Sun Journal, August 2, 2002
Siblings reunite after 2 decades apart
Technically, it was a first meeting.
But their tears said “reunion.”
Next to the baggage claim at the Portland International Jetport, Parivash Rohani and Sina Manouchehri hugged each other and cried.
In the past two decades, Sina had grown up, turning tall and slender, a young man with an interest in photography. Parivash had married, started a family, become a nurse.
They had swapped sporadic e-mails and phone calls, letters and photos. It was all they had.
And now, as they cried in the middle of Portland’s airport late Wednesday night, they could barely believe they were finally together.
Brother and sister.
After 21 years.
As members of the Baha’i, a faith that stresses universal brotherhood and social equality, Parivash’s family was persecuted by fundamentalist Muslims in their homeland of Iran. In the late 1970s, the rape and murder of Baha’i members was growing. Parivash’s parents worried for the safety of their only daughter.
In 1979, when Parivash was 19, her family’s home was burned to the ground. A few months later, Parivash escaped Iran, leaving behind her parents and two little brothers.
“I was hoping at one point I could go back. But of course that never materialized,” she said.
In India, Parivash attended college. She met and married fellow Baha’i Nasser Rohani. They had a daughter and moved to America. After eight months in California, they relocated to Auburn. She works as a registered nurse at Clove Manor Nursing Home, he works for L.L. Bean in Freeport.
In Iran, Parivash’s parents had a new baby of their own. Sina was born two years after his sister fled the country.
With oceans separating them, the sister and brother got to know each other through pictures and letters, phone calls and e-mail messages. Parivash told Sina about her four children — his niece and nephews. Sina told her about his penchant for photography and soccer. They tried to build a relationship.
“It is so funny when they talk because they have never met,” said Parivash’s husband, Nasser.
As a Baha’i, Sina was not allowed to attend college or get a job with the government in Iran as he grew into adulthood. He and his older brother were jailed for several months for creating jewelry with Baha’i insignias.
At 19 years old, Sina followed his sister’s example. He fled from Iran to Turkey, where he started the long process of immigrating to America.
After a year of paperwork, interviews and investigations, Sina was scheduled to have a final interview with immigration officials on Sept. 13, 2001.
When terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, Parivash gave up hope of seeing her brother move to America.
“I said, ‘There’s no way they’ll let him come now,’” she said.
But a few weeks ago, immigration officials called Parivash to tell her that her baby brother would be allowed into the country.
After 21 years of waiting, Sina was scheduled to arrive in Portland on July 31. Parivash began to get nervous.
What if he didn’t like her? What if something happened to the plane on its way to Maine? What if, after 21 years of thinking of Sina as her baby brother, she had trouble relating to him as an adult?
“You’re really not sure where you stand,” said Parivash a few days before her brother arrived. “He’s an adult, but I don’t have that feeling in me.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Parivash, her husband and two youngest children arrived at the Portland International Jetport. Anxiously, they peered out the window by Gate A and watched as Sina’s American Airlines flight landed, as passengers walked off and into the airport, as American men in baseball hats and women with handbags passed by the Rohani family. It became apparent that there was no Sina on board.
“I cannot believe it,” said Parivash as she stared out the window. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand it.”
While Parivash waited by the gate, her husband and Sina’s American caseworker scrambled to find out what happened. But the airline wouldn’t tell them anything. The next flight was scheduled to arrive in Portland four hours later, but there was no guarantee Sina would be on it.
Upset and frustrated, Parivash didn’t know what to do.
“It was like they took him back to Iran,” she said.
Parivash and her family went home to wait for news of her brother. At 9:30 p.m., they got a call.
Mechanical problems had delayed Sina’s plane in Miami and he had missed a connecting flight in New York.
He was waiting in Portland for Parivash.
After two decades of waiting and years of planning, the meeting took place in the middle of the airport baggage claim area. Going by 3-year-old photos, the siblings had a hard time recognizing each other.
The meeting felt unreal, said Sina.
“Still, I’m dreaming that I’m here,” Sina said in Persian as his sister translated Thursday.
Sina will live with his older sister and her family while he learns English and becomes accustomed to the country. He hopes to go to college and become a professional photographer—a plan made more difficult since Sina lost his Cannon camera and lenses at the Miami airport.
“I feel so bad,” Parivash said.
But besides the lost camera, Parivash and Sina had few other worries a day after meeting for the first time. They were brother and sister. And they were together.
“It’s just so natural,” said Parivash. “I didn’t think it would be so easy.”
©Copyright 2002, Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)