Discover more from A Considerable Age
With a precious cargo
Tehran is magnificent, but it’s not for the faint of heart. It isn’t now, and it wasn’t then. Today I read the news that public hangings and executions have shaken Iran and caused widespread fury and more protests. A revolution.
We were living there in the late 1970s, at the time of the Islamic revolution. My husband, a Canadian engineer, had completed two years of a five-year contract with the Natural Resources Ministry. Not allowed to work, I kept busy with bridge games, cultural visits and social events with other expat wives in the same situation.
At one of our expat events, I met an American social worker who was helping American families adopt Iranian children. Anxious to have children after four years of marriage, I asked her to help us. She introduced us to a local colleague who agreed to take on our case. Within a few days, we were visiting an orphanage.
Only five months old and barely six pounds, the baby the woman at the orphanage handed to me already had fear and tragedy in her eyes. Both thumbs were in her mouth, and her hands were clasped together as if in prayer. According to the orphanage staff, she was defective and unwanted because she had a vitiligo patch on her tummy — a mere spot of lighter skin had marked her fate. We fell in love.
By mid-September 1978, the troubles that had started outside the capital had spread to Tehran, and the revolution rapidly gained supporters. Gunshots were heard in the downtown area, and several buildings had been set on fire and burned to the ground. Foreigners were increasingly unwelcome and seen as a corrupting element, especially of Iranian youth.
Gas was harder and harder to purchase, and we kept our Jeep full and inside our gate, ready for a quick departure if the situation intensified. Would we even be able to adopt this baby, I asked myself repeatedly.
The adoption procedures would have been impossible to manage without the help of Hussain, our local helper and translator. Within days of full-time comings and goings between the ministries, departments and all sorts of officials, he helped us obtain all the necessary documents — a file two inches thick. The final step was to appear before a judge who would approve or reject our request. We raced against time, fearing the political situation could turn volatile at any moment. But a court date was set.
We were tense and anxious when we entered the darkly panelled and austere courtroom. We were shown our places beside another man and awaited the start of the proceedings. The air in the room was stuffy because of the heat of the day.
Within minutes the judge, a man of imposing girth, entered with his clerk. The man sitting beside us was called to step forward.
“You are from Germany, and I see that you wish to adopt an Iranian child,” the judge asked in English in a sonorous voice with a strong accent.
“Yes, your honour, we do,” the man replied.
“But where is the mother?”
“My wife is in Germany, caring for our other child,” the man stated.
The judge shut the file in front of him with a determined slap and said dryly, “Come back when there is a mother present for the child. You are dismissed.”
My anxiety level shot up, and my husband reached for my sweaty hand and held it tightly to steady my nerves. I was suffocating in that airless room. I worried that the judge would adjourn because it was nearly lunchtime, but his clerk called our names.
The judge asked what religion we intended to raise the baby.
My husband answered, “Catholic. When she becomes an adult, she can choose on her own.”
Within two minutes, our request was granted, and the judge noisily affixed stamps on the documents in front of him and wished us good luck. We left the room stunned.
Hussain was at the door waiting, anxious to hear the decision. My whole body was trembling with nerves and elation.
This was the last time a judge in Iran pronounced a positive verdict for a foreign family to adopt a child; the entire government was shut down that day after lunch. Shops, offices, and gas stations soon followed.
We were able to bring our daughter to our home after a couple of days of formalities at the orphanage. This delay allowed us to gather the essentials: diapers, bottles and food.
In ten days, from start to finish, we were parents with a famished baby, starved not only for nourishment but for love and care. We had provisions of oatmeal, powdered milk, canned fruits and vegetables to feed this hungry baby. The minute her stomach was full, she started to smile. She cried every night until we understood she needed the light on in her room. I lay awake wondering if we had done the right thing by adopting a baby in such difficult circumstances. Would we be allowed to bring her to Canada? What would happen if we couldn’t?
The few friends who had not already left Iran organized a baby shower. We were fortunate to receive everything we needed from our generous friends.
With the turn of political events, we also needed to urgently leave the country. The first step was to submit our passports to the police for tax clearance. The passports were to be recuperated at the airport just before departing.
The day of our departure, the area outside the airport terminal was teeming with a tumultuous crowd of anxious foreigners and Iranian nationals, with crying children and baggage piled high, all wanting like us to escape. Hussain helped us push our way to the door with our baby and luggage. After that point, only those with valid airline tickets were allowed to enter the terminal. Inside, the terminal was eerily deserted and quiet. We approached the customs clearance, and our three passports were miraculously the only three in the pigeonhole behind the official.
More tension followed, so many flights had been cancelled in the previous days, leaving some friends stranded in Tehran. We were the only flight to leave Tehran that day and one of very few that left in subsequent days.
Two months later, the government of the Shah was overthrown and replaced by a republic under the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini. The Shah was forced to flee. The rule of the clerics had begun.
Forty years later, our Persian miracle is our beautiful daughter.