Thursday, May 27, 2010

Flight School

I am not a friendly flier.

I mean, OK, I'm cordial enough. But, when flying alone, I do not care to chat with my seat mates and usually make certain my body language and activities project it.

However, having had a couple of cocktails during my wait for my delayed flight, I was much more approachable on my flight to Salt Lake Monday evening and my seat mate took advantage of it.

He was a slight man, bald, and I would have guessed early 40's. He spoke with a mild accent I could not place.

He began the conversation with the usual idle or pleasure, what do you do for a living, etc. He was an engineer - a consultant mainly working with various railroad companies - on his way from his home in Nebraska to a conference of some sort.

When I asked him where he was from originally, he said, "Would you believe me if I told you my accent is southeastern Nebraska?"

I laughed and told him no.

He then reluctantly replied that he was from Iran.

Now, having just finished reading Reading Lolita in Tehran, my interest was peaked. So I began asking him questions about how he'd come to the United States.

Turns out, his parents had pinched and scrimped to save enough money for him to come to the United States for the mid-70's, 4 years before the revolution when the Ayatollah Khomeini gained power. And, just as he was finishing his bachelor's degree, it became clear he'd not be going home any time soon as his family was secular Muslim and against the new regime.

It was a dangerous time for seculars still is.

Anyway, so he told me his story. How he pursued his Master's degree while he was waiting to go home. Then he met his future wife who was also studying and waiting to go back to Tehran. And how he then went on to obtain his Doctorate - nothing to do but continue to study - his visa a student visa.

Eventually, he would obtain a work visa, get married, have a son of his own. He and his wife chose to become U.S. citizens in light of the continued turmoil in his own country.

Just as his father did for him, he also scrimped and scraped to save all that he could to send his own son to a prestigious university on the East Coast and then to medical school in middle America.

His parents are still alive and well, albeit unhappily - his mother suffering under the laws of a conservative religion she does not follow, living in Tehran. His wife's parents are both deceased.

They do not visit. His wife refuses to wear the burqa. They do not want their son to know this Iran.

By the end of the flight, I felt grateful for having allowed the conversation to take place. He was both fascinating and enthusiastic about the life he'd led and to find a captive audience for a story that, while likely a dime a dozen among many Iranian students who came to this country during that time, was fresh to me - someone who cannot fathom what it must have been for him, for his wife, his parents, his country.

And I felt grateful for having the opportunities I've had, to live without that kind of oppression, to learn, hindered only by myself and what I refused to do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wow, that must have been a fascinating conversation, thank you for sharing it!