More Unpublished Work from Moniru Ravanipur
From Tehran to Boston
Although I love all kinds of birds, I can’t get used to flying. I have done many readings all around the world but the fear of flight is always with me. Because of this fear or because of my tall and handsome husband who constantly tells me what will happen next, I can’t clearly remember what happened while preparing myself for the trip or during the travel to the U.S.
- Moniru Ravanipur
- Moniru Ravanipur has written novels, short stories, works for children, plays and screenplays.
- She was among 17 activists to face trial in Iran for their participation in the 2000 Berlin Conference, for which they were accused of taking part in anti-Iran propaganda. Copies of her books were recently stripped from bookstore shelves in Iran in a countrywide police action.
- On March 7, 2014, Moniru visited City of Asylum to read from a work-in-progress.
In my foggy memory I see him standing beside me from the very first second that I applied for a Brown University fellowship, like a weather man warning me about storm and hurricane.
When Robert Coover from Brown University sent me the fellowship documents and asked me to fill them out and send them back, I understood that I needed my husband’s help because his English was perfect (I thought so, back then). I couldn’t even understand the meaning of Robert Coover’s words.
I knew I had to start begging. When you beg you give power. There is a similarity between what is going on in the Iranian family and in the Iranian government. My government pushes people to beg for their rights… I don’t know if this begging culture was transferred from government to family or family to government.
To find the meaning of begging I checked out Google Translator and then dictionary.com. I found many other words that start with B… bullshit, brutality, bothering, yes, begging is bullshit. Begging gives birth to brutality. And with begging you bother yourself and let other people bother you… but beautiful starts with B too, how can I make my life beautiful? Should I be patient?
My husband put off helping me to fill out my documents. I didn’t have time for such crazy behavior.
Bob sent another email and asked whether or not I wanted to apply for the fellowship. There was no time for delay. I was desperate so I showed my husband the letter and he smiled, nodded his head and said, “This could be serious! But, do you think they will accept you? There are a lot of real writers all around the world…”
Yes, he was right. I was not a real writer; a real writer doesn’t hang around. A real writer is not needy and is focused on her own work, not her housework.
I did not say anything. Finally, he wrote a letter to Bob stating that I was very interested in going to Brown University. We did not mention censorship or the way the government treated my family and my books. We knew they checked my emails.
Fortunately Robert Coover knew and got advice from two other Iranian writers who identified me as a hard working genuine writer.
When Bob wrote back and said Brown University had accepted me, my ten-year old son asked, “Mom, are we going to the future?”
I said, “Yes.”
“Do they know Persian?”
“Then I have to go to English class.”
He was right. I should enroll him in an English class or find him a private teacher.
But first we had to go to Dubai to get our visa. This time my husband asked, “Do you think that the government will let us go to Dubai?”
We were famous enough that the government didn’t interfere, but in my country you can’t predict the good things that might happen. I was silent as always and tried to get my son an English teacher. Finally we bought our tickets for Dubai. We got there two days before our appointment with the Embassy. We settled in a hotel. Then he asked, “Do you think that American Embassy will give us a visa?”
The American Embassy welcomed us, the Ambassador knew me very well and she issued us a six-month visa. On our way back to Tehran, he asked, “If at the airport they ask us why we went to Dubai, what should we say?”
I kept silent and he went on with this scenario: “It is much better if we tell them that we went for a vacation and not mention anything about the American Embassy.”
I stared at him and did not remind him that the Islamic Republic government has been listening to our telephone conversations. He knew all this stuff but I don’t know what had happened to him.
At the airport nobody asked us for anything.
Now we were in Tehran and we had to wait for our names to show up in the Embassy’s Web site. During this period, he started questioning: “Do you really think that they told us the truth?”
I was silent as always. Fortunately, waiting didn’t take a long time. After two weeks we saw our names on the Web site, but the name of our son was not on the list. What happened?
My husband started saying: “See, I knew that there was something wrong. How can we go to America without our son?” Then, he immediately bought a ticket and flew back to Dubai.
The Embassy told him that our son did not need a background check because he was under 14 and the FBI didn’t need to clear him.
When he came back from Dubai, he was very excited. He started selling all the books in his bookstore and tried to find someone to rent the store. I began to pack. Our visa was for six months. Now, when I think about it, I do not know why we acted as if we would never come back from America.
My husband bought us first class tickets from British Airways. When I asked him why first class tickets? He said, “Because first class is very important and when you are a VIP nobody deports you.”
“Who wants to deport us?” I asked.
He said, “Many people get deported from American and British airports.”
I kept my silence, again.
On the plane I took off my scarf and put it in the trash can. He started drinking freely and happily without fear. When we arrived at Heathrow Airport in London, although we were in the first class they did not let us leave the plane for almost three hours. They told us the line was very long and we should wait.
The night we departed from London was Christmas Eve. For a while we flew through fog and clouds. Then our plane circled, and the airport disappeared. On the plane, they served alcoholic drinks. My husband was enjoying the new life. He was drinking and watching movies. My son was playing games. I was sitting next to the window… looking out with horror and fascination. Where were we going? What will happen to us?
While passing threatening clouds I gripped the arms of my seat with bone-white fingers and took my first Xanax. We were between night and day. The sky was wine red. The flight attendant with a Christmas hat on started drinking and dancing. Gradually, I started hearing a voice, an ugly voice that I knew very well.
“You are in the sky.”
I knew that I was not only in the sky, but I was also on the second floor of an airplane. Then
“Now, what do you think about God?”
I did not answer. I knew what I thought about God when I was on the ground.
“You said there is no God.”
I did not want to listen to that woman’s voice, the one that kept appearing in the airplane. But it seemed that it was impossible. She has lived with me all my life.
“You see, they are drinking and dancing in the sky,” she said.
I heard my own hushed voice.
“We are not going to Saudi Arabia, we are going to America.”
“Dancing and drinking is forbidden,” she said.
“The flight attendant is not Muslim,” I answered.
Now her voice was louder than before.
“In a second your plane can crash.”
“How can I get rid of this voice?”
I took another Xanax.
I looked at my husband to see if he can help me, but he was asking for another drink. He did not see me at all. Lucky him, he can drink during the flight but I can’t.
“But you drank a lot.”
She was right. I drank but not in an aircraft. Why?
“Because you want to go to heaven.”
“No, because I believe something that I have never told myself out loud.”
“Don’t lie, you don’t believe in anything.”
Suddenly I felt the plane shaking.
My hands grabbed my seat and I couldn’t breathe. I was frozen with fear and looked out for a landing place. After a while, using sign language, I asked the flight attendant who was dancing what was going on. At first he thought I was asking for a drink, but with my body language and a few words in English that I knew, I asked him why the plane was shaking. He said the plane ahead of us was popping air toward us and laughed.
The voice laughed, too.
“He is lying. You are going to die. And it will be because of drinking and dancing.”
The airplane shook again. Is she right?
I asked the flight attendant again and again, but he kept drinking and dancing. Finally he said, “If I sit, you should worry. But not now.”
I lifted my hands from the arms of my seat and dried them with my shirt. It is much better not to look out the window. I turned my head. God, my husband was dancing and he extended his hand to invite my son to dance. The plane flew forcefully.
The voice screamed.
“You will go to hell!”
The music was loud and I shouted, “Leave me alone!”
“You will die.”
I saw my son’s smile, now he was dancing with his dad.
I shouted, “Shut up!”
Then I thought it was much better to go to hell with a glass of wine.
The flight attendant gave me a glass of wine and said, “Merry Christmas.”
I took a sip and looked out the window. It was not very dark. The horizon became bright. The night was melting into evening.
We arrived at Boston’s Logan International Airport on December 24th at around 6 P.M.