Stay or Leave
As soon as I got back from Maragheh, I knew I was ready to leave Iran. My family had a falling out of epic proportions, and I didn’t want to deal with the aftershocks too close to the fault line. At first, the feeling that I had made a promise to everyone in Maragheh that I would come back to see them, that I had said I would go to Tabriz and stay with people in Tehran, held me back. Eventually, I convinced myself that, since nobody else took event planning seriously here (trips and plans were easily brought up and forgotten several times throughout the trip), I didn’t have to put myself through another month if I didn’t actually want to. The biggest reason I didn’t want to leave, actually really wanted to stay, was this blog and the thrilling and humbling attention it got. In the end, though, I had to remind myself that covering the election was not my battle, that my blog was only a means to document my trip and as such shouldn't affect my plans. I changed my flight to the first available day, July 4th (a properly auspicious date).
Many Iranians are similarly facing the “stay or leave” dilemma. According to my Lonely Planet guide book, Iran suffers from one of the worst brain drains in the world, losing over 150,000 young educated minds per year. My cousin Afshin (35) was one of those statistics two years ago. He left a job of 10 years, his friends, and his family to be a struggling student in Toronto—and doesn’t regret it for a minute. His brother Arash (33) had always felt like he owed something to his homeland; like me he didn’t think he could break his promise. Although he lived through the Iran-Iraq War and countless other little brutalities of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it was not until seeing the violence of the post-election protests that Arash knew he wanted to leave as well. Will he have the strength to cut his own roots, the patience to start over, the determination to keep applying for visas though many western countries don't welcome Iranian immigrants?
In fact, just about all of my cousins think they would like to leave if they had the chance, despite the difficulties. And what happens when one of them, plus 149,999 other people, succeed in leaving? Who will fill the jobs the educated are leaving behind? Who will keep free-thinking under the radar, teaching their children to look outside the regime for answers? Who is going to stay because they feel like changing that country is their battle?