ایرانی ها نباید درخواست کنند

کتاب: عطر سنبل، عطر کاج / فصل 19

ایرانی ها نباید درخواست کنند

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متن انگلیسی فصل

I-raynians Need Not Apply

At the age of seventeen, my father began working for NIOC, the National Iranian Oil Company, as a student employee. He worked his way up the corporate ladder and eventually became a senior project manager. His lifetime of experience with oil refineries brought us to America, where he worked as a representative of NIOC, supervising American contractors in the design of an oil refinery in Isfahan. After thirty-three years of working with the same company, my father never doubted the security of his future.

But with the Iranian Revolution, my father’s world turned upside down. The building of more refineries in Iran was halted and overnight my father’s expertise was no longer needed. Although NIOC offered him other positions in Iran, none was within his field of interest. With much dismay, he requested and was reluctantly granted early retirement. My father was confident in his abilities to find a job in the United States.

Within a couple of weeks, he found an engineering position with an American company. As he was settling into his new job, a group of Americans in Tehran were taken hostage in the American embassy. My father was laid off.

Every evening, we sat in front of the television and watched the news for updates on the hostage situation. For 444 nights, we waited. With each passing day, palpable hatred grew among many Americans, hatred not just of the hostage takers but of all Iranians. The media didn’t help. We opened our local paper one day to the screaming headline “Iranian Robs Grocery Store.” Iran has as many fruits and nuts as the next country, but it seemed as if every lowlife who happened to be Iranian was now getting his fifteen minutes of fame.

Vendors started selling T-shirts and bumper stickers that said “Iranians Go Home” and “Wanted: Iranians, for Target Practice.” Crimes against Iranians increased. People would hear my mother’s thick accent and ask us, “Where are you from?” They weren’t looking for a recipe for stuffed grape leaves. Many Iranians suddenly became Turkish, Russian, or French.

To add to my family’s collective anxiety, my father’s pension from Iran was cut off. The Iranian government told him that from now on, if he wanted his hard-earned retirement pay, he would have to go to Iran to collect it. Even worse, with the turmoil in Iran, the value of my father’s pension dropped to the point of worthlessness.

At fifty-eight, my father found himself unemployed and with no prospects. Nobody wanted to hire an Iranian. My father returned to Iran to sell all our belongings. Within three weeks, he sold our house for a tenth of its previous value. A colleague bought our fourteen room-size Persian rugs for $1,300—and sold one of them for $15,000 a few months later.

Perhaps the greatest irony in the wave of Iranian-hating was that Iranians, as a group, are among the most educated and successful immigrants in this country. Our work ethic and obsession with education make us almost ideal citizens. Nobody asked our opinion of whether the hostages should be taken, and yet every single Iranian in America was paying the price. One kid throws a spitball and the whole class gets detention.

For my father to be treated like a second-class citizen truly stung. If there were ever a poster child for immigration, it would be Kazem. Perhaps nothing speaks louder than his obsession with voting.

When I became an American citizen, in college, my father called to ask whether I was planning to vote in the upcoming election. “If I have time,” I answered. My father then told me that perhaps I did not deserve to be a citizen. Any immigrant who comes to this country and becomes a citizen and doesn’t vote, according to him, should just go back.

“What about American citizens who are born here and don’t vote?” I asked, egging him on.

“They need to be sent for six months to a nondemocratic country. Then they’ll vote,” he replied.

I told my father that his “Ship ‘Em Abroad” program didn’t sound too democratic to me, that perhaps included in the freedoms in this country is the freedom to be apathetic.

He hung up on me.

I voted.

But that wasn’t the end of it. After every election, my father called me to ask me whom I had voted for. After several such phone calls, we realized that our votes simply negate each other. We stand on opposite sides of all issues. I have since learned not to share any information with my father, instead reminding him that the voting process is confidential, which explains why there are booths instead of, say, people just raising their hands in a public voting hall so that someone like my father can tell them they’re wrong.

“Well,” he always huffs, “you always vote for the wrong people anyway. Thank God for your mother.”

My mother’s voting ritual is a whole other story. She, like most Americans, doesn’t fully comprehend the American political system. I’m convinced that the average American would have an easier time naming Elizabeth Taylor’s ex-husbands than, say, his or her congressional leaders. To complicate matters, my mother does not understand English well enough to learn more, which is where my father comes in.

As soon as my father receives his voting pamphlet in the mail, he sits on the sofa, pen in hand, and reads it cover to cover. He underlines, he circles, he writes in the margins. If he doesn’t know how to vote on an issue, he looks for an endorsement by firemen or police officers. In my father’s world, firemen and police officers wear white cowboy hats. If the local firefighters’ union thinks it’s a good idea to raise taxes to build more tap dance studios, then so does my father.

Once my father decides how to vote on all the issues, he then practices democracy with a dash of dictatorship thrown in for good measure. He tells my mother how she should vote. My mother rarely questions my father’s choices, and when she does, he answers her with one of his typical opinions: “Anybody with a brain can tell that’s a no vote.” (Chances are I voted yes.) In 1980, however, despite my father’s staunch devotion to freedom and fairness, he was still a foreigner with an accent, an accent that after the Iranian Revolution was associated with all things bad. He was treated like someone who should just pack up and go. But go where?

After selling our possessions in Iran, Kazem returned to America and started, yet again, looking for a job. Now, though, he no longer applied to American companies. He eventually applied for a job with a large oil company in Saudi Arabia. This entailed relocating, but we had no choice: by now, my parents had cut up all our credit cards, and our modest savings were disappearing quickly. After weeks of interviews and negotiations, he was offered an executive position and the contract was ready to sign. My father was hopeful for the first time since being laid off. Before signing the final papers, the lawyer asked for his passport, a requirement for any overseas job. At the sight of the Iranian passport, the lawyer turned pale and said, “I am so sorry, but the government of Saudi Arabia does not accept Iranians at this time. We thought you were an Arab.” My father resumed his job search. In The Wall Street Journal, he spotted an ad for an executive position with a Nigerian oil company. He immediately applied and was hired within two weeks. With its high salary and unlimited expansion potential, this job almost seemed too good to be true.

My father’s first assignment was to go to New Jersey and negotiate the purchase of an oil refinery for $400 million. Once that was done, he was sent to Texas to purchase another refinery. He was thrilled to be using his expertise again.

After returning from his assignments, my father discovered that his first and only paycheck had bounced. He was told that there had been a small delay with funds being wired from Nigeria and that his second paycheck would cover the first. He had no option but to keep working.

A few days later, he came to the office to discover a swarm of journalists looking for information on a hot new breaking story. Apparently, the owner of the company was a con man who had already been deported from the United States once but had returned under an assumed name. My father packed his office supplies and left.

The hostages were finally freed. Besides them and their families, no one was happier than the Iranians living in America.

Shortly after their release, my father found a job with an American company, working as a senior engineer. His salary was half what it had been before the revolution, but he was nonetheless extremely grateful to wake up and go to work every day.

Throughout his job ordeal, my father never complained. He remained an Iranian who loved his native country but who also believed in American ideals. He only said how sad it was that people so easily hate an entire population simply because of the actions of a few. And what a waste it is to hate, he always said. What a waste.

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