In July of 1986 Barbara Walter’s interviewed Betty Mahmoody on the television program 20/20 and ended my fantasy of visiting Iran with my two-year-old son whose father is from Iran. Betty recounted how she’d agreed to visit Iran with her young daughter and Iranian husband and wound up being forced to stay against her will and undergo a harrowing escape over the Elbruz Mountains. This was a wakeup call for me. Although I would not be traveling with my husband because he was afraid the Iranian government would be loath to see an American trained computer programmer leave when Iran had suffered such a brain-drain following the revolution, what I had not realized was that the day we married I became an Iranian citizen and subject to its laws. There was no guarantee that I would be allowed to leave Iran with our son when our visit was over.
The next time I spoke on the phone with my father-in-law he told me he didn’t want me to come because Esfahan had been bombed again. It was too dangerous. I told about the Walter’s-Mahmoody interview and he told me that it was a lie, that Americans are loved in Iran and that I had nothing to fear from the Revolutionary government. It was only Iraq I needed to be fearful of. I did not argue with him. What was the point? I wasn’t going so who cared if he thought ABC was a tool of the American government?
With the kabash put on a trip to Iran I began to lobby for my in-laws to visit us. My husband was diametrically opposed to a visit from them. In my fantasy my in-laws would come and fall in love with our big family. I swear, if I didn’t know better I would think I must have been on drugs. In my Pollyanna desire to heal my husband’s relationship with his father I was deranged.
Meanwhile, the next best thing—in fact the best thing, but I didn’t realize it at the time—happened. My mother-in-law’s sister and her husband came to visit my husband’s cousin in Santa Clara in late 1986. I had never enjoyed this particular cousin, but with no extended family of my own in sight he’d been an extra face at the table on Thanksgivings and Christmas and in the meantime another cousin and her husband had moved to the Bay Area with their two girls. My husband’s aunt and uncle were fantastic. I fell in love with them immediately and they seemed to like me. I still believe they did. We had many family gatherings while they were in the United States and I became excited at the notion of my own in-laws coming to visit. My husband remained reluctant. He suspected what I did not. Their visit was not going to be as amiable as that of his aunt and uncle. But I was still in my Pollyanna haze. We would be the Persian version of the Waltons exchanging recipes and culture and have a marvelous time. I would come to rue having pressed my husband to invite them, but in hindsight he could not have put it off indefinitely.
So it was all arranged. Doubtless with bribes and ransom money, not to mention leaving their youngest son behind, it was arranged that my in-laws would arrive in San Francisco in June of 1987. I had witnessed my husband refusing to talk to his father before we were married. I knew that he was reluctant to tell them that we had married, but eventually he did. He had refused to invite them to come visit us and all the time I had ignored signs as big as the ones in Times Square. There was still one more chance to be saved from disaster. They got stuck in The Hague in the Netherlands. The American consulate there would not issue them visas. My husband decided that he was going to take our son to the Netherlands and visit with his parents there. I remembered Betty Mahmoody. “Not without me,” I told him. Our son was not yet four years old. Anything could happen. What if he got there and his parents persuaded him to go to Iran instead of returning with our son. Maybe he would have gone and come back after a week or two, but there was no way I was going to risk losing my son. “We cannot afford for you to go, too,” he told me. “I will have to borrow money from my boss to go as it is. How will I ever pay back enough to take you, too?”
“Then go alone,” I told him, “but you’re not taking my our son halfway ‘round the world without his mother.”
I sounded tough, but I knew that my husband was in agony. I don’t speak Farsi, but I could tell that his conversations with his parents on the phone were emotional and exactly the way Moody's conversations with his Iranian family were pictured in Not without My Daughter. They wanted him to come. They wanted to see their grandson. I thought that on home turf I could control things. I needed to find a way to help them get their visas. I called the American Consulate in The Hague.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Homage to Betty Mahmoody