I am worried for Shirin Ebadi!
For Shirin Ebadi: a woman I adore and admire
I often think of my past in Iran as a ship that has sunk in the infinity of an ocean somewhere in the ambiguity of time and space. There are very few unforgettable individuals and precious memories that have kept me hopeful for finding this sunken ship of the past one day. One of those powerful images that have kept me hopeful all throughout these years is Shirin Ebadi. I have vivid memories of the few times that I felt so incredibly safe in her arms during hard times when I could not even trust the ground under my feet. Her kind eyes, feminine body, her warm embrace and her meaningful words were what kept me on my feet in a few instances when I was so ready to break down and give in.
When my mother was considered a threat to the national security of the Islamic Republic and was imprisoned, Shirin Ebadi came and took me to her own apartment for a few days. She took me to her home so that I could take my final exams in peace and away from all these political struggles. Narges(her daughter) and I would study in one room. I had a great time the few nights that I stayed with them. Narges and I would study together and during our breaks we would talk about everything that was in our chaotic minds, laugh and eat lots of ice-cream. Soon we would hear Shirin’s voice, “Girls, I’m assuming that you are both done studying for your exams. Am I right?” Looking at each other worriedly, we would resume the quite studying mode.
During the week that I was at their house, Shirin made sure that I drank enough milk, fruits and food. A few times she quizzed me on my studies and took me to school, kept my hand in her own hand and kissed me before letting me go to school in the morning. She would say, “You know what would make your mom happy, don’t you? A transcript full of A pluses.”
One night when I was studying in Narges’ room, Narges and Negar(her other daughter) were in their mother’s room and I could hear the joyful laughter of the three women from the other room. With a book in front of me, their laughter became like a melody to my sorrows and I began to remember. I remembered throwing myself in my mother’s arms every night when she would return from her law firm. I remembered gossiping, talking, giggling and laughing in her bed. As I was daydreaming, I heard Shirin’s voice, “ Azadeh, my daughter, come and join us. Don’t stay there by yourself”. I got up and nervously stepped into the other room. “How did she know what I was thinking about?”, I thought to myself. She grabbed my hand and I lied down on the bed with them. Negar, Narges, Shirin and I talked and laughed and made funny comments for a good hour or so. I laughed away so much fear, worry and nostalgia that night. It was an unspoken agreement between us. I was going to be Shirin’s daughter for as long as I was deprived from having my own mother around.
A few months after she had received the Nobel Peace Prize and a couple of years after much had happened to my family, I went to Shirin’s talk in Washington DC. When she was entering into the building, I shyly followed the crowd of eager Iranians who were following her. I stayed back, because I was scared of the moment that she would see me and not recognize me. “Why would she even care about you at this point, Azadeh?”, I thought to myself. As I was lost in my own thoughts, someone patted me on my shoulder. A woman was trying to tell me that Shirin was looking my way. As I turned my head to catch her glance, she literally screamed, “my daughter…” She politely asked everyone to clear the way, quickly made her way toward me in the crowd. It was the same warm motherly embrace that I still remembered from some years back. She cried and I cried. We cried about so much that was lost. It is amazing how even a Nobel Peace Prize could not replace the peace that was once stolen from our lives. I could hear people whispering to each other, “Who is she? She is definitely not Shirin Ebadi’s daughter”. Someone in the crowd said, “She is Mehrangiz Kar’s daughter”.
Shirin told everyone that she did not have time for autographs and interviews, grabbed my hand and took me to the closest café. We sat down and I was so emotional and nervous that I do not even remember what I told her or what I did. All I know is that she had 30 minutes before her talk and she wanted to hear all about my life during those 30 minutes. She said, “You know you are going to shine and we expect no less than a star from you. Right, my daughter? ” I nodded to her exactly the way I had nodded when she told me that she expected excellent grades from me that day in front of my school.
So much had happened since the last time I had seen her in Iran. I was now simply a high school student in the US, my mother was suffering the burdens of exile and my father (who was a journalist in Iran) was kidnapped and was being tortured by the authorities in Iran. She patted my hair and cleared my tears from my cheeks and promised me that everything is going to get resolved. I never forget the warmth of her embrace that day. In the frozen time of exile, she appeared to me like an angel from that lost and sunken ship of the past. I did not want her to leave. I wanted her to rescue my mother somehow. But she could not. She, too, had to survive her own unstable life; her own odyssey.
I did not see her again until 2005 when I went to Iran to visit my father who was now under house arrest. Shirin came to visit me. She looked worried for me. She was worried that the authorities will not let me leave Iran. I could see that a part of her wanted to say, “Why did you come? You should not have come”. This was a sentence that I heard over and over from many friends during my brief stay in Tehran. But, Shirin, I felt, swallowed her words of fear and worry and said in a strong voice, “Azadeh, my daughter, no one could hurt you. You are my daughter. If anyone harms my daughter in any way, I will not sit and watch. I have your back”. Then she smiled and opened her arms to hug me. I sat next to her for some time while some of our other friends were constantly talking about how I had no chance of getting back to the US and continuing my studies. They were all agreeing on the fact that I had made a huge mistake by going to Iran. Shirin only patted me and kept me entertained by telling me funny stories about Narges and Negar. It was an unspoken agreement between us. We both intentionally tuned out the pessimistic words that were being exchanged about my trip to Iran, shared memories of the past and laughed joyfully.
I saw Shirin again in 2008. She looked worriedly tired and her eyes were struggling to shine the way they always did. She introduced me to some of her fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners and told them that I am her third daughter. I had such a great time that night. I was among so many accomplished women from all over the world and they all treated me with so much affection as I was simply introduced as their favorite colleague’s daughter. They all wanted to know who this mysterious so-called daughter of Shirin was. When I said goodbye to her that night, she squeezed my hands in hers and said commandingly, “My daughter, promise me something, will you? Take care of my friend. Take care of your mother.” I nodded and she kissed me goodbye.
And now Shirin Ebadi’s home, the home to which I took refuge when my mother was imprisoned, is attacked by the authorities. They have also attacked and searched her office in which I spent many hours throughout my childhood. The authorities took my own home away from me, took away the beautiful smile from my own mother’s face, took away much life from my father’s energetic body and soul and now it is my second mother’s turn? What have they done to deserve this much humiliation, so much destruction by the leaders of their own country?
I am worried for Shirin. I am worried for a woman who has worked day and night for many years to defend the rights of women and children in Iran. I am terrified of the day that she would have to sit at an arbitrary café in exile for hours to kill the seemingly never-ending frozen time of exile. I am terrified of the day that she will have to become friends with the misery of being forgotten in her own country, by her friends and her colleagues.
I do not want my second mother to live the life that is so unjustly imposed on my own mother. I do not want Shirin to have to bury her hopes and her past in the frosty graveyard of exile. Shirin is my hope. She is the angel of the sunken ship of my past. I am worried for her!