TitleI do not want to leave my country

Where is my homeland now that your familiar melody seems so far away?*

12 Apr 2011

■ Shafagh Ashna
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Javad is my university friend. We were roommates in the dormitory. Javad comes from a village in Azerbaijan, Iran. His parents are illiterate and he is the only member of his family who has studied so hard. He was filled with passion and enthusiasm when he came to Tehran. His father had told him: you should only study. You don’t need to work; I don’t want you to become a butcher like me. He had fantasies about Tehran and its universities. After a while Javad got disappointed, but as he was used to being in difficult situations, he went on studying. He taught maths to children. He had made business cards for himself and gave them to everyone. He advertised his business in the university, passed around his brochures in the dorm. He finished his education in spite of all difficulties, and got an MA. Then he said: I will no longer stay here. I am tired, I have to go.

We told him: you don’t know English at all. He said: I will learn. After all it is better than staying here. We told him: you can continue your study here, get a PhD and become a university professor. He said: I’d rather go back to our village and butcher sheep than studying here. He was annoyed. He had been irritated during his dissertation. He came to blows with his professors and he finally got a bad mark. He was infuriated after the defense session. He swore loudly although he is usually a peaceful person. Javad started studying English. He studied for two years until he finally got the required mark. He knew nothing to begin with, and he studied day and night. His apartment was like a language lab. There were sheets of paper on every wall: English words and phrases, hopeful sentences, days left from his English exam.

After the 2009 disputed election, I didn’t go home for some days and stayed with Javad. His apartment was near Enghelab Street and I could reach the demonstrations easily. Whenever I was coming out of the house I asked him, ‘Don’t you want to come, Javad? Everyone is on the street.’ He said ‘No, I am finished off with these things. I haven’t even voted, let alone taking it back. The only thing I want is to leave this country.’ And so he did. He texted a few weeks before and said that he had won a scholarship from a Spanish university and was waiting for his visa. The night before his departure we went to visit him. I said: you must be so excited now. He said: no, I am not. I am only certain that this is not a place to stay.

Nasim is a friend of my girlfriend. We are so close, mostly because of the days that we went to demonstrations together. The events of those days have affected us so deeply that we always keep talking about them. Nasim belongs to a rich family, but she is an independent young woman. She used to work and had bought herself a Peugeot 206 and sometimes took us to Zahirodole, Emamzadeh Taher, and Ahmad Abad. We called her the cemetery taxi-driver. Nasim is a passionate girl. She cannot help talking or crying. She worked in a public organization. She put on her green bracelet and went to work. She announced the demonstration schedule out loud and discussed political issues recklessly. The heads of the organization had no doubts. They fired her right away. Nasim came home and cried and cried. Then she said: there’s no problem, this is a good chance for me to study for MA courses. She studied hard and got a high rank in the exam. But when she found out that she was a suspended student and could not enter university, she didn’t wait a second. She applied for a university in Malaysia and was accepted after one month. When she hugged us in the airport and was crying, she said: I still don’t want to talk about it, because I am sure if I think deeply, I would stay. I would stay and cry so loud that they will come and put me away in prison. She left and told us: forgive me for being free from the protests for two years. I promise to come back and be with you.

I met Farhad in the mountains. On a summer day, when I had decided to go to the mountain alone, I saw Farhad sitting in the shelter, singing for himself. We talked to each other and became friends. Farhad’s family had applied for immigration to Canada many years ago, and they had received their immigration cards. But Farhad didn’t want to go. He said: we have to stay. We have to build our future with our own hands. We should do what we can for our country. Farhad wasn’t an emotional person, he believed in what he said. His family called him from Canada every day and asked him to come. But Farhad resisted until he was arrested in the rally. He was in detention for a few days, and then he was set free. He was whacked badly, but he said: I have paid the expenses like everyone else. There is no difference. He kept participating in the demonstrations, until they attacked his house one night when he had gone to the super market. He was identified, but luckily he saw what happened and ran away on his flip-flops. He went to one of his relatives’ house, borrowed some money, and escaped from the Kurdistan border. Now Farhad is exiled or homeless as he says. A homeless person who is kicked out from his own country with flip-flops. Farhad is still determined. He says: I will come back to Iran as soon as I know that I would not be arrested. He says: I will not rest until I see that my country is improving.

If we become desperate, and run away, can we still have hope for Iran’s future?

Tehran’s weather in the spring time is wonderful for taking a walk in the streets filled with the smell of blossoms. Especially if it is raining you don’t want to go back home. You just like to walk along and watch the jasmines hanging down from the walls and feel the freshness of the rain. You wish Tehran was always this calm and beautiful. But a few days ago when we said goodbye to Javad, the weather did not have that sense anymore. Seeing the dark sky, I felt lonely and depressed. I realized that more than ten friends of mine have gone from Iran and some others are planning to go. I don’t want to judge these people, but if we become desperate, whether temporarily or by force, and run away, can we still have hope for Iran’s future? I don’t want to stick to clichés, but I like my country because I have grown up here. All the mountains, polluted rivers, ancient places that have been destroyed by now, draw me like a magnet. If I was born somewhere else, I would feel the same about that place. But I don’t want to feel defeated. I don’t want to admit that I am giving this land away to the people who have no interest in it and are fantasizing about the day it is ruined. We should stay and resist and call back all Javads, Nasims, and Farhads, and try to put things back to where they should be.

* a line from a poem by Iranian poet Ahmad Shamloo

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