview in Greece. After leaving the airport we got onto a train and left for Fribourg.
Coming straight out of Iran, it took us approximately 45 seconds after the train took off to pull out the requisite bags of pistachios, tokhmeh and feta cheese sandwiches with greens. As we were devouring the food, we noticed four Swiss students sitting next to us and staring at us in shock. Their fascination with what were eating developed into an international sandwich/pistachio for Swiss chocolate exchange program wherein they got to taste sabzi and feta cheese sandwiches for the first time and we got to eat their chocolate which was usually hard to come by in Iran.
Once we were done patting ourselves on the back for our ability to spread international good will with the Swiss students, we arrived in Fribourg where my mom instantly recognized her cousin that she hadn't seen in years. Albeit, I had never seen her cousin in my entire life and I could have instantly recognized him too. It wasn't difficult to spot the only bald, non-blond person there who was sporting the standard Persian guy mustache.
Anyway, we crammed our stuff into his tiny European hatchback and headed for what we thought was the city. Apparently, however, my mom had neglected to tell us that her cousin actually didn't live in a small city, but rather a small farm area outside of the small city.
We arrived at his apartment and were excited about all the things we could do now, save for the fact that there was absolutely nothing to do. He virtually lived on a farm for the love of God. It became apparent that we needed to get on the bus everyday and go to the city if we wanted to do anything of interest, so we did in search of everything the Western world had to offer — which pretty much meant McDonald's.
The first day in Fribourg, my brother and I demanded to have McDonald's. The second day in Fribourg, my brother and I demanded to have McDonald's. The third day in Fribourg, my brother and I demanded to have McDonald's and so on and so on. In the entire month that we were in Switzerland, we must have had three to four entirely McDonald's-free days. My brother and I were like hopeless moths drawn to the flame of the inescapable golden arches.
I still don't understand what they put in their food that has millions of kids across the globe developing hamburger addictions a million times worse than Keith Richards's dependence on cigarettes and Jack Daniel's.
After a month or so, we left Switzerland for our interview in Athens. It was August in Athens and that meant it was 110-degrees and horrifically humid. Our first lesson in Greek hospitality came when we took a taxi from the airport to our hotel which cost us 1000 drachma. We thought it was a bit expensive but we didn't know the cost of a typical taxi ride so we shrugged it off. It wasn't until we took a taxi from the hotel to the airport and were charged 54 drachmas that we realized what we had literally and figuratively been taken for a ride on our first taxi ride.
Our hotel was very clean and close to the U.S. embassy which was the stage for large anti-U.S. demonstrations every god forsaken day and night. To make matters worse, since we weren't used to peaceful demonstrations, the first night the demonstrations were going on my parents quickly took us upstairs to our room in anticipation of violence breaking out as it so often did in Iran during demonstrations. Fortunately nothing happened and we slowly got used to drifting to sleep while listening to the enchanting and soothing sounds of incessant anti-Reagan chants as our lullaby.
The next morning we woke up very excited for our interview at the embassy and arrived early dressed in our best clothes. The guards patted us down and let us go into a large waiting area where we sat by a very nice Iranian lady who asked us about our case.
Immediately upon finding out about our case, this “nice” lady began cussing like a sailor at the woman in charge of our case who apparently, according to this nice lady, was Hitler reincarnated. She filled our heads with stories of how unconscionably unsympathetic this shell of a human being was and that we might as well pack our bags and go home. So there we sat for the next few hours marinating in a pool of anxiety and self-pity over having gotten stuck with the Hitler lady on our first try at a Green Card.
After losing about five pounds sweating over our fate, our name was finally called and we were ushered into a small room. This woman in charge was an African-American woman who only cared about the facts and had little patience for long-winded and rambling responses. Anybody who knows my dad can attest to the fact that he's been known to ramble a little when he gets nervous and seeing that he was the only one who spoke English between the four of us, it didn't bode well for our chances.
Anytime my poor dad wanted to explain something in detail in his broken English, she would cut him off impatiently and tell him to get to the point. My dad would then get even more nervous and ramble and stammer even more while sweating profusely in search of words in his limited vocabulary. It was looking like an absolute disaster. My brother and I were holding our heads in our hands while listening to this train wreck of an interview.
For some inexplicable reason, however, this lady took to my dad and his unorthodox way of presenting our case and eventually explained to us that she would agree to let us go on to the U.S. but that there happened to be one small problem. Apparently, the person who had issued our Iranian passports had misspelled our last name. He had dropped a “y” from our last name and if we wanted to correct the mistake, we had to go back to Iran to get that taken care of.
My dad asked if there was anything possible for us to do to somehow resolve the issue to which she sarcastically replied “you could change your last name.” To her surprise it took us two seconds to agree to change our last name. At that point we didn't care as long as we wouldn't have to go back to Iran. We would have adopted the interviewer lady's last name if it meant that we wouldn't have to go back to Iran. So with that, the gigantic Jazayeri clan developed an offshoot by the name of Jazaeri and we honestly could not have cared less.
Once we received our documents we headed to the US for our final leg of our trip. >>> To be continued >>> Index