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Moving home with some miscommunications
Traveling light

April 2, 2004

Well, the time has come at the age of 25 to move onto the next stage of my life. A month ago I secured a job to return to London, after nearly 3 years of living around and mostly in San Francisco. I am very excited to start the second stage of my career and life while returning to my friends, family and loved ones.

The knowledge that I always would return to my birth-land has led to me lead a semi-transient life, not accumulating any possessions that would not fit in a suitcase, so as not to hinder or complicate the eventual move back home.

My actual move is in a week from now, so the 'ingenious' plan I concocted involved going to London for 6 days over Eid Nowrouz, spending the new year with my family and additionally (this is the ingenious bit) bringing back as many suitcases of belongings possible with me. I would then return with suitcases now empty to San Francisco (continuation of ingeniousness) for my final trip to London, which would then be enough to carry the rest of my belongings (ingeniousness complete), eliminating any need for shipping goods.

Shipping would be an endeavor that involved me boxing my possessions and walking to a Post Office, something far too strenuous for myself, when I can instead cram as much as possible in a suitcase, or in my case (excuse the pun) suitcases. So, accompanied by 3 suitcases and a rucksack, I set off to London.

I'll return to the suitcases shortly.

My stay in London was a mostly of no consequence though my uncle, that is my aunt's husband, was at home with my aunt, who was napping, when the door buzzed. He answered the intercom and asked "who is it?" To which he received the reply; "I am here for the electoral roll, I am from the census bureau". My uncle told the man to come in and proceeded to buzz the door open.

After a brief moment the man entered the lobby and approached my expectant uncle, who then opened the wiring closet at the front of the entrance. My uncle smiled at the man and pointed inside the closet and henceforth the confusion began.

The man from the census bureau, confused at why he was being shown the inside of a closet, when simply wanting to know some quick facts about the residents in the house, was presented with a conundrum: What should he do?

He looked in the closet, then turned and smiled back at my uncle, returned his glance to closet again and finally smiling back to my uncle. What should he do? Was there something in the closet to look at? Was the family information written down in the closet? Why would it be? It seemed to be filled with coats and an electrical box. So he again smiled back at my uncle and decided to try again: "I am here for the electoral roll." My uncle returned his statement with the polite Iranian half-bow-half-nod and replied: "Yes", while pointing in the closet.

This was followed by a few more "electoral roll" and "yes" exchanges, then a few shrugs and eyebrow raises, until finally my uncle went and summoned by aunt. On her arrival to the scene, she was greeted by the gentleman from the census bureau and his welcoming: "I am here for the electoral roll". My Aunt showed instant comprehension and replied: "Oh yes", and pointed inside the wiring closet.

Again this exchange was repeated, though less times than with my uncle.

After a brief silence the gentleman tried one last attempt. "I don't think you understand, I am here to take a census", at which point he showed his file and the census sheet to be filled in. "I am here to find out who lives here and how old they are, for voting purposes... the electoral roll".

"Ooooooh, we thought you were an electrician", was the all-revealing answer from my aunt.

Anyway back to my suitcases. So my ingenious plan had worked to perfection and now I was returning back to San Francisco accompanied by 3 empty suitcases and a rucksack.

The United Airlines' check-in staff at London, did not ask me why my suitcases weighed in at under a kilogram total, but did then decide to talk to me very slowly and look at me with a hint of sorrow in their eyes, as if they had just found out I was mentally retarded. I was not bothered by this slight, as my bags were now checked in and I was on my way back.

All went well and I was waiting in the San Francisco baggage claim for my suitcase. My run of luck continued as the first suitcase to be dumped unceremoniously out, was one of mine.

I picked it up a little too forcefully, as it is very hard to adjust one's thinking in terms of suitcases. Whenever you see a suitcase you wish to pick up, you always brace your knees, take a deep breath and attempt to lift it. The countless times you have picked up your cousin Arash's brother's aunt's friend's boyfriend's sister's suitcase has led to numerous hernia inducing near-misses. It is always a modern wonder of the world to open up an Iranian suitcase and see how many carpets, shirinis (sweets), tasbees (prayer-beads), khaatams (hand-crafted wooden goods), fake designer clothes, jewelry, 12 year old cousins and arranged-marriage-intended wives can be fitted in.

I am digressing. So I picked up my empty suitcase put it on my trolley and then noticed a tag on the suitcase. It read 'Do Not Load, Check at Gate'. My suitcase was the first out as it was the last on. The United baggage loaders must have been suspicious of why someone would check in an old empty suitcase. Which is a good question, why would you?

It wasn't very long till I had all three of my empty suitcases loaded on my trolley and I was heading to the last customs point. I presented my completed customs form and passport and as usual was questioned about my name, my professions, where do I live, am I terrorist, etc. It was after the usual interrogation questions, that she asked me "why do you have 3 suitcases for a 6 day visit?" My reply was that they were empty. The customs officer looked up at me and repeated my words: "Empty?" "Yes", I replied "Empty".

In a scene reminiscent of my uncle's, we repeated the words "empty" a few times - at which point I beckoned her to lift one up to see for herself. This satisfied her that I was not lying, but made her ask "Why do you have three empty suitcases?" It was a very good question and one that took me, a good five minutes to answer. In the end she let me through, with a resigned shake of her head and again thinking I probably had some sort of mental disability.

The only person who was not puzzled as to why I had three empty suitcases was the driver of the 'super shuttle' who took me home. On hearing my answer to him, "Oh don't worry all three are empty", he did not ask me why or look at me strangely; he just smiled and said "Cool, Bro", glad he did not have to risk his hernia.

My short excursion to London had shown me that traveling light can sometimes be too light. What one finds puzzling, another can find joyful and, in all that, communication, (or miscommunication), is always key. Oh and now that I am back in San Francisco, I find that March in SF is a hell of a lot warmer than in London. So, wish me luck and buy me some thermals:

"Mamma, I'm coming home."

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By Amir Nooriala



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Stories from Iran
A Chicago Anthology 1921-1991
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