Political prisoner urges cherubs to use their freedom of speech

Kamalabadi stayed to take a picture with the cherubs that had a conversation with her. Photo by Roger Boye.

Fariba Kamalabadi (third from right) takes a picture with the cherubs. Photo by Roger Boye.

Fariba Kamalabadi reminds me of a home beyond home. She looks at the ground often because she says she is working on her English. She laughs when speaking about how her friend ate toilet paper in the Iranian prison because they didn’t want anyone to see the things they wrote. We stare at her in awe. She hugs me. When I tell her she reminds me of my mother, she gives me another extra-tight hug. Kamalabadi, who was imprisoned for protesting against the Iranian government, reminds me of a home beyond home.

Roxana Saberi, a journalist and writer who was accused of espionage and locked up in Iran, sparks my interest in writing about foreign areas. The way Saberi tells her story about being imprisoned leaves me speechless. I can’t comprehend how someone who had been through months of isolation could speak about it so freely. I guess that was the point she was trying to make.

Afterward, Saberi stands in the corner of the stage as all the cherubs walk up to meet her. On the side, a small group of students form around Kamalabadi, who came to support Saberi, and I walk over to join them.

Kamalabadi talks with her eyes and her hands. She widens her eyes and looks around when proving a point. She winks. She laughs. Her hands express how she’s feeling. She slaps them against her thighs and moves them in waves. She keeps them at her sides when talking about her parents. All this I realize in the short time I stand next to her. Kamalabadi quickly becomes the most interesting person I have ever met.

“I can talk all night,” she says. And I can tell she wants to, too. She comes with us to our dorm and sits with us on the couches and tells us about Afghan parties. She tells us that journalism isn’t just a skill, it’s a passion and pursuing it means taking risks. She tells us that when you’re put in a difficult position, you must hold on to your dignity and use any strength you have. Most importantly, she tells us that places outside of America are worth going to.

This, to me, is groundbreaking. My parents are from Pakistan, but I have only been to Pakistan once, and it was a significant moment in my life. It taught me that there are things bigger than me. Living in America has taken away my awareness of other places. I have become a part of the American ego.

Pakistan is a place in which I have always considered working, but never seriously. It’s more of an “at least you have Pakistan” sort of thing. But as we sit with Kamalabadi and she talks about how much she loves Pakistan, I am inspired. I haven’t thought of this home beyond home in a long time.

As the night goes on through a stream of revelations, Saberi comes to see us too. I feel more than special. But what sticks with me most is how Kamalabadi, a woman with the toughest skin, can sit and talk for hours to students with not-so-tough skin. She teaches us that experiences matter. And as she tightens her hold on me before she leaves, I know she is smiling.