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Missing and Missed: The Dorothy Parvaz Story


12 May 2011 07:18Comments
DorothyParvaz+flag.jpgHolding on to hope, searching for humanity.

[ comment ] Rarely do I wake up to good news these days. But when do journalists ever wake up to good news?

I opened my eyes yesterday, reached down for the laptop to check on the latest, and there it was. Al Jazeera correspondent Dorothy Parvaz, who'd been missing in Syria for almost two weeks, is now reportedly in Iranian custody. But finding the truth in matters pertaining to Iran is about as hard as getting good news in the morning.

For starters, the very private, yet extremely witty 39-year-old's whereabouts right now are a mystery since her arrival in Damascus on April 29. Syria says they boarded her on a plane bound for Iran. Iran is silent. She hasn't been able to call her fiancé, who told me they usually speak two to three times a day -- makes you wonder how he's feeling not being able to talk to her for two weeks now.

Syria claims that she has been deported to Iran because she was trying to enter Syria using an expired Iranian passport and a tourist visa, even though she intended to report from the country. But though they seem to have sent her to Iran on May 1, they told Al Jazeera on May 3 that she was still in their custody. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi meanwhile stated on May 2 that he was unaware of her whereabouts and urged the Syrians to look into the matter -- implying that she had still not reached Iran.

As I spoke to Todd Barker, Dorothy's fiancé, I couldn't help but notice the veiled helplessness in his brave yet calm voice and his constant attempts to remain cheerful and positive about the prospects for her quick return. Here's a man, in love with a woman. But he has not even been able to speak to her over the phone these past two weeks because she is paying a price for being committed to her profession.

This is what some people have to go through for being a journalist. In Dorothy's case, she's missing, probably in a country that she has deep connections with. The picture of her we have here is what Todd described as "the happiest he's seen her." She's at an Iran-Iraq soccer match -- a sport she deeply loves -- waving an Iranian flag.

And all the while, her funny side continues to shine. A decade ago, when she worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, she took part in a strike. Her accounts are a constant reminder of her humanity, her cheerfulness, and the power of her words to make you smile:

Being on strike is serious business, but heck, who says it's always gotta suck? Today, Times reporter John Zebrowski celebrated his 30th birthday in front of the Times building, complete with a cake, streamers, toys, a piñata, and grub (veggie dogs!). Watching our peers whack the shit out of a pink dinosaur piñata proved to be a dangerous and hilarious distraction from the grim brigade of managers who had walked through the picket line earlier. Having successfully avoided being blinded and/or eviscerated by the wild, swinging, pointy stick that (eventually) proved the undoing of the piñata, we raised the stakes and moved on to risking life and limb by running in and out of heavy traffic at Fairview and Denny, handing out copies of the Seattle Union Record to cars stopping for red lights. Some drivers rolled up their cars' windows and locked their doors when they saw us approach. Note to these knuckleheads: If I really wanted to carjack you, I wouldn't approach you in broad daylight carrying a picket sign, blowing a neon pink whistle, and lugging an armload of newspapers.

But today, she's back in Iran (or even, perhaps, still in Syria). I asked Todd what he wanted to say to the Iranian government: "I'm just a man in love with this woman. I would very respectfully request that she be treated with compassion and respect, and request to have a chance to speak with my fiancée."

I am hoping and praying that the government of Iran -- or Syria if she's there -- swiftly allows my colleague to get in touch with her loved ones and for them to let her come back home as soon as possible.

Because while she's missing, she's missed -- not just by her loved ones, but by all those whose stories she needs to tell with her voice. By the end of our interview, even her fiancé seemed to have gotten more hopeful after telling me stories involving the joyful person that Dorothy is. And he had a stern warning: "She's a very private person and doesn't like her picture taken much. Her friends who're sharing her pictures everywhere will probably need to find protective custody somewhere when she's back home!"

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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