Boston to Dhaka-July 16th, 2009
Even though I had to go to Logan Airport in the middle of the night in order to catch the 6:15 AM flight, Mimi (my mom) insisted to accompany me to the airport. As we left our apartment building to enter the cab, I looked back at the huge concrete buidlinding called 2 Peabody Terrace in which Mimi and I lived for a year and said goodbye to the life that we lived there. Mimi is leaving Boston for Washington DC for 6 months and after that who knows where…. After my time in Bangladesh is over I will return to Boston to begin my final year of Masters. It will be lonely, cause Mimi won’t be there anymore. We will go back to our routine of being far away and worrying about each other from afar.
I said goodbye to our good old 2 Peabody Terrace and got into the cab with Mimi. This was the beginning of yet another journey; a journey that like most of the journeys I have experienced in my life is new and nothing like I have seen in my life. Mimi was looking out the window and I was looking at her. I was going to miss her. Sometimes when I look at her face, I remember that I am still capable of caring and loving. I looked at her again as I was lost in my thoughts. She caught me looking at her, held my hands and said, “Enough of this drama, Azadeh. You are going to see a whole new world. I am proud of you for always trying to get out of your comfort zone to go and see new things. Don’t worry about me. I will be fine. Remember? I managed to live without you for forty years before giving birth to you. Go on your journey, young lady!”
We got to Logan Airport at around 3:30 AM. After I checked in my luggages, the coffee addicts that we are, we began to hopelessly look for a coffeeshop that was actually open that early in the morning. After looking for a while, we found a Dunkin Donuts close to the baggage claim section of the terminal. To our surprise there was already a long line at the store. We stood in line and soon we realized that all of the people who had lined up were the luggage section’s staff. After half an hour of waiting, we finally got our coffee and in a sleepy/happy mood went upstairs to sit somewhere nice and drink out coffee.
I kept on checking my blackberry for the news of Iran. Our beloved land is going through some serious tough times. One of the reasons I was not all that excited about my Bangladesh trip was the fact I was going to be disconnected from the internet for a while which meant that I could not closely follow the news of Iran anymore. Mimi and I often exchange our political views and this time neither one of us could come up with an answer about Iran’s future (at least its immediate future). It is worrisome. I know life under those restrict circumstances in Iran is tough and I know and remember the impact of getting insulted by the authorities. I know how frustrating it is to feel that a government is playing games with you that could result in the worsening of your lives. So, I understand the reasons behind all these protests and I truly admire those who risk their freedom, career and lives to go to the streets and protest. But I still get worried and a bit pessimistic when I think of violence as the solution. Those who participate in the protests have tried to be peaceful, but there have been many encounters with the ruling government and the Sepah that has changed the direction of these peaceful protests. Many are injured and, based on some of the official news, about 8 individuals were killed. I have always been scared of violence and the rush that it brings to its perpetuators. Violence generates violence. That’s all I know and this much is enough to make me terrified of Iran’s future.
These thoughts about Iran have not left me alone even now that I have arrived in Bangladesh. At least in Boston, I could share my thoughts and worries with Mimi who had experienced the Islamic Revolution (she never felt that revolution was the answer, even at that young age) and the Iran-Iraq war. But during my long flights to Bangladesh, I felt I was going to explode with all my thoughts about Iran. I kept on thinking, “Why in the world am I going to Bangladesh when my own country, Iran, is very close to burning in violence and agitation.” But I remember that 7 years ago I had no choice but to leave Iran as the authorities had taken the beautiful peace with which we lived as a family from our lives. They did not like my parents and their work for human rights which meant that they were going to do anything that they could to eliminate them from the political scene of the nation. I remembered how much I have missed Iran during the past 7 years, how much I miss my father and how much I feel I could effectively utilize the knowledge that I have gained in the US to improve at least a few people’s lives in the country that I love dearly. But…Alas…Alas that we are confined to our destiny….My destiny, it seems, fl ew me out of Iran 7 years ago and it does not seem to want to have me return to Iran at least for some time.
I went from Boston to NYC and from NYC to Dubai. I had a couple of hours to spend in Dubai. It was a pretty emotional time for me as I kept on hearing the announcements from Iran Air and the flights to Iran. I wanted to leave my gate and get on one of the flights to Iran. “I should go to Iran right now….Why am going to Bangladesh? Am I escaping from my passion and my love for Iran? Why am I lying to myself?” But I was not strong enough to change gears and to go to Iran from Dubai. I ended up taking the flight to Dhaka, Bangladesh. As we were lined up to get on the plane, I met an Iranian guy who was on his way to Islamablad, Pakistan. He had the Gulf News in his hand and was proud to be Iranian as he thought the current unrest in Iran is a positive sign. He said that he was a climber and that he was going to Islamabad to meet some other Iranian climbers and to begin a climbing journey.
Meeting him made me feel less lonely and strangely. It somehow felt good to know that there is another Iranian person on this flight who does strange things that do not fit in the clichés of an ordinary life. I mean, seriously….He was going to Islamabad to climb! Who goes to a country that is as unsafe as today’s Pakistan for climbing. I admired him in my heart, but deep down was glad that our seats were not next to each other. He came and invited me to go and sit close to him as he had empty seats next to his. Even though I enjoyed my conversation with him, I did not go to say to him for most of the flight(I only went when were almost landing). I did not go, because I was afraid that talking about Iran on this flight was going to make me cry. I did not want to cry in front of a stranger. So I just sat in my own seat away from him and once in a while quietly shed tears. A part of me was excited to go to a country of which I had very little imagination and a part of me was worried for Mimi in the US, Baba(my dad) in Iran and Leili(my sister ) in Canada. This time around, I was also worried for all those young faces that I kept seeing on CNN and BBC and Youtube who are protesting in Iran.
Dhaka to Chittagong- July 17th, 2009-06-18
We landed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was different from arriving in Western cities as everyone on the plane got up way before the pilot allowed us to get up. People were speaking all the way from one side of the plane to the other with each other and so on. I already had received a few strange looks from the people on the plane. I think they had figured out that I was not from Bangladesh and they had this question mark on their face that wanted to ask me, “why are you in Bangladesh?”. One guy asked me some questions in terribly broken English and when I responded, he said that he does not understand English. He wanted me to see his passport and to see that his Bangladeshi passport had stuff in English in it. At first, I was sitting next to him. But, as he started talking and move too much in his seat, I got a bit nervous and asked the flight attendant to change my seat. I felt everyone was staring at me when I got up and sat on a different seat. I thought to myself, “Azadeh, this is only a tiny sample of what is awaiting a single young woman in Bangladesh. So, prepare yourself, woman! Be strong and not scared.”
As I stepped outside the plane, I felt I was walking into a Sauna; very hot and humid. I was worried that the heat would remind me of Tehran and make me feel even more nostalgic for not being there. But, fortunately the humidity made the climate feel very different from the dry heat of Tehran. As we approached the baggage claim area, I saw two computers for public use. I left the cart that I had picked up for carrying my luggage and quickly emailed Mimi and Leili(my sister) to tell them that I had arrived to Dhaka safely.
Already sweaty, I went up to the baggage claim section. My host organization had told me that someone was going to meet me at the Dhaka airport and will stay with me for the 2 hours of my layover time in Dhaka. They had told me that the Dhaka airport is not all that pleasant for a foreign woman. I walked out of the secured area of the airport with my big luggage hoping to see a sign for “Asian University for Women”. But unfortunately the person either never showed up or I could not find him. I looked very confused and clueless which meant that people were staring at me to try and figure out why I was in Dhaka. Finally someone guided me to the domestic flights’ section. I had to give my luggage for security check. The old man who was sitting at the security table saw that I was trying hard to pick up the luggage from the cart and put it on the table. I think he felt bad for me and asked, “Bad things or no?” I said, “No”, he said, “OK!” and let me go. Someone who looked like he could be the airport staff approached me and asked, “GMG?” I gave him the confused look. He took my ticket from my hand and guided me to sit and wait for the airplane to arrive. I am not going to lie…I was a bit scared. But I think it was a great introduction to Bangladesh for me and made me realize that if necessary I should figure out things on my own.
A couple of random men approached me and tried to ask me where I was from and things like that. The airport and especially the domestic flights section looked more like a bus terminal than anything else. Different GMG (my domestic airline) staff would come and ask me questions and sometimes there were very nice. For instance, once a guy from GMG asked if I wanted tea or coffee. Some other men who also was wearing the airport uniform and had a stick in his hand came up to me and said, “whiskey?” and pointed to my luggage. I said, “No”. He said, “Sure?” I said, “ Yes, sir” and he just walked away.
It was getting close to the flight time. They came, took my luggage and took me to a different area where the shuttle comes to take the passengers to the plane. Half an hour later, I was told that the flight was delayed. I was very tired and sleepy and was trying hard to keep my eyes open. I took a book to read so that I don’t fall asleep. A guy approached me and asked me if I was studying. I said, “no, well, maybe”. He asked me where I was from and when he realized that I am originally from Iran, he told me that he has been following the news on elections and that he thinks Ahmadinejad is a good minister (all of this in broken English). I just nodded and smiled. I did not feel like talking or explaining or anything. I just wanted to pass out on some bed. Later, it turned out the reason he was talking with me was because he was trying to convince me to switch my flight from GMG to Royal Bengal. That’s how tight the competition between domestic airlines seem to be here. They send their staff to convince you to switch your flights! I was so confused when he asked me to switch my flight. I kept on saying, “No, thanks!”
Our plane finally arrived and we got on the plane. It was a very tiny plane. As we sat down, the flight attendant who was a beautiful young Bengali woman began by saying “Allah Akbar…La Elaha Ellallah…” It was quite a while that I had not heard these words on a plane. Those words took me back to Iran and the agitation that has taken over my country in the past few weeks.
When the plane was taking off, I got incredibly terrified. The plane was making all sorts of loud sounds and the whole thing was shaking as we were taking off. All of that fear did not last long as I passed out for the entire hours of the flight. I woke up just in time to hear that we were in Chittagong (my destination).
I was very worried that no one was going to show up to pick me up. It was already midnight and I had no idea what I would do. Fortunately the driver of Asian University for Women was waiting for me with a sign. He helped me get in his van and in broken English he said, “hour or more”. We were in the car for more than hour. As I was hopelessly playing with my Blackberry in the car, I realized that I could send text messages to the US with it even though I was in Bangladesh. I sent a message to Mimi and my friend in the US. My friend responded saying that he was worried for me. Being able to communicate with them made me feel a bit less tired and nervous.
I looked out the window of the car and was amazed by the traffic flow in the streets of Chittagong. For the most part, there were no traffic lines or lights and every car, bike taxis and motorcycle taxis were going in all sorts of directions. It seemed that everyone was always honking their horn. I looked at the sideways. It felt as though the entire city was outside at this late hour of the night. People were out, walking and doing things. Everyone seemed busy or in a rush. Vendors were all over the place. Women in their colorful outfits were walking in all directions and men, too, seemed busy carrying things, selling or chatting. I was fascinated to watch the guys who would bike 2 or 3 people on their bike taxis. They all seemed very thin with very strong legs. I looked at some of their faces. They looked very focused and concentrated on pedaling. Buses would drive in all directions. I saw people even sitting on the roof of busses. People were hanging from the bars of the bus and half of their body was outside the door. Every place, every car and bus looked overcrowded and full.
This was a new world. I was a true newcomer into this scene. It felt as though I had just discovered the land that only seemed and felt fictional with its many hardworking people and its heat.
Note 1: I am sorry if this piece is all over the place and not comprehensible at times. I am still adjusting to my new environment, cannot stop thinking and worrying about the events in Iran and have a hard time concentrating on writing. Hopefully as I write more about my experience here, I will figure out a better style for my pieces. Bear with me, please!
Note 2: I have been taking many photos. I wish I could upload them here or on some other website. But unfortunately, the internet is too slow for me to be ale to upload them while I am here. Hopefully, I will share them with you upon my return to the US.