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Teaching perseverance

By MICHAEL PETERSON Argus-Press Staff Writer Email this story | Print this story Thursday, March 26, 2009 10:47 AM EDT

Argus-Press Photo by Anthony Cepak Author Betty Mahmoody talks about writing and about her experiences trying to flee Iran during a lecture at Leonard Elementary School Wednesday. Mahmoody is the author of "Not Without My Daughter" which was made into a major motion picture staring Sally Field. OVID - For Alma-born Betty Mahmoody, a 1984 trip to Iran to visit her husband's family was only supposed to last two weeks, but she and her daughter were subsequently forced to stay nearly two years before they could escape. Her book "Not Without My Daughter," recalling the events, was published in 1987. A film version starring Sally Field was released in 1991. She travels around the country giving talks and she has told her story to many television interviewers, including Oprah Winfrey, Larry King and Barbara Walters. On Wednesday she shared her story with students and community members at Leonard Elementary School. Principal Ryan Cunningham said he sought Mahmoody out because March is the official reading month and he thought it would be a good opportunity for students to meet an accomplished author from the area. "I couldn't put the book down," Cunningham said. "She came through and persevered. It was very powerful for that message to be given to our kids today." In 1984, Mahmoody and Mahtob, her then 4-year-old daughter, went on vacation with her husband to his home country of Iran. They arrived in Tehran in August, and she said she was instantly hit with culture shock, as well as fear due to of Iran's conflict with Iraq. "By the time the two weeks were over, I was sure ready to leave," Mahmoody said. "The evening before that scheduled departure, I couldn't wait to get packed." But things did not go as planned. "My husband put his arm around me and said, `I don't know how to tell you this, but we are not going home. You are in Iran until you die. You are in my country and you will obey my rules,'" she said. "In

retrospect, if I had accepted those words I probably wouldn't have been beaten at that point." Mahmoody described her husband's family as her and her daughter's "guards," making sure she did not try to escape. She also quickly discovered that she was considered an Iranian citizen because of her marriage - which meant she needed her husband's written permission to leave the country. "By virtue of that marriage, I had dual nationality," she said. "Once I was in that country, they do not recognize dual nationality, so I had to abide by the rules of the Iranian government." Eventually, after 18 months she and her daughter were able to escape to Turkey with the help of an Iranian shopkeeper who Mahmoody met by chance on the streets. There they found refuge at the American embassy. But the most amazing part of it all, Mahmoody said, was the courage of her young daughter - who is now 29. "She really is a strong-willed individual," Mahmoody said. "I don't know where she gets it." During school hours she gave lectures to Kindergarten through sixth-grade students. A community presentation was held at 6 p.m. during which she shared more the events of her personal story. Mahmoody emphasized what happened to her and her daughter could have happened in many countries, and that not all Iranians are like her husband. "(My husband) could have been your next door neighbor," Mahmoody said. "You cannot label all abusers as Iranians, and you can't label all Iranians as abusers." Cunningham, who is also is Ovid-Elsie's girls basketball coach, said he wanted to get a speaker who would be a good role model for young females. "Whether we like it or not, in a couple of months or in a couple of years they will be going off into the real world," he said. "There are a lot of life lessons that they need to know about." Mahmoody also published her second book, "For Love of a Child," in 1994, which is a collection of other parents' stories similar to hers. Six copies of her novels were given away in a drawing after the lecture. Judy Bengal, an Ovid resident who won a copy of the book, said she had only previously seen the movie, but was very inspired by the story. "I thought it was wonderful that she came here to talk," Bengal said. "I saw the movie and it really moved me how she persevered through all the trials."

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