If you live in Iran and aren’t Muslim, you have a good chance of being harassed. My family and I are all Baha’is and Iran has strict rules against us: if we do not change our religion we are not allowed to attend college, and life in school is very tough. Some Muslims are prejudiced against Baha’is and think poorly of us. My mother didn’t want this life for me and so we left Iran, heading first to Austria. Our journey had rough periods but in the end it was worth it to get to America, the land of opportunity.
There was much stress because the preparations to leave took months. My mother had to contact the embassy and an organization that helps Baha’is emigrate to other countries. Finally she packed our clothes and some belongings, and we headed to the airport. My family had always lived together with my aunt, grandparents, parents, so this was a very sad day, and the first time that we would be separated.
“Mommy, I don’t want to leave Momman Minoo (my grandma) and Pedar Jon (my grandpa),” I said. “I want to stay here.” After that we all broke out in tears, but then it was time to go.
Boarding the plane, I was about to embark on a long, difficult journey, one from which I could not turn back. My mother was praying that the religious soldiers did not search the plane. If they did we would not be able to leave Iran. I was praying that we would travel safely. I told my mother that we should chant a prayer together - the “Is There Any Removal of Difficulties” prayer. [This short prayer of the Bab, beginning “Is there any remover of difficulties save God” is frequently recited by Baha’is in times of need. (bahai-library.org)]
When we were 20 minutes from landing I spotted Vienna. All the rooftops were red and the flowers were yellow and red. I told my mom, “Hengarneh, look at the pretty flowers.”
Vienna was a beautiful place, with flowers everywhere and big buildings that were all so nice. At the airport we were met by a volunteer from the aid organization who took us to a beautiful apartment outside town. We lived there for a month but quickly realized it was too far from Vienna, where we had to complete all our paperwork. I was reluctant to leave but we had to. My mother found another apartment that was old and just plain dirty, but since we weren’t permanent residents it was all we could get. The apartment was infested with ants, mice, and cockroaches. It really couldn’t get much worse and the manager wouldn’t do anything about it, so my mother and our roommates had to. We shared the apartment with another Iranian family. They were very pleasant and we all became close friends.
Life in Vienna went on as it had in Iran: we shopped, went to the park, and did sightseeing. The first month, however, I ate little. My mother thought it was because I missed my grandparents. She had to make some kind of income, so she did what she did best, which was paint. A man hired her to do paintings for him, then he would sign them with his name. Neither spoke the same language, so they talked to each other with their hands. This wasn’t a great job but it was the only thing she could get. For every painting the man paid her $300, and then sold it for $1,000. After seven months, our visas finally arrived and we headed for America.
We had two large suitcases and that was it. As we boarded the plane we were so excited. The plane on the eight-hour flight to Chicago had an ice cream machine and you can be sure that there was an ice cream cone in my hand the whole time. The flight attendants were nice and didn’t say anything to stop me from getting my ice cream.
When we reached Chicago we stayed at a hotel, sharing the room with a couple. In the morning we headed back to the airport for our final flight to Oregon. On that plane we couldn’t sit still, we were so excited to be making the trip.
Coming to America wasn’t easy, but after all the hardships I realized why my mother decided to make the journey - so I could make something out of my life. And I will.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.