In part one, we learned that eighteen-year old Sarah came from Tehran during the Gulf War to marry forty-year-old Yousef. After the birth of her daughter May, Sarah discovered Yousef already had a wife and child. She left with May. The police helped her find a shelter. and when she found proper housing, Sarah studied English and then worked at a nursing home for two years. When Sarah sustained a serious back injury, she had to quit her job. While receiving workers’ compensation, she thought seriously about a different kind of work that had less physical strain.
During that time. Sarah read newspapers every day for current events and job listings.
“I needed a different job, something not so hard on the body as nursing homes. I also looked for college programs. I read about Ryerson in a newspaper. I thought maybe it was a college with night classes. I called the number and got a calendar in the mail,” Sarah said as she summed up her post-injury turning point.
“I couldn’t wait to study at Ryerson, but before that, I had to take care of some business with Yousef.
“Since I left with May that day for the police station, Yousef looked for us everywhere. When we left, I only took my papers, May’s birth certificate, house keys, and about three hundred dollars.” Sarah’s pinched eyebrows told me she had left something important behind.
“When we left in a hurry, I forgot my family pictures. They were all I had of my parents. But it wasn’t safe to go back for them. Yousef and Niki would be there. “Yousef told my parents I had left him, but he wanted his daughter back,” Sarah added. “I had already told my parents about Niki, about Yousef’s other child, and why l left with May,” but my parents said I must do the honourable thing.
“To me, honour was to not live with Yousef’s wife. Honour was to raise May as a good Canadian. Honour was to be brave in this darkness.” Sarah’s determination was unmistakable.
But, there was the problem of May and her baba. Divorcing Yousef was not hard. He had no case. But May didn’t have a chance to know her father. Sarah revealed the dilemma with her precious daughter and an unfaithful husband.
“When May was old enough to ask, I told her about her baba, and I asked if she wanted to see him.” Sarah stared at her tea whenever she felt conflicted.
“My divorce papers were signed when May was four, in 1989.” Still staring at her tea, Sarah continued, “But after that, it seemed possible for May to start seeing Yousef. May should have a choice.”
As May grew older, she started visiting Yousef and Niki and her half brother Reza. Sarah said, “She’s fifteen and makes her own decisions. She lives with me but they are also her family.
“May brought back all my family pictures. She simply said to Yousef that they should be returned to me.”
After sharing her deepest concerns about May and Yousef, Sarah told me about her education.
“Ryerson seemed like the right school for me, but I wasn’t sure about my English. Back in Tehran, I had four years of English in high school. In Toronto, I finished all my ESL. So I took a chance.” Sarah’s smile meant things had worked out.
“I had nothing to lose, right? With workers’ comp and May in daycare, I registered for one psychology course. I just needed a babysitter. I thought about taking May with me to night school, but she was just three and I wanted her to be sleeping when I got home. I was very lucky a neighbor could watch May for twenty dollars every Tuesday night.
“I was a mess at first. Yes, I had a big psychology book and a big binder, but I thought everyone stared at me like I didn’t belong.”
After a few weeks, Sarah realized how important psychology was to her. “It was very hard work with assignments and tests, but I loved studying Freud, Jung, Erikson, Skinner, Bandura. Suddenly everything made sense.” Her eyes sparkled with memories of discovery.
“When I took statistics as the second course, psychology was my best friend.
“I asked my professor where I could find psychology jobs. He said most jobs needed more education, but not to give up if I wanted to pursue psychology. I guess I was born under a bright star” Sarah said excitedly. “My professor knew a colleague looking for an office assistant – can you believe it? I got the job, three days a week.” After all these years, Sarah was still incredulous about her good fortune.
“I learned so much about assisting a psychologist. At first it was just answering the phone and booking appointments. But I understood statistics and testing. I helped with psychometrics. In about a year, we were swamped with assessing autistic children and counseling families. So, my job turned full time. After four psychology courses, I sent all my transcripts from Iran, ESL, and Ryerson to Waterloo. They accepted me into first year psychology by distance and it was perfect! With work and May, I could only take one course at a time, but I have just one more research seminar left.”
The evening before I left Sarah’s building, we visited over Persian tea. May joined us and said proudly “You know Mom gets her psychology degree this Christmas.” May was beaming.
Since her father’s death, Sarah has been working on bringing her mother to Canada.
When mother finally gets here, May and I will take care of her. I will do everything to protect my family”, Sarah and May nodded in unison.
Always a dutiful daughter, Sarah was a resilient young bride and a loving mother who raised May on her own, and definitely set an example for every new Canadian in search of success.
Mina Wong is a teacher of social sciences and adult education, Mina enjoys celebrating the lives of adult learners and their successes.