Meet Shari Yamini: She made her decision to leave Iran after the ayatollahs took over
Accents: The voices of our immigrant neighbors in the Berkshires
Shari Yamini’s choice was war or marriage.
She had finished her medical studies and wanted to practice medicine. But for a woman in Iran after the ayatollahs took power that meant either the frontlines in the war with Iraq or finding a husband.
“I didn’t know which one was better,” Dr. Yamini says and bursts out laughing.
So she made a different choice altogether. She left Iran for the United States, arriving on May 28, 1982. Ten years later she moved to the Berkshires. She is a child psychiatrist and lives in Stockbridge.
Shari is short for Shahrzad. Shahrzad is Scheherazade, the beguiling story teller of “One Thousand and One (Arabian) Nights.”
“My father was very fond of that story and he decided that he should name me after her,” Yamini says.
Her father Reza was a philosopher and a judge. She describes the very fragrant Persian jasmine flowers he loved to grow in the garden of their house in Tehran. But she did not inherit his love of gardening, she says.
“He planted a love of reading in me. I am an avid reader, I just read nonstop and I leave the gardening to my husband Benjamin.”
Yamini grew up in an earlier Iran, the Shah’s Iran, “very European with great encouragement towards modernization in education and lifestyle,” she says.
“And not highly religious. We had one hour of religious studies a week.”
She is Muslim, but speaks with and acknowledges a degree of bitterness about the changes that the 1979 Islamic Revolution brought to her country.
“When Khomeini came, it was really hard,” she says. “Everyone that I knew had a hard time adapting to the demand of covering our hair. I found that demand such an insult to my integrity.”
She wasn’t allowed to work because of that war-or-wed requirement. So her Johns Hopkins University trained surgery professor encouraged her to take her talents to America. She left in 1981 and got promptly rejected for entry by the American Embassy in London.
“It was right after the hostage crisis,” she says. “Iranians were not treated nicely, to say the least.”
It took lawyers and time to get the initial rejection overturned.
She lived in New York while studying for the exams she needed to pass to be able to work as a physician here. Financial transactions between the two hostile countries were also pretty much impossible so her parents couldn’t send her money. To support herself as a student she worked in a shoe store “for $2.45 an hour,” a bakery and a Fifth Avenue boutique.
A medical residency in Ohio and a Fellowship at Children’s Hospital in Boston followed. She met her husband Benjamin Northrup in Boston and they had their first child there, Yasmin. A demanding medical directorship in Boston was also her last stop before ending up in Stockbridge (where their second daughter, Mina, was born).
“My work [in Boston] was heavy, I hardly saw my 5-month-old daughter and one day I came home and went to pick her up and she pulled back,” she says. “That was it! I called my father-in-law [Dr. Gordon Northrup], who was also a child psychiatrist and he lived in the Berkshires and he said, ‘Why don’t you come here? I’m planning to retire.’”
Now 61, Dr. Yamini has lived in the U.S. longer than in the country of her birth. Her unmistakable dislike for the Iranian government has just as plainly not diminished her love for Iran. She proudly serves Persian pistachio nuts she brought back from a recent visit, their shells a golden color much richer than the bleached looking shells of many of the pistachios available in our stores.
“I learned a long time ago that people don’t make the government,” she says about the still hostile relationship between Iran and America. “I’m just hoping that someday it will no longer be the government that dictates the relationship.”
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