By Craig Bailey
You only live once - make the most of it, was the primary reason Hawreh Haddadi’s parents fled the Kurdistan region of Iran, over 20 years ago, with their small family, to ultimately settle here in Windham. The alternative to fleeing wasn’t just a loss of opportunity - it was quite literally the prospect of sudden death.
|Hawreh Haddadi is interviewed by Adrianne Shetenhelm, WHS APEX Program Leader.|
On Friday, March 1, Windham High students and faculty members had the opportunity to hear Haddadi, a 2013 graduate of WHS, speak. He covered the experience that led him to writing his book, “Finding Kurdistan: A Kurdish Iranian American’s Journey Home”, as well as the importance of not taking for granted all that we have here in America.
In 2010 Haddadi’s family visited their home country for what was a truly eye-opening, even culture shock, experience. The sweet moments, when he was able to hug his grandparents and visit cousins, were overshadowed by the harsh realities of that part of the world.
An example of the realities that exist include, “Women are not treated fairly in the Middle East. When our plane was about to land in Iran an announcer came on to review regulations of the country, one of which meant that my sister had to cover up. Just think about it. What if you couldn’t wear that necklace or coat to school. And, you had to cover your hair. In Iran there is mandatory attire for woman not only in grade school and college, but throughout your entire life.”
Soon after their arrival in Iran, Haddadi had another wake-up call when he and his family were detained and threatened, being accused of spying for the US government. “It was the first time I had seen an assault rifle; and it was in my face. This showed me everything I needed to know about the Iranian government.”
Haddadi reiterated the fact that we Americans are so fortunate, “We have all these resources, protections and economic opportunities that we can do and be anything we want. We have the ability to speak freely and do so without fear. These freedoms simply do not exist in many parts of the world.”
Haddadi recounts how many of the people he met in Iran had the impression that all Americans are rich, wear suits and ties, and drive Cadillacs. These perceptions were obtained from Hollywood and YouTube, which don’t provide realistic portrayals of the average American lifestyle. A lesson we can all heed.
Haddadi considers the trip to his homeland a mental journey and process which showed him just how beautiful America actually is. “We are people from around the world who unite under a single name (American). While we are still working to make things better, we are far ahead of other parts of the world where, for example, women aren’t allowed to drive or vote.”
It was this perception of America that led to his parents’ decision to flee Iran, to a country where the government recognizes individual rights and the value of being a human being.
Haddadi reinforced, “That doesn’t mean it is going to be easy. There will always be some sort of struggle (e.g., graduating from high school, applying for college). It is all about planning, structure and follow-through. I had no experience writing a book. You just need to do your best, believe in yourself and bring people along who want to support your project. Realize there are far more people who will tell you it cannot be done, it is too expensive, or whatever. Have faith and trust in yourself to follow-through on your dream.”
A key educational experience that Haddadi recommends is traveling, “The importance of hearing and seeing other people’s perspective is an unbelievable education. We are all on a unique journey to happiness, each with our own personal struggles.”
Haddadi has fond memories of his upbringing and schooling in Windham. “Maine is a warm and supportive environment and the Windham High teachers are great! I am thankful to be here as there is no country like America.”