Mom took off from LAX last week alone, and my Aunt and Grandfather took off two days later for a long-awaited family reunion. Due to obvious reasons, this could not be held in Iran at this time, so her brother, sister and niece traveled to Armenia from Iran to meet them.

This is the first time my mother has seen her own sister and brother since the late 70s and early 80s respectively, and the first time she has met my cousin, who is now 24 years old. There were many hugs and tears when they first saw each other, but for my little cousin particularly, this visit will mean so much more than meeting her aunt.

Because she has never been outside of Iran before, this is the first time in her entire life that she is free to walk outside without a hijab. My family is ethnically Armenian. Iranian is their nationality as that is where they have lived. Christianity is their religion, so this also marks the first time for my cousin that she is able to exercise her freedom of religion, and observe only the rules of her own.

I picture her exiting the airport, being driven to their accommodations and wonder what that must have been like for her. Never before had she gazed out of a car window to see women with no hijab, not required to wear a long jacket or hide their forms. She has of course seen western media before, but never has she seen a western lifestyle before her very eyes. Did it all seem surreal to her? Did she keep touching her head in some kind of self-conscious gesture,unaccustomed to it being bare as she was traveling a public road?

How did the wind feel as it went through her hair? How did the sun feel as it touched her neck? How did it feel, in other words to be free for the first time in her life?

Free to say whatever she wants. To wear whatever she wants. To go anywhere she wants, including a movie theater or sports stadium if she so chooses? The freedom to sing and dance in a public place should the urge strike her? The freedom to buy and wear any pretty dress that caught her eye, to any public place she wished?

I sent a short video greeting them all, and expressing my happiness that after all of these years, they were finally able to see one another in the free world.
I urged her to fully experience and relish that freedom, and to think about her future. She is Armenian. She is Christian. Perhaps Armenia has room for her in a studies program or as an asylum seeker if she requested such. My ultimate hope is of course for the only home she has actually known to become free again so that no one is forced to make the painful choice to leave their loved ones in favor of a country that offers far more freedom and opportunity.

Until that magical day however, she is a young woman. Her youth is now. Her opportunities grow less with each passing year. I hope she will visit some schools while she is there and gather some information. Should she choose to try, I feel her parents would join her after a time. So far, they have been fairly stubborn in their wish to stay in Iran. We shall see.

For now, I am glad my cousin can feel the sun on her neck and shoulders and arms. That she can have a taste of life in the free and fair world where she is not less simply because she is a woman. Where her words hold as much weight as a man’s, and she is just as free to speak them with no fear from the police or government. Where she is free to whip out her phone and take photos anywhere without fear she will be accused of being a spy of any sort. Where she can watch any program and listen to any song without having to break the law to access them. And yes, where she can even have a glass of wine legally and in the open.

This trip means a lot to my Grandfather. He is in his 80s now, and this may well be the last time he ever sees his son and one of his daughters. His grandchild. For Mom, it is a longed-for reunion and also her first trip to what is of course our original mother land. A chance to experience our ethnic culture in it’s home.

In many ways, the trip is bitter sweet, but the ultimate joy I feel is knowing my little cousin gets to taste freedom, and see what life can be outside of Iran, should she be inspired to choose a different path.

Sing and dance, my girl. Put on a pretty dress and walk through a crowded square with your head held high, knowing you are free, and that you are safe. Dream of a day Iran offers you the freedom you’ve only heard existed before from your parents, but in the meantime, know a chance is there if you are brave enough to reach for it.

A trip is so very much more than a trip sometimes.