I don’t know where my mother got her adventurous streak. She always felt her surroundings in Iran were too confining to pursue what she called her “soul flights.” She got her driver’s license at a time when only a handful of people in her hometown owned cars; she was one of the first women there to drive. Then, it was unusual for women to travel solo beyond borders. It still is.
It was 1975, and my mother had moved from her hometown to Tehran to teach English at the Kharazmi Institute, a language school, which was also affiliated with a hotel in London. After finding out she could make a reservation at the hotel, she booked a flight to London. There, she became unstoppable. As a Kharazmi instructor, she was given VIP treatment. Informing the hotel manager of her plans to travel to France to purchase a Peugeot, she learned his wife had recently ordered one — and my mother could buy it from them. “Just like that, the Peugeot became mine!” she tells me.
She planned to drive her light green Peugeot to Iran. Joining her would be new friends she’d made in London: the owner of a construction business in Tehran, and a pair of newlyweds from Mashhad. Two weeks later, they boarded a ferry for France. “It was my first sea voyage! To have a new car, be on a ferry, and find myself surrounded by endless waters all at once,” she remembers, “felt surreal.” After sightseeing in Paris, they drove southward, until reaching a point near Lyon where the roads were under construction. Although she spoke no French, she managed to have the Peugeot lifted onto a train carriage until the roads were clear and it was possible to drive again.
As the cliffs surrounding Lake Como came into sight, my mother led the way in exploring. They stopped at cafes, where the Italians were singing and laughing. My mother socialized in English with the locals. “Wherever words fell short,” she recalls, “I resorted to smiles and gestures.”
The adventure continued through what was then Yugoslavia, then onward to Bulgaria and Turkey. On the road from Istanbul to Ankara, it became apparent a group of thugs was following the Peugeot. They suddenly swerved in front, got out of their vehicle, and approached with threatening gestures. But my mother didn’t flinch. “I stepped on the gas and charged in their direction. When they realized I could throw them under, they scrambled aside.”
On through Sivas with its mosques, madrasas, and minarets, they made their way to the Turkish border, where a patrolman delayed them, citing customs regulations for the car. “I offered him whiskey and pistachios,” my mother remembers. “I also slipped in some cash between the pages of my passport as I handed it to him. On the condition that we would settle customs in Iran, he allowed us to cross.”
The exposure my mother gained on her journey expanded her worldview and influenced her to immigrate to California, where I was born. We would eventually move back to her homeland, but periodic visits with relatives in Europe heightened my cross-cultural perspectives.
In 2006, while visiting Germany during the FIFA World Cup, Italy’s win in the championships piqued my curiosity. On a whim, I set off for Venice on my own. Upon returning home, I completed the language immersion program at the Scuola Italiana. Maybe I was destined to revive the legacy of my mother, who initiated a dialogue with the Italians in Lake Como all those years back.
But it’s not about Italy or any one country. It’s about going beyond borders and taking the initiative to experience other ways of being — sometimes at the cost of going against the grain of one’s community.
Yet, that’s a small price to pay for the freedom to travel. Travel has shaped who I am. I owe this freedom to my mother, who blazed the trail before me. To her, whose life has been filled with adventure along a road less traveled.
Tara Jamali is a notice specialist with Boston Globe Media. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell your story. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to email@example.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.
** This story has been updated to accurately reference car ownership levels in Iran.