It was September when Maman, Baba and I left our home in Tehran and arrived in beautiful Istanbul. The picture I have in my memory of Istanbul is of the glamorous sun shining down bright and super sparkly on the fast paced, metropolitan, modern, clean and beautiful city with beautiful people. It is only one snapshot of a picture because Istanbul was just a quick stop on our way to ugly Ankara, where we spent the next two months of our lives.
The original plan was to quickly get our paperwork in check while in Ankara and move on to our final destination, America, so we checked into a hotel close to the American embassy for easy access and paid for one week of stay. Things did not turn out so much as planned.
We would spend our days going to the American embassy and waiting in line outside of the building hoping to get in to see an American agent. The long lines outside, next to the short wall surrounding the embassy gardens, consisted mostly of other Iranians trying to get their paperwork in check as well. After a while we became acquainted with those in line, seeing them and waiting with them day after day. We got to know their stories, why they wanted to leave their home, where they were hoping to go and what their hopes and plans were. Most of them were parents who wanted to join their children in America that they had sent aboard years ago, or young people trying to make a better life for themselves. Whatever their story was, they did not want to go back to their country, they all wanted a better life for themselves and their family and their chance of that in their home was gone. The people in line outside of the American embassy became each other's confident and support who encouraged each other to keep hope high and spirits up, they became each other's temporary friends and family. At times we would actually end up inside the embassy building where we would meet with an American agent who would tell us something about more forms needing to be completed and more time needing to go by waiting for approvals.
The lobby of our hotel was another place of gathering for Iranians in limbo. A large rectangular room with chairs and sofas lining the walls and a small TV at the far end. A number of large dark rugs covered the floors and tables were set up in front of the seats for tea glasses and ashtrays. The lobby was filled with Turkish businessmen on one side and Iranian families on the other side. The Turkish businessmen were unattractive, drank extremely dark and strong teas in little tiny tea glasses one after another, chain smoked and glared at the Iranian families. They watched TV or talked to one another and seemed annoyed that the Iranian families were at their hotel. The Iranian families shared stories of the status of their paperwork with each other and would say things like "you will hear from them soon" or "we will leave this place in no time". In a strange country where the language was foreign and the purpose of our visit was not to see new places or have fun, we the Iranians in limbo, became a temporary supportive family to each other, outside the embassy and inside the hotel lobby. Sometimes it felt like a party at the lobby, families laughing together and sharing fruits and snacks with each other as well as stories of their lives in Iran and plans that they had for the future. This seemed to annoy the Turkish business men even more!
Others seemed to come and go but we had become a constant part of the hotel, knowing all the staff's names and shifts and continuing to pay at the front desk, extending our stay at the end of each week. I made a friend in the hotel once, a young obnoxious little boy who made me go up and down the elevator which resulted in one of the hotel employees yelling at us. I vaguely remember even having a crush on one Iranian boy in limbo staying at the hotel with his family.
Eating out every day started to hurt our pockets so we started to change things up. One day we would eat the fresh Turkish Kababs in the restaurants that my dad loved, one day we would buy a whole chicken and bring it back to the room and my mom would make yummy chicken sandwiches with fresh tomatoes, one day we would buy french bread and cold cuts and eat sandwiches with pickles at the room. Our room with two beds was our living room, bedroom and kitchen.
The window of our hotel room faced a high school which became a source of entertainment for me. I would sit at the window and look down to the school yard at the time when school let out or during breaks. I watched the girls and boys come outside and talk to one another, stand around the yard, get picked up by cars, sit and read, walk around, etc. I was fascinated by their uniforms (crisp white shirts and navy skirt for the girls and khaki or navy pants for the boys), the fact that the girls did not have to cover and had their beautiful hair waving around, the fact that both boys and girls were allowed to go to school together and to even talk to one another. I got to recognize some characters after watching them day after day and even made up some stories about them in my head, like a soap opera!
In Ankara, every morning, noon and evening the sound of prayer echoed around the city calling out to everyone to stop what they were doing at once and kneel down and pray to their god, which they obeyed. That reliable and punctual music became a constant part of our lives.
When we finally checked out of the hotel in Ankara, it was like saying another goodbye to another set of friends and family. It mostly consisted of the hotel staff who we had become accustomed to seeing every day (they actually gave us hugs and one of them shed a tear!) as well as some of the hotel guests who remained still in limbo. These goodbyes were getting tiring.
We never saw or heard from the people we met and became close to in that hotel again. Yet, looking back now, that hotel in Ankara was a world of it's own, all those who came and left with their lives being changed, the joys of a new life, the tears shed of disappointment, and the memories and hopes they shared with one another. So temporary in time, yet so permanent in mind. That hotel in Ankara was also a chapter in my life with my Maman and Baba, a short one, but definitely a memorable one!