tehran, 1994

when we got off the plane, it was dark, and we were tired. the air on the tarmac was thick full of diesel, something i'd come to always associate with iran. i was 14 and they were 10 and we were delirious--our whole lives we'd just listened to everyone talking about this place and these people we were about to meet. our brilliant cousin, our funny uncles, our grandparents' land in the north, the delicious water of the city, the fish, the meat, the vegetables.

and now, we--we who'd never traveled farther than nevada--we suddenly here.

it was unbelievable to our little minds, unexposed to anything like this. travel? passports? visas? airline tickets? huh?

after the whirlwind of activity at the airport--our uncle who'd somehow met us far inside the terminal, and blown us through customs and paperwork; the trip home in the middle of the night through this city i'd never even had the strength to dream of; the cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and everyone else who up until now was no more than paper or ink to us. everyone was there, and we couldn't handle it. we made it home, to my uncle's house, my uncle, who i strained to remember from a decade before in california, where he would babysit my newborn brothers so my mom could go help my dad at work, or just sleep. we made it home and sat down in the kitchen at the card table set out for us, across from S, the cousin we knew only through the bragging of our relatives. a week older than my brothers, he seemed as different as the imagination would allow, and we sat down across from him, hungry from not having eaten for a day and a half, nothing substantial, anyhow. and we built sandwiches for ourselves there, at two in the morning, from all of the familiar foods, cotlet and olivieh.

one of us, probably me, just started to giggle. we kept staring at him. we didn't know what to say--we spoke farsi well, well enough to communicate, but what do you say after 14 years? what do you say for the first time? he spoke the same language of laughter, though, and it was enough. we sat there for what seemed another eternity, another 14 years, and we laughed, hard. there were tears, and my cheeks began to hurt from chewing and laughing at the same time. it was enough, though.

we were the same. somehow, it was all familiar.