Reunion with Parmiz

By Jennifer B-C Seaver

How could I resist when Peg called me one evening in 2002? She urged me to sign up for the group of RPCVs planning a trip back to Iran that October. I could share a room with Ted’s sister Chris. All of us hoped to meet up with old friends. One special person we wanted to make contact with was Parmiz Basghali. Because she had studied public health in the US, she knew how hard it was to be far from home. She and her husband Mahmoud and their two young children opened their home to all Americans. We thought of them as our unofficial host family. Always a generous woman, Parmiz even had a chador made for me as a going-away present because in the 1960’s I didn’t have to wear a chador.

Through the years, we had corresponded occasionally. In 1976, Peg located a letter from Parmiz and forwarded it to me. I made a photocopy and sent it to Ted and Peg’s for their 25th wedding anniversary in 1994.

Mahmoud was an important dentist in Rasht. Their daughter, following in her mother’s footsteps, visited me soon after I became a foreign student advisor at the University of Maryland. Like her mother, she was on her way to studies in North Carolina. Then Peg and I lost touch with the family. Nevertheless, in anticipation of the 2002 trip, Peg again wrote to Parmiz at the old post office box. She got no response.

Think about the 1960s: Then, if we wanted to get in touch with another person, we had to send a letter or a telegram or even place an expensive long distance phone call at the downtown P.T.T. (Post, Telephone & Telegraph Office.) Now, fast forward 34 years later – miracles still happen. Rasht’s population had grown from 100,000 to more than 600,000. The provincial capital now has its own regional airport as well as a four-lane highway to Tehran.

We are on passing through Rasht on our way to a resort hotel in Bandar Pahlavi, (now known as Bandar Anzali) on the Caspian Sea. Peter and Lynn Russell taught English there but I assure you, they did not live in a resort hotel. Because our group consisted of more than 20, arrangements for all hotel accommodations and meals have been planned well in advance.

Our first stop in Gilan is a famous Fuman fish restaurant near Rasht. Peg asks its owner if he knows the name Basghali. “Of course,” comes the quick reply. “I think the dentist died about ten years ago, but I’m pretty certain that his widow still lives nearby.”

After dinner that evening in our hotel, a young professor at Rasht University proudly talks about his computer lab and the work he’s doing to put these labs in local high schools. Then, we ask him whether he knows Parmiz. “I do,” he says. “She recently retired from the faculty.”

Cell phones come out of pockets. Calls are placed to Rasht. It turns out that Parmiz shares her home with her ninety-year old mother and a granddaughter. She’s home that evening. Before we know it, the three of us are hooked up on a land-line in the hotel lobby. What a thrill it is just to hear her voice! For more than thirty minutes we hold an animated conversation. Then, as we are saying goodbye, she pleads, “How can we see each other again?”

“We can’t promise anything,” Peg replies sadly. “Parmi-jan, we’re traveling with twenty other people, and Rasht isn’t even on the official itinerary. But we’ll see what can be done.”

Seeing the joy on our faces, our RPCV leader Bruce Nelson huddles with Pejman, our travel guide. They agree to talk it over with Mahmoud, our government minder and all agree it’s possible to rearrange our itinerary to include a brief stopover in Rasht the following morning before we go to Hamadan. After all, isn’t one of the purposes of the Carter Center’s Friendship Force International to serve as citizen ambassadors?

Parmiz lives near the ‘oldest park in Rasht,’ which becomes the official rationale for our unscheduled stop. When our bus pulls up to a stop at the park the next morning, there she is! Peg and I jump off the bus and throw our arms around our dear friend once more. As we share laughter, tears, and fond memories, Parmiz is clearly in a festive mood. I recall that years ago, when we said goodbye, she told me, “We are not shedding tears of sorrow, my friend. “It’s just hay fever.”

She brings out goodies for everyone in the group. To this day, I wonder how she also has found a pair of silver candlesticks, which she presents to Peg and me. I brought mine here today.

Jennifer B-C Seaver

(Rasht – 1966-68)