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Tight knot
I could stay in my country forever

By Mersedeh Mehrtash
November 20, 2001
The Iranian

It's amazing. I feel like crying so bad. It's almost 2AM and I am sitting in the pre-boarding area of Mehrabad airport, waiting to get onto my Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. In front of me, is an elderly couple sitting side by side. The woman reaches into her mysterious black bag and pulls out some ajil. Her husband takes the bag and gets right to work with his shaky hands. The woman's attention now shifts to me. I can feel her curious glance running over me, and the heat rises inside my head. Her thoughts become apparent as she tries to guess where I could be from; Germany? Spain? America?

The minutes seem to be passing quickly and I start to feel desperate in my attempt to hang on. I suddenly realize how much I love this country -- my country -- and I wish I could stay in this waiting room forever. I love staring at the tall German flight attendants with their awkward shawls, looking at our handicrafts. I love that they are the foreigners for once. I love that I am an Iranian, in Iran,. I love that I am on my own soil and among my own people for a change. Of course, this is not what I would have been saying two months or even two weeks ago.

I came to Iran in April. It seemed like the ideal time to visit, even though I had been here less than a year ago. I had just graduated from school on the East Coast and finished moving my life over to our new home in southern California. My mom had left for Iran a few weeks earlier and instead of diving into my job search, I decided to join her. This was the first time in almost ten years that my mom and I would be in Iran together. I thought that maybe having her by my side would give me a sense of comfort in an atmosphere that sometimes made me feel foreign.

Two weeks ago, if someone had asked me how I felt about being in Iran, I would have complained about a number of things. I would have talked about how uncomfortable I felt walking down the streets followed by curious stares. I would have mentioned the jeweler who turned to my mother and asked her if I understood Farsi, as though I didn't even exist: "Ishoon Farsi mifahman?" I would have commented about the guys on the streets of Mashad who followed me for two blocks saying: "Hello... hellooo... how are you... hello..." mixed with a dosage of local matalaks in Farsi.

I definitely would have expressed my sleepless nights, terrified of the giant soosks that crawl around the city during these hot summer months and how repeated sightings of them had peaked my phobia to new heights. While we are at it, what about the dirty air, the nasty public restrooms, the insane driving and the wandering hands? If someone would have sat me down two weeks ago, I might even have mentioned the sweet rug dealer who promised he was going to find a groom worthy of me, and dance at my wedding. After all, I am 24!

But all of this is in the past. Right now, as I sit here in this waiting room all alone among dozens of people, I just concentrate on not crying.

The television set behind me is playing what sounds like a setar. The notes of the beautiful instrument are like little knives stabbing away at my control. I pull my roosari forward and pretend to fix my hair as I quickly wipe the hot tears off my cheeks. I'm leaving. I'm really leaving. Tehran, Mashad, Shomal, Isfahan and all those little villages and roads traveled in this brief amount of time; they are all part of the past. I am leaving the gatherings, the streets, the movies, the people, the chelo-kababies, and the bazaars. Most importantly, I am leaving my family.

I am leaving behind my 70-year-old father, with whom spending time is a rare luxury that I unfortunately became too accustomed to during these last two months. I remember saying goodbye to him. I remember his face. My father, who has been known his whole life for his toughness as a military physician, was crying. For the first time in my adult life, I put my embarrassment aside, looked at him in the eyes and said: "Kheili doostetoon daram, yadetoon nare." I wasn't sure when I would get the chance again. A few days later, he called me and with a knot in his throat he said: "Man ham kheili doostet daram dokhtaram".

This wasn't like the usual quick I-love-you's that parents and children throw at each other on a daily basis. These words were full of pain. The pain of a father and daughter who have been separated by life's circumstances and forced to live half a world apart from each other, and pretend to feel whole. A pain that I know I share with millions of other Iranians, like all those faces pressed up against the glass waiting to greet their loved ones when they arrive into Mehrabad. It seems like it was only yesterday when I was searching those faces to find my family. My face is getting hot again and I struggle to maintain control. Thank God the old woman in front of me is distracted by one of the straps on her carry-on bag and isn't looking at me.

I look inside my bag for some distraction. I find my ticket stub, my boarding pass, some Tomans, and my US passport. It reminds me of the last checkpoint that I went through before this waiting room. The man that checked my passport was more surprised by my brown passport than by my blue one. He asked me a number of questions, some just out of curiosity I think. Then, he wished me well and buzzed me past the gate sending me on my way home. So, why does it feel like I'm leaving home?

I've lived at least two thirds of my life outside of Iran. I don't blend into the Iranian crowd because I don't look Iranian, so most of my fellow hamvatans don't really "see" me. When I do speak Farsi to a stranger, I know that I am going to give them a jolt and maybe interrupt what they thought was a private conversation, so usually I don't say anything. I have lived in the US since I was 11 years old and not once have I felt truly American.

I admit that I love America and that it has shaped who I am, however, I have always felt something missing from my all-American surroundings, and I haven't always appreciated blending into their crowd. Especially when some super-ignorant person will confide their political views to me by making some comment about those terrorists from "over there... you know... I-ran and those other Arabic countries." It is in moments like that when I can feel my blood boil and I have no doubts where my origins lie.

Now, I am sitting on the comfortable airplane that will take me to the other end of the earth. As I sit there, waiting for take off, I watch the women rushing to take their scarves off. One by one, they take their roosari and roopoosh off, fluffing their hair, re-applying lipstick and liberating themselves. I can only sit in my seat with my eyes glued to the window. I make the knot in my roosari tighter and pull it forward. The lights of Tehran shimmer through the glass and the smell of the night air is all around us.

Finally I let go of the breath inside my chest and I fall into a thousand pieces. I realize that I don't want to take my roosari off. It smells of smoke and smog, and the rain of Shomal. It has a drop of golab from the Haram e Emam Reza, where I touched the zarih for the first time. I am in no rush to take it off. I want to hang on to the feeling of being in Iran for as long as I can, and ignore where I will be in just six hours.

The young man sitting next to me is both curious and concerned. I imagine his confusion; "She must be some convert to Islam... maz-habi... not taking off her roosari... all the other women have... why is she crying? Is she sick?"

My thoughts are reaffirmed when I feel a tap on my shoulder and in his best English he asks me: "Excuse me... are you okay?" To his surprise, I reply: "Baleh, faghat yek kami delam gerefteh."

Soon, the plane rolls back and we feel the engine roar and the wheels tuck in. As I exhale, I feel my roosari slip off my hair and reality slip back into my veins.

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Comment for the writer Mersedeh Mehrtash


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