Herald Journal Columns
Aug. 22, 2005, Herald Journal

Gaining a little perspective

By LIZ HELLMANN

What if, in order to save your life, and your little girl’s life, you had to trek across snowy mountains with outlaws for your guide, where you didn’t know the language, could be shot on site by patrolling guards, or worse yet, fall into the hands of bandits?

That is exactly what the author of the true story, “Not Without My Daughter” had to do.

She had married an Americanized Iranian man, and agreed to visit his homeland with their little girl.

Her worst fears were realized when, after what was supposed to be their two-week vacation, he did not let them return to America.

Alone, and in a strange land, this woman was forced to secretly plan her and her daughter’s escape.

Faced with many obstacles, she was stranded in the country for more than a year, while her father was dying of cancer a continent away.

Women were given little rights, and she had to answer to her husband in everything that she did.

If he grew suspicious of her, he could beat her while his family watched, and did nothing.

In that society, the man was in control of the wife, even if he was wrong.

He monitored her every movement. She could barely use a telephone, and sparingly spoke to her family and her two sons back home.

She engineered a few escape plans, but they were dangerous, and she could only go alone, leaving her five-year-old daughter behind.

For a while her husband imprisoned her in the upper level of a house, separating her from her daughter.

Her husband was not her only problem, though. Even though she wore the proper dress, which covered her from head to toe, an American woman made a good target on the streets of the big city.

Life in Iran was different. Not only did she witness her husband turning into a controlling, calculating beast, she saw the war-torn country attacked from the inside and out.

Nightly bomb raids killed people a block away from her, and were frequent for about a month.

Store owners were kicked out of their shops with little explanation.

People were arrested and imprisoned at random. Their crime was thinking against the government.

These extraordinary circumstances exacted their toll, but the everyday life was no picnic, either.

The houses in the country varied in cleanliness, but the house she stayed in for many of her first months was far from sanitary.

The toilet consisted of a hole in the ground, cockroaches roamed freely, food was eaten and spilled on the carpet, and worms could be found in the rice.

In one of the homes she visited, the feces from children and animals were scattered across the floor and dotted the furniture.

Plans for escape were severely limited due to lack of resources. She had little money, mostly rationed by her husband. She could only use the telephone of obliging store owners. She had to come up with a plausible excuse every time she was gone. Her passport and birth certificate were confiscated, leaving no hope of sneaking aboard a plane with her daughter.

Tracing many dead ends in the process, she was ultimately forced to make a run for it when her husband threatened to send her back to America, and keep their daughter in Iran.

After more than a year in Iran, and without legal passports, she ran with her daughter. They followed an escape plan rushed to completion by one of her few allies in Iran.

She and her daughter sped through Iran, with complete strangers, along icy roads, and past security checkpoints, never sure if their guides would abandon them, rob them, or kill them.

They walked over the snow-filled mountains into Turkey in the middle of a cold night.

Once in Turkey, they were almost reported to the police because their passports had not been stamped.

Which reminds me of the other day, when I spilled coffee on my new shirt, as I was already running late for work.

I had “nothing” in my closet to wear. When I say nothing, I mean it in a spoiled way, when although I have more than 20 suitable choices, I just don’t feel like wearing any of them.

Then, because I was rushing, I got pulled over for speeding, and incurred a $100 fine.

When I finally got to work, I discovered I had forgotten my lunch.

I couldn’t seem to get anything done that day. No one was returning my phone calls. I couldn’t think of any good way to write my stories.

Then, I just wanted to go home, but I had to cover a last-minute meeting that turned out to last more than three hours.

When the meeting finally ended, I discovered my gas gauge had stopped working when my car stopped a mile away from my house.

What an awful day.

Life just isn’t fair.

After all, I’m a good person, I pay my taxes, go to work, go to church; why do I deserve this?

Why do I deserve peace of mind and a safe place to sleep at night?

Why do I deserve a refrigerator full of food, a closet full of clothes, and a house full of furniture?

Why do I get to worry about paying bills for running water, electricity, and a place to live, when a woman in Iran was worried about staying alive long enough to rescue her daughter from her own father?

She didn’t choose the situation she was in (and, incidently, she did make it to the American embassy in Turkey, and safely home), and I certainly didn’t choose mine.

I don’t know many people who are thankful for their problems, but if they would take the time to look around, they could see the horizon of their blessings.

The road might be a little bumpy to get there, but while some are busy complaining about the potholes, others are climbing over mountains.