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Seeking Escape Route From Iran : Mother Hopes a Mysterious 'Businessman' Can Help

In the summer of 1984 , Betty Mahmoody, her daughter , Mahtob , and husband , Sayyed Bozorg ( Moody ) Mahmoody, left the United States for what was to be a two-week vacation to her husband's native Iran. Betty did not want to go to Tehran; her marriage had been rocky for several months and she was contemplating divorce. Her greatest fear, however, was that if she divorced her husband, he would simply take their daughter to Iran and she would never see her again. Betty Mahmoody gambled that a two-week vacation would be the beginning of a reconciliation. In this, the third of a five-part excerpt from the book, "Not Without My Daughter," she describes the nightmare it became instead. Next: A dangerous offer.

November 29, 1987|BETTY MAHMOODY and WILLIAM HOFFER | From " Not Without My Daughter ," by Betty Mahmoody with William Hoffer. Copyright 1987, Betty Mahmoody and William Hoffer. Reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press Inc

It was an unseasonably warm and bright afternoon in mid-autumn when Moody agreed, grudgingly, to Mahtob's request that we go to the park.

As we reached the swings and slide at the far end of the park, Mahtob squealed at the sight of a little blond girl, perhaps 4 years old, dressed in shorts and a top and wearing Strawberry Shortcake tennis shoes identical to the ones Mahtob had brought with her from America.

The mother was a pretty young woman with wisps of blond hair protruding from under her roosarie. She wore a tan trench coat, belted, unlike an Iranian coat.

"She is American," I said to Moody.

"No," he growled, "she is speaking German."

She was conversing with an Iranian man, but she was indeed speaking English!

I introduced myself while Moody stood warily at my side.

Two-Week Vacation

Her name was Judy. Her Iranian-born husband was a construction contractor in New York City, who had remained there while Judy brought her two children to Iran to visit their grandparents. They were in the midst of a two-week vacation. How I envied her airplane ticket, her passport, her exit visa. But I could tell her none of this with Moody lurking next to me.

Judy introduced us to the Iranian man, her brother-in-law, Ali. As soon as Ali learned that Moody was a doctor, he mentioned that he was trying to obtain a medical visa to visit the United States for treatment of a heart condition. Judy added that she was flying to Frankfurt the following week, where she would visit the American Embassy to try to get the visa for him.

They were interested in the advice of an Iranian-American doctor. Suddenly glorying in his status, Moody let his attention drift away from me and onto himself.

The girls jumped off the slide and decided to play on the swings, so Judy and I followed them. Once out of earshot from Moody, I wasted no time.

'I'm a Hostage Here'

"I'm a hostage here," I whispered. "You've got to help me. Please go to the American Embassy in Frankfurt and tell them that I am here. They must do something to help me.

"He doesn't let me talk to people," I said. "I have been imprisoned here and I haven't had contact with my family."

We exchanged phone numbers and planned to meet again at the park soon. The brief walk home was exhilarating. Moody was in high spirits. The effects of his buoyed prestige blinded him to the fact that I had just spoken privately with an American woman.

Judy worked quickly. Two days later she called and invited Mahtob and me to meet her at the park. I held a faint hope that Moody would let us go by ourselves, but he had a pattern established. He seemed not to suspect any conspiracy, but he was determined to keep us in view.

A short, bearded Iranian man, about 30 years old, was with Judy in the park this time. She introduced him to us as Rasheed, the office manager of a large medical clinic. Moody was delighted to launch yet another medical conversation, and began to ply the man with questions about licensing procedures in Iran. Meanwhile, Judy and I once more moved ahead to speak privately.

"Don't worry," she said, "Rasheed knows all about your situation. He will be careful what he says to your husband. We were hoping to speak with you alone, but he knows to keep him busy so you and I can talk."

Dinner Invitation

Then she explained the next step of the plan. A few nights hence her mother-in-law was planning a farewell dinner partly for Judy and her children, and Judy had arranged for us to be invited.

Amid the hubbub of the dinner party, she hoped that I could talk privately with Rasheed, because, she said, "He knows people who take people out through Turkey."

The party at the home of Judy's mother-in-law was enlightening. The moment we entered the house we heard loud American music and saw the improbable sight of Shiite Moslems dancing to rock 'n' roll. The women were dressed in Western clothes, which none bothered to cover with chadors or roosaries .

The guests became my unwitting co-conspirators. They were so honored to have an American doctor at their feast that Moody was immediately surrounded by attentive listeners. He basked in their homage as Judy, with Moody's knowledge, drew me off to a bedroom. There, Rasheed was waiting.

"My friend takes people to Turkey," he said. "It costs $30,000."

"I don't care about the money," I responded. "I just want to get out with my daughter."

I knew that my family and friends could and would somehow raise whatever cash it took. "When can we go?" I asked anxiously.

"Right now he is in Turkey, and the weather will be getting bad soon. I do not know if you can go during the winter, until the snow melts. Call me in two weeks. I will check."

I encoded Rasheed's telephone number and added it to my address book.

On a marketing errand one day, I slipped into a store to call Rasheed, Judy's friend who had promised to contact the man who smuggled people into Turkey.

"He cannot take children," Rasheed said.

"Let me talk to him, please!" I begged. "I can carry Mahtob. It's no problem."

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