Nima Sheikhy: Smile for Ardalan

On the first anniversary of the shooting down of a Ukraine International Airlines plane over Tehran, a North Van writer shares memories of one of the passengers

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      By Nima Sheikhy

      Ardalan and I were classmates around 30-some-odd years ago. We grew up in the same neighbourhood in Iran. His awesome, wide smile is imprinted in my mind.

      I doubt that if anybody remembers him without his incredible smile. It was his signature. A positive dude with lots of hopes and a generous soul to spread. 

      He was the type of person who would take actions on his beliefs, super kind in many forms, an A student, and a hard worker. I was among the disturbed kids who were in the principal's office in Iran waiting for punishment while he was going around helping others with math, science, or physics problems. 

      I remember that one time, right before a physics exam, I asked him a question about ballistic motion. He explained the concept in detail and when he finished, asked me with his famous hopeful smile: "Did I explain it properly?"

      And I just looked at him with desperate eyes. He explained it another four time until I got it. In the end, I with a C- and he with an A+, graduated from the same high school. After graduation, we got busy with life and lost touch until 20-some-odd years ago. He had migrated to Canada and in an extraordinary circumstance, we became coworkers in an electronics store. 

      I always wondered how we went from being classmates on the other side of the world to being coworkers on this side. After a while, we went our separate ways, building our legacy as new immigrants brick by brick.

      He started to work in the engineering field and I joined real estate. I drowned myself in paperwork, real-estate transactions, and the dailiness of this materialistic life and he got busy sharing his strong wisdom in engineering. Him being him, Ardalan was sending me messages every now and then, reminding me that a chat over a coffee is vital and, me being me, drowning myself more in dailiness and denying his requests with lame excuses.

      The last time I saw him was around September 2018 when we accidentally met at a Disney audition event. He came for his son Kamyar and I was there for my daughter Donya. We sat down and listened to what they had to say, chatted for a bit, made a decision against their expensive classes, and got separated. 

      More than a year ago, he went to Iran with his wife, Niloufar, and his son, Kamyar, for his father's 84th birthday. While he was in Iran, he gathered all the high school friends, created a What's App group, and included me in that group. Getting connected in this way was like watching the giant waves of memories stream through the veins of childhood perfection.  

      On January 8, 2020 I got off work, opened up the page, and read that a Ukranian airplane had been shot down by a missile. Aradalan, Niloufar, and Kamyar were among the passengers.

      I could not believe it. The thought of them burning and exploding alive had me in tears.

      At first, I was in denial—I could not believe what I was reading. Switching from page to page on social media put me in shock. The more I was reading, the more I was crying and the more I was crying, the more I was getting tearful. I was thinking of how disgusting human beings have become.   

      I cried hard and long, wiped the tears off, and got up to cook for Donya and Daniel. As I was getting busy with the chopping board, I remembered that I had promised Donya to buy a microphone and a camera for her YouTube channel. She has a dream, a YouTuber dream. Then I remembered the last time we met Ardalan at the Disney audition—it was because of our kids' dreams. The thought of 176 dreams and hopes turning to ashes burst me into tears again. I got mad at the leaders of the U.S. and Iran, Trump and Khamenei. For the next few days, I was on social media screaming that Khamenei is an idiot and Trump is even worse than him.  

      After a while, I sat back and started to think that how have we Iranians got here? Isn’t it the fact that our destiny is the reflection of our mentality? How did we end up here, setting each other on fire? 

      The supreme leader, missile operator Ghasem Soleimani, and others are all products of one culture. A culture that keeps saying “down with” this and “viva” that. Down with who killed and viva who died. Some people cheer for the murderer and some for the victim. And there is no middle line here, either you are my hero or my enemy. And the distinction between these two is based on whose enemy you are.

      If anybody is the enemy of the enemy, all of a sudden they become much closer than friends. The government is lying up to their teeth on a daily basis about everything, including but not limited to the cause of this incident. They are calling it a human mistake but according to all the experts, it was intentional. The Iranian government’s action is a representation of a corrupt culture.  

      Then I started to think about the U.S. government. An "unwanted authority" that has been the source of war, invading other countries and creating oceans of blood among different nations in history.

      From the massacre of Aboriginal people to Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan and now perhaps Iran and the next countries. Aren’t there some cultural issues? They elect a mentally disturbed person as their representative, his madness becomes news, and his words turn into stories for so-called media to sell them to us. And guess what? We keep buying and they keep producing.  

      Then I sat back thinking how we as humans got here? Where did we learn to argue with each other, get caught on being right, build things made of gunpowder, metal, and hatred, call it a weapon, and set ourselves and others on fire? 

      In the eastern culture, they say humans are the most honourable creatures of all. I do not see any honour in this pile of ashes.    

      My heart is burning for Ardalan, Niloufar, Kamyar, and 173 others who were burned, crashed, and exploded. My heart is burning for the past few hundred years of humans' lost effort without any spiritual direction, the meaningless behaviour that gives birth to heartbroken humans and giant piles of ashes.  

      My heart is burning for 1.5 million killed in the Iraq War, for 1,500 people killed in a rally in Tehran, the estrangement and sadness of six million refugees, for the soldiers who went to war and left their wife and children waiting for them forever. My heart is also burning for the ones who survived and came back but left their soul in the fort with the corpse of their buddy, for the soldiers who came back from Vietnam War with a silent lips and a burning heart for which no amount of alcohol and heroin could put the fire out. They became homeless and refugees in their own country.

      My heart is burning for the mothers who have to bury their children’s burned corpses. For the children who are hungry around the world. My heart is burning in the fire because of the ignorance, which has been killing and still is. 

      I wish I could leave all my nonsense dailiness obligations and become the servant of Greta Thunberg, a 18-year-old environmental activist, an adorable girl who has lost her hope for us as adults. She has gone around the world spreading awareness: “Hey humans, hey humans, you are killing yourselves gradually." 

      Maybe it is time that we all wake up and learn from her. 

      Video: Greta Thunberg delivers her famous "How dare you" speech at a UN climate summit.

      I definitely do not intend to convert this heart-written piece into political conspiracy theory hallucinations. Rather, I would like to be realistic.  

      According to CNBC, humans collectively spend around $1.7 trillion yearly on weapons and the military while it would cost only $116 billion per year to end hunger. In other words, by spending six percent of what is spent on weapons we can leave peacefully together. We can feed each other instead of killing each other.  

      How did we end up here? Draining our money, time, and energy to kill while with minimal resources we can live with our neighbours, help each other, and be a much happier society.  

      We, ordinary people, the residents of this small global village, do not make such decisions. The governments, gun dealers, and corrupted minds and souls make those choices and it is all about something called “Money”.

      “Show me the money."

      According to the documentary movie Fahrenheit 9/11, made by Michael Moore, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush worked for the Carlyle Group, which was the 11th-largest defence contractor in the United States. Moore noted that it made a one-day profit of $237 million when it filed to take United Defense public. After millions of people died and millions became refugees, George W. Bush publicly announced: Oops there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 

      Do you think people like him would have had any intention of any sort to stop any war or reduce gun production?  

      If we add up the people in all the governments and all the other people who are big fans of dealing guns and making money, it would not exceed 500,000 people, which represents 0.006 percent of the population on the planet. In another word, we allow this small percentage of people to make choices for us and by that, we allow them to kill our kids, sons, mothers, fathers, cousins, and friends while they are filling up their pockets.   

      History has been changed several times by re-engaging the people. Look at what Gandhi, Mandela, and other great people did for humans only by spreading awareness and promoting peace. They have changed us forever. 

      We as a species called humans are much more powerful compared to a few little-minded people. Maybe it is the time that we all get united, stand up in the presence of this endless universe, and accept that we all are responsible for our actions and confess that we have been doing wrong, we have been going wrong, and confess that we all are lost. We should confess that the human world is filled with ignorance and we are not doing anything about it.

      Maybe it is time to listen to Greta and other young souls who are still alive and have not been burned by our ignorance. Put our weapons down and create smiles on each other’s faces instead of planting bullets in each other's hearts. Be kind to one another, hug and kiss each other.  

      Instead of doing research and working hard to create a more destructive missile, instead of going a thousand metres underground and creating a lab trying to make a more powerful weapon—a weapon built of Kamyar’s dream ashes—let's sit in the library. Read Rumi, Hermann Hesse, Octavio Paz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Ernest Hemingway. Possibly read a romantic poem and fall in love. Think, walk, talk, and act differently, choose a mission statement, like what the Iranian poet Sohrab wrote: 

      “One day I will come and I will bring a message 

      I pour light in vessels 

      And I will call upon all of you  

      Hey people with sleepy baskets 

      I brought apple,  

      Red sun apple 

      I will come and give Jasmin flower to the beggar 

      I will gift the Lazarus beautiful woman another pair of earrings 

      I will remove the curse from all the lips 

      I will knock down all the walls 

      I will tell the padders,  

      Hey, a caravan came carrying a lot of smiles!”