The Ballad of Parsaei
I have a friend by the name of Nader Parsaei. He is perhaps the largest fan of the Oscars on the face of this planet. He is from Iran. He is in the United States because of the political persecution that he faced in Iran. There is a fascinating story about how Nader made it to the United States.
The story begins in Iran before the Islamic Revolution and the fall of the Shah. Under the rule of the Shah all Iranian men were required to serve 2 years in the military. When the Shah fell, Nader was serving in the Air Force in a radar tower.
The new leaders of Iran wished to curry favor with members of the military and their plan for doing this was to shorten the military requirement from 2 years to 1 year. Nader had served 15 months and was sent home.
Nader was not home for very long though. Less than a month after being released from the Air Force a friend of Nader’s invited him to come down the a local university where there was a protest going on.
Nader is not a political person, but he decided to go to the protest. It was a decision that changed Nader’s life forever.
At the protest Nader got into a disagreement with a supporter of the Islamic Revolution. The supporter asserted that Khomeni spoke for God.
Nader disagreed with this statement and said that Khomeni could not speak for God because Khomeni endorsed murder and the killing of innocents and God would not condone such things.
Nader thought little about the altercation, but as he hung around the protest for a little longer he was grabbed by 2 agents of the new government. They put a bag over Nader’s head and shoved him in to the backseat of a car. He was driven to a prison and he was immediately incarcerated. There was no trial. There were no charges. This is where Nader would spend the next 6 ½ years of his life.
In prison Nader was tortured. He was beaten. He was burned.
In his part of the prison the guards had a spy. Any time any prisoner badmouthed Khomeni or the Islamic Revolution they were singled out for extra violence. When Nader figured out whom the spy was he attacked him. The guards pulled him off the spy and beat him some more. He spent the next 6 months in solitary confinement.
During Nader’s time in prison there was a moment of joy. Nader overheard 2 guards discussing the winner of an Oscar. He overheard them say that Henry Fonda had won an Oscar for “On Golden Pond”. Henry Fonda was one of Nader’s all time favorites dating back to the first time Nader had seen his second favorite movie “The Grapes of Wrath”.
After 6 ½ years of prison Nader was granted one weekend of freedom. The cost of this weekend was his grandpa’s house. He gave his house to the government in exchange for 1 weekend of freedom for his grandson.
His grandpa had brokered a deal to have Nader smuggled out of the country. He told Nader not to worry about him because he was an old man and the government would leave him alone, but if Nader ever came back to Iran he would shoot him, himself.
He was loaded up into a large cigarette carton and he and his smuggler set off for the Turkish border. If they would have been caught he would not have been returned to prison. Nader and the smuggler would have been executed on the spot.
As fate would have it they made it out of Iran safely. When they had made it into Turkey the smuggler tried to get Nader to get out of the carton, but Nader refused. The smuggler pointed out Mt. Ararat, but Nader still refused. Finally the smuggler pointed out some pretty girls on the side of the road. This convinced Nader that he was in Turkey because they didn’t have girls that looked like that back in Iran.
The plan was to make it to a Scandinavian country and live there. However fate intervened in Austria. Nader was arrested as an illegal immigrant and placed in a refugee camp. This wasn’t all terrible because while he was there he got to visit the hills that Julie Andrews sang and danced upon in “The Sound of Music”.
Once in the camp Nader was asked to prove that he would be executed or tortured or imprisoned if he was sent back to Iran. He pointed out that he could ask the Iranian government for documentation of his false imprisonment. They would not provide documentation indicating their human rights violations, so Nader instead showed them the scars his body posessed from his years of torture. The broken nose and his burned side proved to be adequate enough to prevent him from being sent back to Iran.
While in the refugee camp Nader thought about coming to the United States because it was his dream to come to Hollywood where the movies he loved so much were produced. It had always been the plan to end up in Scandinavia, but why not try to get to the U.S.?
He was told my other middle easterners that this was a waste of his time. There was a little old lady by the name of “Germand” that decided whether or not a person even received an interview to be considered for admission to the U.S. Germand had a long standing reputation for disliking middle easterners. She wouldn’t even smile at middle easterners, let alone put them on the interview list. They warned him not to bother and to angle for his second choice. Nader listened to their advice but didn’t pay it any mind.
When he saw Germand he approached her and said: “Germand, you are looking so beautiful today.”
At first Germand looked at him. Then she cracked a little smile. Then she burst out into a full laughter. Then she put Nader on the list.
When the day of the interview came Nader called back to Iran to talk to his Mom to tell her that he might be going to America, but he didn’t get to speak to her on that day. The police had thrown her into prison to try to bait him into coming back to Iran.
Nader was put in a very tough position. His Mom was in prison because of him, but he was powerless to do anything about it. He went to the interview, but his heart wasn’t in it.
The Americans began asking him questions through an interpreter, but he didn’t answer. They just stared at him. Finally he told them: “I don’t feel like doing this today. I just called home and they’ve thrown my Mom into prison to try to get to come back.”
The Americans looked around at each other and then finally one of them stood up and extended their handed and said: “Welcome to America!”
Nader’s joy was short lived though. When he came back to the camp he found out that a family had been rejected by the Americans. This bothered Nader so he made an appointment with Germand.
He told her that he was just one man. This was a family. They needed and desrved to go to America much more than he did. He requested that his name be taken off the list and that this family be put on the list in his place.
Germand denied his request. She told him that no matter what else happened, he was going to America. However, she promised to look into this family’s case for him. 3 days later this family was approved and they were allowed to come to America.