If someone would have pulled me aside and whispered in my
ear the challenges that were awaiting me, I would have never believed them.
If they would have told me that my brother would be captured
by Iranian intelligence officials and held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, I
would have thought they had watched too many movies.
If they would have told me he would be sentenced to death, I
would have thought that they were crazy.
If they would have told me that his death sentence would be
overturned, but he would be kept in solitary confinement away from his
attorney, family, and the outside world, I would have thought they were out of
And if they would have told me that while all of this was
going on, my father would be diagnosed with brain cancer and may not have more
than a year to live, I would have thought they were downright cruel.
Except this isn’t a movie. No one is crazy or out of their mind.
Cruel, though? Yes, this has been a cruel year.
In 1979, our parents packed their suitcases and left Iran
for America. This wasn’t a decision that was easy for them to make, knowing
they would be leaving everything they knew and all of their family behind. They
made this decision, though, for us – their children – because they wanted to
give us a better life.
Growing up as the children of immigrants, celebrating
holidays and important milestones was always bittersweet. We celebrated gladly
with our immediate family, and some of our friends’ grandparents “adopted” us
by taking us under their wings and filling the role for our grandparents in
Iran. It wasn’t the same, though, and we all longed to connect with our
relatives in Iran and have a greater sense of who we were and the family that
helped shaped us.
This was particularly hard for Amir. Outside of our
immediate family, the only relative he had met was our grandmother and the last
time he saw her was when she visited the US when he was 12 years old. He was
deeply connected to our grandmother. When she returned to Iran, she had
accidently left her prayer clothes behind. Amir would sometimes miss her so
much he would sleep with those clothes because they smelled like her. He needed
that connection with our grandmother. Her not being there, in our everyday
lives, meant that a part of him was somewhere else.
I’ve been to Iran twice. My first trip was when I was 19
years old and I enjoyed meeting and spending time with my family and learning
about the culture I came from. In 2007, I went again, taking my husband, Ramy.
This was Ramy’s first trip to Iran. He was so impressed with Iran and its
people. We filled our days meeting relatives and eating delicious Persian food.
We took in the bustling streets of Tehran, the ruins of Persepolis, and the
many historical sites in Isfahan and Shiraz. We couldn’t wait to come home and
share the details of our two week adventure with Amir.
Amir was happy for us, but in a shared moment with my
husband, Amir opened up. He looked at Ramy and said: “Isn’t it sad that
everyone in my family has been to Iran except me?”
Ramy understood. He, too, is a first generation American.
Amir had traveled with us to Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. He witnesses my
husband meeting those relatives for the first time and how special it was for
Ramy. Amir longed to have that, too, so it was no surprise when he decided he
would travel to Iran.
Amir stayed with my husband, children, and me as he contemplated
the next chapter of his life. He was recently accepted into the University of
Michigan’s Economics program and was enjoying this last summer before the
program began. Soon school would consume his life. After school, pursuing a
career would then become a priority. Amir was originally going to accompany my
mother and other siblings to Iran in June. A scheduling conflict prevented this
from happening. He considered putting his trip off, visiting the next summer
with my mother, but feared if he did this, he may never see our grandmother
again. She was aging quickly and her health was not the best. This was the
window of opportunity he had been waiting for. Amir spoke with other
Iranian-Americans that had traveled from the US to Iran and back again several
times. He began preparing his paperwork for the visit, careful to follow the
rules and regulations necessary to travel to Iran. He asked all of the right
people all of the right questions and celebrated a little bit when the answers
made his trip less of a dream and more of a reality.
We said good-bye to Amir, sincerely happy that he was going
to finally make that trip, no longer being the exception in our family. We couldn’t
wait to hear the stories he would tell us on his return: his impressions of Iran,
where he visited while traveling, which family members he was able to meet,
what his favorite meals were, how he felt after making that connection with
family he had never known. On the day that he left, we never expected to not
know when we would see him again.
Today, as I write this, I think of the holidays Amir has
missed, the family meals we haven’t been able to have, and the birthdays he
should be home for. I think about my father fighting his body to hold so he can
feel his son in his arms again, and the hope my family has each morning when we
wake up, praying that today may be the day we get a phone call from Amir, and we
are able to finally hear his voice. Even better, maybe today will be the day we
find out that Amir has been freed and will be returning home.
This past year has taught me a lot about family, about
loyalty, and about holding onto hope. Family has always been important to me,
but you never fully understand or appreciate it until your family is
threatened. Every day, we raise our voices for Amir. We do so without fail.
There are days that are better than others. And there are days when I wake up,
exhausted, never really being able to rest. Those are the days when I hold onto
hope the tightest.
It’s been 438 days.
It’s time for Amir to come home.