A Letter by Samannaz Rohanimanesh

Something is happening. I can feel it.

I open my eyes and she is there. She is caressing my hair with her gentle hands and I can inhale her scent; a scent I’m familiar since I was born. She says, “azizam (my dear), it’s time to go, you’ll miss the plane” and I keep looking at her, all eyes, as if I’m afraid I’ll lose her image if I blink away.

I wake up. She had packed my suitcases last night. She says “I’ve written a prayer on a piece of paper and put it in the suitcase. They will not open your suitcase in the border customs. Don’t worry azizam. This prayer will keep them away” and I start crying as she hugs me.

We sit in the car. She pours a cup of water behind the car as the car drives out of the parking - an old tradition to ascertain the safety of the traveler. She gets in and we drive to Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport. All along the way, she is praying. She whispers the prayer and turns back and blows the air towards me, to give me the energy of the prayer.

I hate airports. I hate saying goodbyes. I hate Imam Khomeini airport specifically. I’m holding back all the tears I can shed but I don’t want her to feel I don’t want to go and finish what I have started. I have fear. I have the fear of not seeing her beautiful aging face. I have the fear of hearing her cough on the phone and I can’t do anything being miles away.

I‘m afraid of waking up in the morning and finding that her scent is gone from my hands, from my heart without knowing when I can inhale it freely without the fear of saying goodbye.

***

Something is happening. I can feel it.

I turn back. Through my reflection she stands tall on the other side, whispering her prayers and rolling the opal beads in her generous hands: “Subhaan Allah, praise be to the God.” The thin glass window of the departure gate feels thicker than the Great Wall of China; I left all of me on the other side.

I don’t want to leave her sight. I don’t want to leave me. I can’t stop my tears. Every body is looking at me. She is pointing at me: Azizam go!

She’s holding back her tears. God, I wish I could tell her how much I love her one more time. My feet carry the weight of iron shoes. I drag them along and with every step, I turn back and look at her until I just see the tip of her hand waving goodbye.

When will I see you again? Maman, I miss you already!

On January 17th, 2017 Donald Trump, The President Elect of the United States, signed an executive order to keep out ‘radical Islamic terrorists’ of seven Muslim countries including Iran.

One week ago, President Trump suspended the entry of residents of my country.

One week ago all my future plans went into ruin; plans of a successful career, a brave new life in the States and… What are all these plans worth when your melancholic anecdotes that front-page international news outlets, are beyond compare?

Anahita cries hard. She’s a big girl but she can’t help it. Her father passed away this month in Iran. She could never bid farewell to him. She could not risk leaving the States out of the fear of not coming back.

Ana, pray for him. ‘Baba’ will hear it. The ocean breeze on this side of the world is more compassionate than the vox populi president. The wind will be your Hermes.

Fatemeh is suffering from a serious heart condition. She has only lived on this earth for four months. She cannot enter the United States to have her life-saving surgery.

Don’t cry Fatemeh. As long as your Maman is by your side, nothing can go wrong. You must live long enough to celebrate your sweet sixteen.

Sam is five years old. He loves planes. He wants to be a pilot when he grows up. Sam is scared. He’s been detained in the Dulles airport alone for some time. “Who are these strange people? Have I been a bad boy?” he wonders.

Don’t worry Sam. I can almost picture you in your dashing pilot uniform. Airports cannot close on you for long. Look up to the skies.

With every step I take forward, I am one step farther from my home without any prospect of going back. I leave my family while they’re worried to the bits about tomorrow and the days after that.

We don’t know if I’ll be granted permission to enter the U.S. border after I get off my flight. We don’t know many things once I get to the States.

‘God is the greatest’ and a cool breeze swipes my face: I hear the words and feel her heartbeat - Maman is with me. I know her prayers guarantee my safe return. She promised me.

I take one deep breath and do not look back. I board on Airbus LH 602 and the Xanax puts me to a dreamless sleep.

***

Something is happening. I can feel it.

“Azizam wake up, don’t be lazy,” and I open my eyes.

She’s not there. I’m back to an empty apartment, void of her scent.

Maman, your prayers worked! They didn’t check my suitcases in customs. I could save the fragrance reminiscent of your scent: some wild mint and fresh orange blossoms from grandmama's house. You said they’re the best remedy for sleepless nights. But, gosh, why can't I go to sleep?

Memories swarm in my mind like entangled entities of shapeless ordeals: I was detained in Dulles airport, I was questioned, I was regarded as a potential terrorist, I was… Stop!

I can’t go on like this.

I cover my ears with my hands to block the monsoon of memories but it’s hopeless. Who am I? What have I done to deserve all this? What am I to do, now that I got in? Go on with my life as if nothing happened? Disregard thousands of fellow Iranians who were not as lucky as I was to enter the States?

Maman, where are you? I need your loving embrace to cry on and your wisdom to go on, maybe that would help…

But no, you always taught me to be strong, like you, like grandmamma, like an Iranian woman standing tall with my head up, proud of who I am, proud of my culture, proud of an innocent motherland who’s witnessed many wars and many invaders yet it gave me life, gave me will to strive.

I can feel the wind of change; a twister which is uniting America. There are many good people on this side of the world. They protested in U.S. airports for days to let my kind go back to their second home. They pressured the President Elect to go back on his words. They did all this for us!

Dear reader, I’m reaching out to you. I might look different than you. I might drink my tea with two sugar cubes on the side or I might kiss your cheeks three times when I greet you but at the end of the day, I see the world through the same eyes as yours, maybe with a different shade, but it’s all the same.

Let’s just live together without the fear of airports. Let’s build two wings and watch Sam soar beyond the sky. Let’s blow sixteen candles on Fatemeh’s birthday cake altogether. Let’s pray for Anahita’s Baba. Come meet my Maman. She says hi.

I know something’s happening. Can YOU feel it?