Editor: Allison Chan
When I just met Sahand, I did not even move my head to look at him. The day was dreary approaching lunchtime. I got impatient. I was looking for wifi for the whole morning, but Iranian internet had no mercy. I urgently needed to upload a new video to my YouTube channel. I nestled at Mustache Café, whose staff met me only one day ago, “I work in a café. We have cool friends. Wanna come?”
I dropped by for a hot chocolate. I had hoped a café to have wifi, but it did not.
Burying my head into my laptop, I was busy trying to connect to my own hotspot. The staff presented me his friend Sahand, a bulky stranger with big beard and belly standing next to the coffee counter waiting for his latte. I gave a peep to the man from the end of my eyes.
He said, “I love churros. I had the best churros in Barcelona.” His Persian accent resembled that of a Spanish.
He offered me his hotspot, yet the name of the hotspot was “Persian Prince”.
Despite of the ambitious name, its connectivity failed to sync with my US-produced laptop. He suggested, “My dad’s office has wifi. It’s really fast, even with VPNs. You want to try?”
I was hesitant for two seconds. My feet were trembling and dragging, telling me to stay away from a stranger’s car. He could have drove me to a black room and raped me.
My daredevil self proceeded anyways. In the car, we started our first real conversation. I sat next to him, sensing every single details of his face.
I said, I read books about Iran before I came. I heard that “Uncle Napoleon” was a celebrated comedy book and soap series.
“Uncle Napoleon!” Sahand applauded, “Yes yes, it is very famous! You have heard of it!” He laughed wondrously like an ox cheering for his wonderful life after feeding on some fresh baby kales.
I looked at him, eyes wide open. He had strong muscles along his arms; they were visible by the lines of his sweater. His voice was somber and loud, like the huge roar of King Kong after his victory. I had not seen a masculine man like this. The moment we were bumped into a car, I felt a tweak in my heart.
The story afterwards was a classic catch-me-if-you-will game. We dined for lunch and made arrangements to have dinner again. However, he was late texting me back. I withdrew from texting him and having munched by myself in a lonely sandwhich shop. He invited me to a party, which I duly refused. After rejecting him for enough times, I felt comfortable to continue my independent journey to Southern Iran. After I came back, I was about to finish my 5-day journey in Iran. My flight was 3am the night I returned to Esfahan.
Cupid had aimed an arrow to my heart, maybe a little bit too much. The arrow instead dragged a hole. I really liked Sahand. However, I ran out of lucks to know him more.
The night we said goodbye, Sahand and I politely handshook and hugged, awkwardly. The car drove through layers of heavy fogs when residents had already fallen asleep. In the darkness, my taxi flew pass the lit Khaju Bridge, the sombre oil factories, the rainbow nylons along the Esfahani highway. I was solemnly awake at 3am. My mind was sprawling all over my brain webs. Every cell was sad.
My taxi driver and I came to the airport in desert freeze. Someone at the airport gate shouted in limbo, “Flight is cancelled!”
The driver and I were both in shock. He squeezed a heavily accented sorry to express his pity on my wasted journey to the airport at 3am. I was however gullibly happy for having more time with my new beau!
Thank for the windfall fog, Sahand and I had one extra day with each other. We went around Naqsh-e-Jahan Square and parked our car illegally in this historical UNESCO site to celebrate. When we were due to say goodbye again, I felt a beep in my pocket. I trembled to hold the ice-cube phone in my hand and mumbled out the text message – We are sorry, but your rescheduled flight is rescheduled again!
“Oh my God!” Sahand the King Kong was exhilarated and engulfed me wholly into his arms, “You are not leaving!”
Because our romance started with two signals that came unanticipatedly in an unforeseen place at an unexpected time, we both cherished each other. Despite I had to return to the US, which just imposed travel ban to Iranian citizens, we carried it through by young passions and believes in one another.
We took oath this is love and love blindly conquers all.
Relationship, however, turned out to be trickier than our imagination. As time went pass, we walked through the 3-month sweet spot hand in hand. Then, we had to face the situation of fading excitements and growing realities.
Shortly after, the Trump administration has solidified the travel ban, double confirming that no Iranians can travel to the US with a tourist visa. Since we could never meet in my residency – New York, we started travelling the world together.
The trips looked glamorous on pictures and in the eyes of others, but there were occasions we caught in serious fights. When we checked in to a hotel in Beijing, after missing our morning train, changing hotel in the middle of the night, and being ripped off for an evening taxi, we broke into intensive cold war. When he suggested ideas to me, I sharply answered, “Stay aside. I’ll handle and let you know.”
This impersonal tone from his lover tore apart his manhood and ego. He exploded and punched his fist in a tree. Skin was peeled off the flesh. We did not talk for hours.
Such scenario happened ordinarily, especially when we were apart in two different countries. I being in the US and he being in Iran, which is the archenemy of the US, are certainly not helpful.
As our unusual love story attracted media attentions and gained me more fans, I also sensed the real difficulty of this relationship.
One evening I walked into a group dinner with some new friends. A girl sat next to me had twinkle eyes and was excited to talk to me. She said, “I heard of your story! I also had a Persian boyfriend!”
“Yeah. We broke up – because of the travel ban!”
We enchanted over our common, yet slightly different, experiences. Leaving the party, I felt a faint in my heart. It was a time when policy in the US had separated families at the Mexican border. The country was in fervent debates and moaned over certain practices. I also pondered. I had never thought a policy would have influenced my own life – things we read on headlines would happen to my world. Yet throughout my travels, I met people whose lives have been altered by macro situations. When a war, a terrorist bomb, a policy clash burst, the person’s life was changed fundamentally on a day to day basis. Sahand and I were caught in this tiny travel ban, which added significant hurdles to our connection.
Eyes from people were wondering about our story, of how I fell in love in one of the least understood countries with an exotic entrepreneur. In these eyes, there were fears, woos, admirations, spiritual supports, jealousy, red, purple, yellow, all kinds of colours, and all kinds of emotions. They admired the odyssey, for they could not possibly place themselves in such a context.
On the contrary, Sahand and I were more concerned with the nuances of our mornings and evenings. He is a busy in his hostel engaging with his guests. Our phone calls are forever interrupted by some accidents of visitors or greetings from strangers. Similarly, I glued my hands to my phones editing contents for the blog and running around in Big Apple for my startups. As entrepreneurs, Sahand and I barely had time for a simple coffee with friends.
We broke up, got back, fought, and declared peace. Through these relentless minutes we laughed and cried together, we began to understand each other more. I put down my alpha female haughtiness; he lowered down his Persian Prince ego. We became more malleable and gave space to each other, as if we started to understand that love is tolerance, freedom, work, and everyday ceremony.
Our last trip to Turkey, we fought over a simple five minutes delay in the morning. The fight burned throughout of our today. Sahand broke a very cherished pen of mine from my alma mater UPenn. My tears were circling around my eye frames. I screamed and threatened to cancel our trip to go back to the US. Sahand and I eventually made it work over a long night of talk on bed; we then enjoyed many sweet puddings in muhallebicisi the rest of our Turkish days.
I began to realise there is no fairy tale in this human world. The grand love, for the majority of us under the dumbbell curve, is earned. The only way to obtain this accolade is through practices every day of being a better partner.
Today, my publishers still asked me how I can find narratives to engage Middle Eastern contents with my viewers in the US. Like many people in the world, they know or care about the very minimum about the real Persia.
I said that I did not have an answer, for all I tried to do is to display facts in a relatable way. US and Iran, China and Iran, or any countries in the world, have relationships similar to Sahand and I. It is about daily interactions, space, understanding, and the will to co-exist.
I do not know how Sahand and I will end up. For all I know, this is a journey, where we learned how to love. In this love, there are kisses and scars. May all of my audience find the right one and work for the right path. Happy weekend.
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