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Crew and passengers from more than 50 countries stuck on ship moored off San Francisco, as global infections pass 100,000 mark

Nearly half of the 46 people tested for coronavirus onboard the Grand Princess cruise ship moored off San Francisco have returned a positive result, vice president Mike Pence has said, and the fate of its more than 3,500 passengers and crew from more than 50 countries remains unclear.

Pence said 21 positive results had been recorded 19 crew members and two passengers and that those that will need to be quarantined will be quarantined. Those who will require medical help will receive it. He urged elderly Americans to consider carefully taking future cruises during the crisis.

There is little detail as to where quarantined and sick passengers will be taken. Previously, military sites have been used to quarantine holidaymakers from the Diamond Princess, moored off Yokohama. On the Grand Princess, some passengers have already complained about the handling of the situation, saying they learned of the coronavirus cases from media reports, and there are concerns for one passenger who has stage 4 cancer.

There are 2,422 guests and 1,111 crew on the vessel, with more than 140 Britons and four Australians among them.

Meanwhile, Florida reported two deaths, the first US fatalities outside the west coast. Health officials said two people in their 70s who had travelled overseas died, one in Santa Rosa County and the other near Fort Myers. The US death toll is now 16.

Globally, the virus has now killed nearly 3,500 people and infected more than 100,000 across 92 nations and territories. Italy and Iran have become the latest hotspots with sharp rises in confirmed cases, recording 4,636 and 4,747 respectively.

In China, 99 new cases were confirmed, and 29 deaths as of midnight Friday. In official data released on Saturday, Chinas exports fell 17.2%, the biggest drop since February 2019 during the trade war with the US, and imports dropped 4%.

The US government plans to take the Grand Princess to a non-commercial port where all the passengers and crew would be tested, however, President Donald Trump said on Friday he would prefer not to allow the passengers onto American soil.

I like the numbers being where they are, said Trump, who appeared to be explicitly acknowledging his political concerns about the outbreak: I dont need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasnt our fault.

Closer to the epicentre of the global outbreak, Hong Kong further sealed itself off from the outside world, with authorities advising Hongkongers against all non-essential travel abroad, and making all arrivals complete a health declaration form.

Previously, the measure, which will come into force from Sunday, was required only for mainland Chinese passengers. The city has reported 106 cases and two deaths in the past six weeks, according to its health officials.

In Australia, authorities are working to trace about 70 patients of a doctor who continued to see patients despite falling ill with coronavirus-like symptoms. He fell ill in the US during a flight from Denver to San Francisco on 27 February before flying back to Melbourne and working throughout the following week. He was later confirmed to have the virus and Toorak clinic, where he works, has since been closed.

Victorias health minister, Jenny Mikakos, said: I have to say I am flabbergasted that a doctor that has flu-like symptoms has presented to work, Mikakos said.

A Revolutionary Guard member disinfects a truck to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in the city of Sanandaj, western Iran. Photograph: Keyvan Firouzei/AP

Equally astonished were police in Sydney, who appealed for calm after a brawl broke out between three women in a supermarket over toilet paper amid continued panic buying. We just ask that people dont panic like this when they go out shopping, said acting inspector Andrew New from New South Wales police. There is no need for it. It isnt the Thunderdome, it isnt Mad Max, we dont need to do that.

There is no need for people to go out and panic buy at supermarkets, paracetamol and canned food or toilet paper.

In the meantime, passengers aboard the Grand Princess remained holed up in their rooms as they awaited word about the fate of the ship. Some said ship officials only informed them of the confirmed coronavirus cases after they first learned about it from news reports.

Passenger Kari Kolstoe, a retiree from North Dakota has stage-4 cancer and is particularly concerned. Kolstoe, 60, said she and her husband, Paul, 61, had looked forward to the cruise to Hawaii as a brief, badly needed respite from the grind of medical intervention she has endured for the past 18 months.

Karie Kolstoe has stage 4 cancer. Photograph: Kari Kolstoe/Reuters

Now facing the prospect of a two-week quarantine far from home in Grand Forks, she worried their getaway cruise will end up causing a fateful delay in her next round of chemotherapy, scheduled to begin early next week.

Its very unsettling, she said in a telephpone interview from the ship on Friday. Its still a worry that Im going to not get back.

Besides the implications for cancer treatment is the fear of falling ill from exposure to a respiratory virus especially dangerous to older people with chronic health conditions and suppressed immunity. Im very at risk for this, said Kolstoe, whose rare form of neuroendocrine cancer has spread throughout her body. Me staying on here for a lot of reasons isnt good.

Steven Smith and his wife, Michele, of Paradise, California, went on the cruise to celebrate their wedding anniversary. They said they were a bit worried but felt safe in their room, which they had left just once since Thursday to video chat with their children. Crew members wearing masks and gloves delivered trays with their food in covered plates and left them outside their door.

To pass the time they have been watching television, reading and looking out the window, they said. Thank God, we have a window! Steven said.

An epidemiologist who studies the spread of virus particles said the recirculated air from a cruise ships ventilation system, plus the close quarters and communal settings, made passengers and crew vulnerable to infectious diseases. Theyre not designed as quarantine facilities, to put it mildly, said Don Milton of the University of Maryland. Youre going to amplify the infection by keeping people on the boat.

Another Princess ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus. Ultimately, about 700 of the 3,700 people aboard became infected in what experts pronounced a public-health failure, with the vessel essentially becoming a floating germ factory.

In the US, officials in Austin cancelled this years SXSW festival, a major tech and music conference, amid coronavirus concerns. SXSW, which draws 400,000 visitors, was scheduled for 13 to 22 March.

Austins mayor, Steve Adler, said: Ive gone ahead and declared a local disaster in the city and associated with that, have issued an order that effectively cancels SXSW.

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Musician dubbed the Persian Bono fled Iran at age 22 and built a genre-blending career in Los Angeles

At age 22, Andy Madadian fled Iran with nothing, moved to Los Angeles and started playing guitar at nightclubs to pay rent.

Now 63, the internationally celebrated pop singer says hes ready for another new beginning: Madadian is getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the first Iranian artist to earn the honor.

Many people may wonder: would you have a new beginning after 14 albums? Madadian said days before the ceremony unveiling his groundbreaking star. But to me its new because a lot of Americans are just discovering me and my music. Im hoping this Hollywood star will open some doors. We have a lot of great Iranian artists here in LA, and the western world has not discovered them yet.

Sometimes nicknamed the Persian Bono or Persian Elvis, the Iranian-Armenian American artist is being honored on the Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk on Friday, after two tumultuous weeks of escalating conflict between Tehran, where he was raised, and the US, the country he has called home for decades.

Its a very difficult position to be in as an Iranian American artist, because whatever I produce is for my people my American people, my Iranian people, my Armenian people, he said on a recent afternoon, seated inside a bakery in Encino in the San Fernando Valley, not far from his home. Unfortunately, all of them are in some kind of a clash.

Madadian grew up 7,000 miles away in Irans capital, in a neighborhood home to many Armenians. Born in 1956, he shared a single room with his parents, grandmother and five siblings, and for much of his early childhood, the family didnt have any electricity or running water. But we had love and music, he recalled.

He excelled in math in school and some expected him to go into economics, but he always knew he would be a musician. His dad, who worked in road construction, helped him take out a loan to buy a guitar from a neighbor when he was 14 years old, and Madadian quickly started playing gigs with other singers to pay off the debt.

While others around him were interested in Iranian music, Madadian took a liking to British and American rock, falling in love with Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart, Kansas and Chicago. I was much more rebellious, he said. Ray Charles was his vocal idol. A CBS recording branch in Iran discovered him when he was about 22 and helped him record a song he wrote in English, with plans to pitch him as an Iranian Rod Stewart given his similar raspy voice.

Enthralled with American-style music, Madadian knew he wanted to move to the US. But when he finally came to America, it wasnt just to pursue his dreams. When the revolution broke out in 1979, many were forced to flee, and Madadian lost contact with the producers who had recorded the single. (Maybe its better it didnt come out, because my English was not good.)

He got a student visa to play soccer for California State University, Los Angeles, and started playing guitar at nightclubs when he was not in school. He took the bus everywhere and invested whatever cash he saved in his instruments and paying for music lessons: To me, that was success.

He later formed a duo with another Persian singer, Kouros Shahmiri, and the two released several albums before Madadian went solo. Madadian eventually began working with the LA-based Iranian lyricist Paksima Zakipour, and in Persian markets, they became known as the Elton John and Bernie Taupin of the Iranian industry.

Over the years, Madadian has fused styles of his Iranian-Armenian heritage with western dance music, Spanish flamenco guitar, African rhythms and more. He has long attracted audiences overseas but also got mainstream US attention in 2009 when he collaborated with Jon Bon Jovi to record a Stand By Me cover in English and Farsi to show solidarity with protesters in Iran.

Bon Jovi learned the Farsi lyrics in a day, and Iranian fans thought he sang with a cute accent, Madadian said. This is a New Jersey kid singing Farsi for the first time.

Joe Jackson, Michael Jacksons father, introduced Madadian to his daughter La Toya Jackson and the two recorded a song in Farsi called Tehran in 2016. The song, like much of Madadians work, was hugely popular in Iran, though all of his music is officially banned by the Iranian government. Bootlegged versions of his music have spread across the country, but he doesnt make any money off of album sales there.

Because of the ban on his work, Madadian hasnt been back to Iran in the 41 years since he left. While some Iranian pop stars are exiled, Madadian hasnt tried to return and doesnt know what would happen if he did.

We have a lot of great Iranian artists here in LA, and the western world has not discovered them yet, Madadian said. Photograph: Courtesy Andy Madadian

Its the country I grew up in and I love beautiful people, beautiful place, beautiful culture, he said. I would like to go back when its a free democratic country, and my music is not banned but is on the radio and TV. One of my biggest wishes is that one day Iran and America will be good friends where we can visit and play in both countries, and live in both countries.

A vegetarian whose charity work focuses on animal rights, Madadian said he stays away from political activism. But he noted that that the devastating deaths from the Tehran plane crash caused by an accidental military strike were weighing heavy on him as he prepared to celebrate his Hollywood star and the triumph it represented for Iranian Americans.

Madadian will receive his star alongside a number of world-famous American musicians joining this year, including Elvis Costello, Billy Idol, Alicia Keys, 50 Cent and Muddy Waters.

The honor is a full circle moment for the artist, who remembered his first gigs in LA 40 years ago, which he would promote by posting flyers along lampposts on Hollywood Boulevard.

Ive lived most of my life in Los Angeles, so I am truly an Iranian-Armenian American and can say this is an American dream, he said, adding, The majority of Iranian artists live in LA. This is our Hollywood, also.

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(CNN)There was no grand-prize winner in last night’s Mega Millions drawing. The jackpot’s now at $418 million.Here’s what else you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out the Door. (You can also get “5 Things You Need to Know Today” delivered to your inbox daily. Sign up here.)

The North and South are talking again, on a hotline they hadn’t used for two years. The North Koreans made the call this morning (on Kim Jong Un’s orders), talking with their South Korean counterparts for about 20 minutes. We don’t know what they said, but it’s a welcome sign and a big diplomatic breakthrough that could jump-start more talks in the future.
Meanwhile, President Trump communicated with Kim the old-fashioned way — via Twitter. After Kim warned the US that “the nuclear button is always” on his desk, Trump boasted he has one, too, and that it’s “much bigger & more powerful.” Well, of course. CNN’s Jake Tapper was kind enough to remind us (once again) that none of this is normal, just in case we’d forgotten.

      Trump: My nuclear button is bigger than Kim’s

    2. Politics

    With Orrin Hatch calling it quits in the Senate, don’t be surprised if Mitt Romney makes a run at the seat. The former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee hasn’t said if he’s running, but his Twitter account just happened to be updated the same day to note that he calls Utah home. Coincidence? Romney in the Senate would be quite interesting, since he’s become one of the most prominent so-called “never Trumpers” on the political right. And it’s beginning to look a lot like 2012 in these early days of 2018, with other prominent 2012 GOP presidential rivals — former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Rep. Michele Bachmann — both said to be mulling jumping into the race to permanently replace Democrat Sen. Al Franken in Minnesota.

      Sen. Hatch retirement opens door for Romney

    3. Iran protests

    A new set of demonstrators hit the streets in Iran — pro-government counter-protesters. These protesters waved Iranian flags and held signs voicing support for the government and its rulers. This comes after a week of anti-government demonstrations across the country, sparked by economic concerns and overall dissatisfaction with the government. These latest demonstrations are not a total surprise, since counter-protests are a common reaction to dissent against the government there. More than 20 people have died in the demonstrations, and more than 450 people have been arrested.

      Pro-government protests to take Iran streets

    4. Joshua Boyle

    Joshua Boyle, the Canadian who spent five years in captivity with his family in Afghanistan, has been arrested. Boyle faces 15 charges, including assault, sexual assault and unlawful confinement. All the charges are connected to incidents which allegedly happened after Boyle and his family returned to Canada in October. Boyle and his American wife, Caitlan Coleman, were kidnapped in Afghanistan by terrorists in 2012. Coleman was pregnant, and the couple had two more children during their five years in captivity. The family was freed in a mission carried out by Pakistani forces based on intelligence from US authorities.

      Mom recounts raising kids in Taliban captivity

    5. Weather

    Oh yeah, this winter weather mess is about to get a whole lot worse. Already, there have been 11 cold-related deaths, and much of the nation is now due to stay in the deep freeze through the weekend. Now, the East Coast will have to deal with what meteorologists are calling a “winter hurricane” (it’s technical name is even scarier: “bombogenesis.”) It’ll bring hurricane-force winds and snow. Great. It’ll start in Florida, of all places, where residents of places like Tallahassee — which hasn’t seen measurable snow in almost 30 years — could get as much as an inch of snow and ice today. Coastal Georgia and the Carolinas will get some snow, too, before the storm plows up to the Northeast.

      Winter storm warnings issued in Florida


    The number of security barriers going up in high-profile locations in New York to help ward off terror attacks

      Vehicles as weapons: A disturbing trend

    $1.6 billion
    That’s the value of damages sought in a lawsuit that a music publishing company has filed against streaming giant Spotify.

      Tom Petty’s most memorable songs


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    If scaling Mount Everest is on your bucket list, you probably won’t be doing it alone. Nepal has banned foreigners from making solo climbs of its mountains.

      Conquering Everest without supplemental oxygen

    Pay you in what?
    What is ripple? Redd Foxx’s favorite drink? (Kids, Google “Sanford and Son.”) No, it’s yet another crypotcurrency, like bitcoin.
    Only in California
    The post-boxing life of Mike Tyson has included a (tiny) acting career and questionable face tattoos. Now, he’s plans to live life as a marijuana farmer.
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    Weight Watchers’ pockets just might get fatter if its deal with DJ Khaled pays off the way its deal with Oprah did.

      5 stunning stats about Weight Watchers


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    Singer Carrie Underwood, saying she received more than 40 stitches to her face after she was injured in a fall in November

      Carrie Underwood needed 40 stitches after fall


    One-man band
    Who needs a band when you have a synthesizer? This Swedish musician uses every bit of his keyboard during his cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” (Click to view.)

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    The long read: As a child in Iran, Dina Nayeri belonged to a secret Christian church where the Rapture was welcomed as a rescue. Later, as a refugee in the US, she saw how apocalyptic prophecies masked a reactionary nihilism which is why they are so tempting

    When I was a girl in 1980s Isfahan, secret meetings of an underground Protestant church were part of my after-school routine. I would go from standing in a line of schoolgirls in hijabs, half-heartedly chanting the slogans of Irans Islamic Republic on the school blacktop, to singing hymns in a basement full of men and bareheaded women, all desperately believing in imminent rescue.

    After the Iranian revolution in 1979, Christian converts like my mother and her friends persisted in a constant state of danger. At any moment they could be rounded up by the Shia revolutionary guard for apostasy, held for months without charge, perhaps taken to Tehrans notorious Evin prison to be tortured burned, beaten, cut, sexually exploited, starved of food and sleep then executed by firing squad or suffocated in a town square, a crane lifting them slowly as they hung by the neck. One beloved preacher in Tehran was shot in the street.

    Every few days, we would listen entranced as our happy, bearded pastor (a man who used to perform backyard baptisms in an inflatable tub decorated with cartoon fish) spoke of the new life we would soon have, of happy futures lived openly in communion and worship. But these promises werent about the end of the brutal theocratic regime of Ayatollah Khomeini, or of the ongoing war with Iraq. We werent getting smuggled out of our country, either. This was about the Rapture, the worldwide disappearance of believers that would trigger Christs second coming, as promised in the biblical Book of Revelation.

    Though the word rapture never appears in the Bible, the concept has gripped Christians for centuries. It has spawned novels and movies, books interpreting modern events and thousands upon thousands of feverish pulpit speeches. Some have even tried to predict the date using complicated numerology, counting the days since the crucifixion and so on. In Isfahan, our interpretation of the Rapture, the one shared by most evangelicals across the world, was this: as the end of the world nears, floods, wars and famines will plague the Earth. The righteous will be persecuted as the rest of humanity descends into sin, making normal what was once shameful. Then, one day, as everyone else goes about their wicked business, all true Christians will be snatched up to heaven.

    When Saddam Hussein bombed our city, or a political dissident disappeared into Evin, or rumour of more deaths and tortures reached us, our pastor told us to take heart we were living through the last pangs of a glorious birth. Our congregation whispered about the signs of the end, how it all fit so well into end-times prophecy. We talked of rescue, and the heady notion that we might avoid death altogether, though it was always nearby. In that way, we made terrifying news tolerable tortures and arrests werent so bad when compared with the fate of the un-raptured on Earth.

    A poster for A Thief in the Night, a 1972 film about the Rapture. Photograph: Mark IV Pictures

    The first time I heard about the Rapture, it sounded near and exciting. In Iran, many young people (Christians included) watched smuggled foreign films. That was probably how I first saw a movie called A Thief in the Night, a 1970s cult classic about three women, college friends, each of whom represents one of the paths set out in Revelation. One is saved and raptured; another refuses to believe and takes the mark of the antichrist, dooming her soul; and the third believes too late and must suffer through the tribulation, which ends when she is guillotined with her eyes prised open, facing the sky and the blade.

    It was the scariest movie I had ever seen, my worst fear being left behind to suffer hell realised on screen. Every scene was made to crawl deep into the deep places of your memory and set up shop there. I can still see the boy with a red balloon being escorted to the guillotine, camera lingering behind the prison window, then the balloon floating to the sky. The creepy theme song haunts my nightmares to this day.

    And yet, we believers repeated the Rapture story again and again, taking from it a perverse hope that these gruesome images represented the world we were leaving behind. Even amid the troubled times in which we actually lived the taped-up windows and bomb shelters, the brothers and cousins called to war then lost, small boys led into fields to set off mines, the Bahais and Christians who were maimed, forced to recite recantations, then killed anyway none of it was comparable to being guillotined face up. The anticipation of rapture, our secret otherworldly plan, comforted us every time the morality police burst in to question our pastor, every time the lights went out and bomb sirens screamed in the middle of our prayers.

    Over the years Ive thought hard about what we must have felt then, what we needed to survive psychologically, socially and spiritually. We went about our routines in a daze, working and studying, collecting ration stamps, cooking, making music, always waiting for the next big shock. Though some late converts among us were haunted by having marched in the 1979 revolution, we protected our hope in humanity with the belief that the mess of Iran was not our mess. Those driven underground arent responsible for what happens above: we were exiles in our own country.

    In the 30 years since, Ive witnessed a different kind of rapturous thinking, in post-revolutionary Iran, in gulf war America, in the Netherlands of Geert Wilders, Brexit Britain and Donald Trumps sinister new reality show, a place where Nazis preen and murder and are rewarded with winks and wrist-slaps from the president. In every country, there are those who retreat from a mess that they feel isnt their own. Often they are outsiders or vulnerable groups on the fringes of society (Christians in Iran, immigrants in small-town England and Holland).

    Rapturous longings start with the powerless and spread outward like a virus: despair leads to denial and fantasy, to an attitude of Ill just wait this out. In response to a dark new reality, the weary go underground, retreating into homes, hiding behind screens, using stories as a salve and an opiate. They become watchful, delirious, stunned and effectively paralysed as they wait, refugees in their own land. They eat cake, go to sleep, and hope to wake up in a better reality.

    In 1987, my mother, brother and I escaped Iran. Our departure was quick and unexpected and I didnt have a chance to say many goodbyes. For two years, we lived in refugee hostels in the United Arab Emirates and Italy, with Iran out of reach and the future unimaginable, and we waited. Then, in 1989, we were offered asylum in Edmond, Oklahoma, a peaceful middle-class suburb of Oklahoma City. Soon, the first gulf war began, and though I didnt live in the middle of the conflict this time, I was just as afraid as I had been in Iran. Images of Baghdad burning on CNN; journalists giving unfiltered accounts from hotel rooms while American networks waxed patriotic; the familiar enemy, Saddam Hussein these things triggered wartime memories and reminded me that we still lived in the same violent world where children could lose an arm on their way to school and leafy streets could be flattened in an hour.

    Like me, my Oklahoma neighbours fretted, obsessing over rolling tanks parting the desert, cruise missiles lighting up the sky, piles of rubble and poor, dirty babies. They behaved as if war was already at their doorstep. Some bought gas masks. I did not remember this kind of anxiety in Iran, a place where we worshipped underground, where falling mortar interrupted our meals and revolutionary guards slept a few doors away.

    In my intimate hilltop church, discussions took on a frantic, impatient new tone. We live in end times! our congregation often said, instead of the end is near. Now the Rapture wasnt just on the horizon; it was a daily possibility. Though I was young, I was surprised to hear the language of the refugee in their mouths: We are exiles on Earth, they said, as if to deny involvement. Were citizens of heaven. This casual disavowal was like a pantomime of displacement, containing nothing of the reluctance of the true refugee, the sorrow of being forced to leave home. Were leaving soon! they said happily.

    Over time, something else needled at me: here, the Rapture talk wasnt so much about finding escape from frightening politics, as it had been in Iran. Here, the talk was a way of engaging with politics. The most ardent in the church carried out a side-by-side exegesis of newspapers and scripture with a certain thrill, as if fitting a puzzle piece into place. This habit often led to a rejection of any programme or policy that would contradict the end-times narrative. There was no need to slow climate change, protect against scarcity or pursue global peace because wars, famines and natural disasters are foretold and therefore unavoidable.

    If statistics showed that violence had declined in the US, they would say: Oh, but thats only per capita! Overall its up, just as the Bible predicts. If a politician seemed too skilled, too smooth, too sympathetic to liberals, he was always a candidate for antichrist the anticipated ruler of a godless, post-Rapture earth. King Juan Carlos of Spain was a candidate, as JFK and even Reagan had been. In casual conversation, people counted the signs, growing breathless as the list grew: the gulf war, Hurricane Andrew, the Kobe earthquake, monsoons in Pakistan, torrential floods in China, tornadoes in Oklahoma, blizzards in Boston. They spoke of the decline of family values and the natural way of life: abortion, gay soldiers demanding to live openly, the young rejecting marriage in order to live in sin all indicators of the tribulation to come.

    A sign at a 2005 demonstration against the Iraq war. Photograph: Alamy

    Its easier to focus on what we can see than to try to imagine an unknown future. Though we yearned for otherworldly love and beauty, and to be removed from an ugly world, we were soon lost in a voyeuristic fascination with its fate. I began to notice that all the anticipation was focused on what would happen to the Earth, to the unbelieving hoards left behind, and not on what awaited the righteous in heaven. Perhaps, too, it was a contempt for the unbelieving, who lived as if they had every option. Our rapturous longings had morphed from rescue to reckoning, our image of the future from a better Earth to a scorched one.

    Now and then I saw the Rapture depicted on television, in books, and in conversation: piles of loose clothing dotting streets, cars crashing into each other, empty prams, wandering animals dragging unmanned leashes, unbelievers (including atheists, people of every other religion, and Christians in name only) left behind to gnash their teeth, regretting their pleasures, their ambition and their false gods. Every pastor quoted from Matthew 24: Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.

    As I grew older, I began to fear that I would be left behind. Privately I loved all the worldly things we were supposed to reject. I couldnt get my head around creationism and prophecy and ancient norms dictating modern life. I wanted to go to Harvard. I wanted to stomp grapes in a vineyard and swim with exotic fish and have sex with more than one person. I wanted the world to continue existing so I could conquer it.

    But I was afraid of losing my mother to the Rapture in the same way that I had almost lost her in Iran when she was arrested again and again. Every time I came home to an empty house, I took out the church directory and sat by the phone, ready to start dialling. If my mother failed to arrive after 30 minutes, I would turn on the television and search for news. I would look outside for wayward cats and dogs, the empty prams, the discarded clothes. Then I would begin dialling starting not with the pastor, whom I found sinister, but with one of the grandmothers, someone kind and pious I believed would be raptured. I always hoped to hear a baby in the background the cry of a baby (an innocent who would be raptured) always halted a tumble into my nightmares of divine judgment, all that inexplicable famine and disease and drought. Calculus and physics books helped, too, as did the rose bushes and milkweed in our yard. Perhaps these things reminded me of the resilience of the Earth, its age and complicated logic, and all that anchors us to physical, verifiable truths.

    Or maybe, secretly, I longed to remain. I had already been snatched away from one home. I kept thinking: I hope it doesnt happen till after college, till after Ive had children and fallen in love and become someone great. I liked the idea of this world, the notion of studying and having a skill and a livelihood, building a family and a house. I didnt want release; I wanted to take root.

    In my mid-20s, after years of grapplingwith my identity as a refugee and my place in the world, I stopped believing in the Rapture. By then I had embraced all the secular, corporeal things I had secretly desired: a rigorous education, travel, great food, the admission that I do believe in science and that the Bible is at most a metaphor to me. I watched that old movie, A Thief in the Night, on my laptop and was fumed at the heavy-handed messages that had colonised my adolescent brain. The Christian characters benefit from the goodwill and love of their secular friends, then dismiss human love as insufficient. Ever blase, their lives never progress; they only wait. This was the detail in the movie that struck me most as an adult: the two primary Christian characters dont have jobs or romances. They live in the next life.

    This fetishisation of waiting was the final straw. Because here is something that only refugees (and people newly in love) can tell you: there is no painful business quite like waiting. Roland Barthes calls it subjection. For me, waiting for the Rapture and for political asylum felt much the same: the constant anticipation of a new start, of vanishing, of having already smelled the tiny yellow roses that draped our garden walls or tasted my grandmothers celery stew for the final time. Being a refugee is dismantling home, setting out into the desert and becoming stateless in pursuit of a better life. Refugees are seekers of a sort of Rapture, and, in leaving their known world for something unimaginably good beyond, they enact a small apocalypse.

    When I said this to my mother recently, she balked. Though she believes in the Rapture it is her living hope and has suffered long bouts as a refugee, she doesnt like the comparison. I didnt choose to leave my home, she said. Being a refugee is being homeless, not having hope. In those years I lived in constant numbness, because while youre waiting, there is nothing. No way back and no way forward. With the Rapture, going back isnt an option, but whats ahead is beautiful.

    The Last Judgment by Hans Memling (c1467). Photograph: Alamy

    The Rapture story offers a known future that you dont have to build yourself. It happens in an instant: before youre done with one life, youre whisked into another. And that is everything skipping that in-between space, the country of purgatory where the refugee lingers. If youve ever been a refugee, my mother says, you know how much that matters.

    Shes right: I do know that. I understand now that eschatological promises provide closure, the end of mankinds story on Earth, at once terrible and necessary. They are designed to assuage a universal fear: the fate of the refugee. To set off as an asylum seeker is to endure a carousel of embassy visits and interviews and application papers without any idea of what comes next. Its life without a heaven or hell, just recurring cycles that lead nowhere. Refugees live out the ancient themes of purgatory and banishment literally, and that not the guillotines blade or the antichrist or oblivion is the ultimate nightmare: life without closure, forever in limbo.

    But I also know that being rescued from the nightmare of waiting is not only the refugees greatest desire, but also her greatest dread, because then home is no longer home and shes no longer who she once was; she is transformed. Maybe thats why I was so much more afraid in Oklahoma than in Isfahan by then, I had tasted that transformation. I knew what it was like to be taken away, never to smell the yellow roses or taste the celery stew again.

    For believers, the end has always been imminent.In the Christian world, every century seems to bring a new wave of calculations. On 1 January 1000, Pope Sylvester II predicted a millennial apocalypse. Two centuries later, Pope Innocent III predicted that the end would arrive 666 years after the birth of Islam. The Black Death brought rapture fever, as did every comet. Cotton Mather, the influential American preacher, had three guesses between 1697 and 1736. As for this century, a 2010 Pew Research Center study found that nearly half of American Christians not just evangelicals believe Christ will return in their lifetime.

    A few weeks ago I found the Facebook page of a popular preacher in Montana, who asked his 17,000 followers to consider, Is the Antichrist here? The tone and language of the responses gave me chills. Many were excited, frothing, ready with all that they knew about the Beast of Revelation: he would be Jewish, he would be a charismatic politician on the rise, someone capable and hopeful, bringing peace to the Middle East. He would be represented by the number 666.

    Though spotting the antichrist is common among believers, the new candidate surprised me: Jared Kushner, Donald Trumps son-in-law. Blogs and forums advancing this theory count the evidence: he purchased 666 Fifth Avenue for more than anyone had ever paid for an office building. He is Jewish. He is handsome, and under all that eerie silence could be charisma. He has money and the ear of the president and dead eyes. He has done business with George Soros (atheist, liberal) and is friends with Netanyahu. Trump proclaimed that Kushner could bring peace to the Middle East. Was this not enough proof?

    Behind the many websites and social media posts claiming that Kushner is the antichrist, I see a common bafflement: many conservative Christians realise now that Trump has lied to them, that his loyalty is to the wealthy, and that he has no understanding of macroeconomics, foreign policy, diplomacy or the Bible. But wasnt the Republican party supposed to be on their side the side of the ordinary middle-class Christian? Didnt pastors lay hands on Trump, blessing him and his administration? How can the faithful have been manipulated, if not for a mighty evil at work? Such trickery doesnt come from cheap conmen.

    Donald Trump and Jared Kushner. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

    This is, of course, cause for excitement. The arrival of the antichrist means that the faithful are closer to their deliverance. And he wont be their devil. He will only harm the unbelieving.

    After I gave up my own apocalyptic obsessions, I began to notice evidence of rapturous thinking elsewhere and not only among evangelical Christians. Sometimes I saw the signs in those wishing for a return to the past: the elderly, social conservatives. The more the rest of society seemed to reject their identity, the more they craved a reckoning, something decisive and game-changing to stop the creep into the unfamiliar.

    I suspect that no eschatological thinker of any faith has ever said: We have another hundred years to go. Every war is the most terrible. Every natural disaster the most epic. Every generation thinks the world is ending.

    And for the oldest among us, it is true their world is ending. Social, economic and technological change has engulfed them so slowly that they didnt even notice it happening. Suddenly home looks like a foreign place. Its messy and threatening, and, as the underground Christians in Iran believed, its not their mess.

    At one time or another we all stop recognising the landscape around us. It feels like a long con: to build a way of life, a legacy, only to have the next generation reject it. It seems apocalyptic: the end of goodness, of comfort, of peace. And what is to be done when it seems that history has no direction but the grave? All you can hope for is a sudden removal from the narrative, a sharp left turn, a deus ex machina. What you desire most is a violent disruption.

    Eight in 10 white, born-again Christians voted for Trump. In Britain, 60% of voters over 65 opted for Brexit. Should this have come as a surprise? Despite Trumps many affectations toward Christian faith, it didnt matter if he was Gods man. Because here was the chance to do something to reject the present to usher in something rapturous and revolutionary.

    But revolution without a stake in the future is apocalyptic, and revolution for the sake of the past is anathema to life because progress is the business of the young. In Iran, that same attempt to stop time, as much as the executions and the bombs, filled our days under the Islamic Republic with an aura of death.

    But I suspect that, consciously or not, end-times believers crave apocalypse. They want a leader who will return them to the past, or barring that, hurry it along to its end. Someone who will fulfil a narrative in which they play a role. To my ears, their impatient groans are a prayer for the fall of civilisation.

    The universe must be explainable, and God must be in control of its fate. Otherwise, all is chaos; then every good deed becomes inconsequential, history is just a series of events leading nowhere, leaders can only do so much and this latest, too, is just another rich man who has come for their dreams.

    A few weeks ago, a youth pastorfrom my Oklahoma days told me a story about a discussion he led with a group of teenagers. He asked his students: If it was conclusive that cellphones were killing honeybees, would you stop using them? Most said no. I think the scientists will figure it out, said one student, but really, who cares if there are honeybees? This world is coming to an end anyway. Well all be raptured.

    The late Christopher Hitchens called this attitude a contempt for all things of this world an acceptable form of nihilism. All religion has to hope for the end of days, he said. When youre tied to other people, youre tied to needs and frailties and messy long-term puzzles, like the fate of honeybees. But the Rapture is about unfastening, being citizens of heaven and breaking with all thats difficult and risky about life among humans. Is there a more attractive notion than to be spirited away and freed of responsibility? The fate of the Earth may be unknowable, or catastrophic you dont have to care.

    But I want to care. Like everyone else, I still crave knowing whats next. But I no longer comb through scripture. I read climate change reports. I read tweets threatening nuclear war. Its tempting to dig for signs of worse to come. But Im not aching for removal.

    Being un-raptured is simply the condition of being alive on this planet. It means being responsible for a piece of it, being a citizen. For a while, I believed in a utopia, a heaven that would replace this imperfect universe. Then, as the years passed, so did my fears and I saw that I had already lived out this story, waiting with my bags for the call of the rescuer. What lay beyond was not a sudden and permanent release. It was years of aimlessness and more waiting. Then, after that, there was rebuilding, responsibility, ownership, creating the home I wanted.

    My limbo is over now I wont imagine myself into another. I want to be responsible for a place, and to care about its outcome. For years, the cry of babies soothed my apocalyptic fears and brought me back to a worldview that I was still decades from articulating: that I live now. That the Earth is old; that I, and my children, belong to it; and that it must continue beyond me.

    Children tie us to a world that wont soon end. Its alarming to think that this flawed Earth is all we can give them, and how much weve already wrecked their home because we thought someone would whisk us away. I cant throw my hands up. I have a daughter who will outlive me. Yes, we live in ugly times. Often Im tempted by superlatives. Its never been this bad. This is the most corrupt, the most absurd. Sometimes waiting for something better is agony. What can be done? Cities and customs transform, becoming unrecognisable and strange. The rich eat our dreams. Honeybees fall dead. Again and again, we long for a new age of rapturous joy, of peace.

    When I speak to believers about the future, they always talk about how unreliable the physical world seems, how overwhelming its problems. They talk of how everything of value can be taken in a second. Dont put your hope in the things of this Earth, they say.

    But the yearning to escape is selfish and callous. It is removing yourself from the long story that gave you your life taking a match to the book just because your chapter will one day end. I believe in this world, and in our ability to withstand these dark days. Im not getting raptured. Im not going anywhere until Ive wrung out my mind, until Ive solved whatever small mysteries Im here to solve and its time to go into the ground.

    Main illustration by Lee Martin/Guardian Design

    Dina Nayeris second novel, Refuge, was published in July

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    Dina Nayeri was just a child when she fled Iran as an asylum seeker. But as she settled into life in the US and then Europe, she became suspicious of the idea that refugees should shed their old identities and be eternally thankful

    A few weeks ago I dusted off my expired Iranian passport photo, an unsmiling eight-year-old version of me stunned, angry, wearing tight grey hijab and staring far beyond the camera. Its not the face of a child on the verge of rescue, though I would soon escape Iran. I have kept that old photograph hidden since the day I threw away my last headscarf, and now its the bewildered face and parted lips, not the scarf, that capture my interest. No matter how hard I try, I cant reconcile this child with the frazzled American writer in my recent pictures.

    In 1985, when I was six years old, my family left our home in Isfahan for several months to live in London. The move was temporary, a half-hearted stab at emigration; nonetheless, I was enrolled in school. In Iran I had only attended nursery, never school, and I spoke only Farsi.

    At first, the children were welcoming, teaching me English words using toys and pictures, but within days the atmosphere around me had changed. Years later, I figured that this must have been how long it took them to tell their parents about the Iranian kid. After that, a group of boys met me in the yard each morning and, pretending to play, pummelled me in the stomach. They followed me in the playground and shouted gibberish, laughing at my dumbfounded looks. A few weeks later, two older boys pushed my hand into a doorjamb and slammed it shut on my little finger, severing it at the first segment. I was rushed to the hospital, carrying a piece of my finger in a paper napkin. The segment was successfully reattached.

    I never went back to that school, but later, in the chatter of the grownups from my grandmothers church and even in my parents soothing whispers, I heard a steady refrain about gratefulness. God had protected me and so I shouldnt look at the event in a negative light. It was my moment to shine! Besides, who could tell what had motivated those boys? Maybe they were just playing, trying to include me though I didnt speak a word of their language. Wasnt that a good thing?

    Eventually we returned to Iran. I was put under a headscarf and sent to an Islamic girls school.

    No matter how hard I try, I cant reconcile this child with my recent pictures Dina Nayeri, then aged six, in her passport photo

    Three years later, my mother, brother and I left Iran for real, this time after my mother had been dragged to jail for converting to Christianity, after the moral police had interrogated her three times and threatened her with execution. We became asylum seekers, spending two years in refugee hostels in Dubai and Rome. By that time I had lived my first eight years in the belly of wartime Iran for most of the 80s, the Iran-Iraq war wrecked our country and trapped us in a state of almost constant fear. I had grown accustomed to the bomb sirens, the panicked dashes down to the basement, the taped-up windows. So the time that followed, the years in refugee hostels, felt peaceful, a reprieve from all the noise. My mother urged me to thank God in my prayers.

    When I was 10, we were accepted by the United States and sent to Oklahoma, just as the first gulf war began. By the time of our arrival in the American south, the nail on my pinkie had grown back, my hair was long, and I was (according to my mother) pretty and funny and smart. The first thing I heard from my classmates, however, was a strange ching-chongese intended to mock my accent. I remember being confused, not at their cruelty, but at their choice of insult. A dash of racism I had expected but I wasnt Chinese; were these children wholly ignorant to the shape of the world outside America? If you want to mock me, I wanted to say, dig down to the guttural khs and ghs, produce some phlegm, make a camel joke; dont ching-chong at me, you mouth-breather. (See? I had learned their native insults well enough.)

    Of course, I didnt say that. And I didnt respond when they started in on the cat-eating and the foot-binding. I took these stories home and my mother and I laughed over chickpea cookies and cardamom tea fragrant foods they might have mocked if only they knew. By then it was clear to me that these kids had met one foreigner before, and that unfortunate person hailed from south-east Asia.

    I neednt have worried, though; the geographically correct jokes were coming. Like the boys in London, these kids soon spoke to their parents, and within weeks, they had their turban jockeys and their camel-fuckers loaded and ready to go. Meanwhile, I was battling with my teacher over a papier-mache topographical map of the US, a frustrating task that was strangely central to her concerns about my American assimilation. When I tried to explain to her that only a few months before I had lived with refugees outside Rome, and that most of the social studies work baffled me, she looked at me sleepily and said: Awww, sweetie, you must be so grateful to be here.

    Grateful. There was that word again. Here I began to notice the pattern. This word had already come up a lot in my childhood, but in her mouth it lost its goodness. It hinted and threatened. Afraid for my future, I decided that everyone was right: if I failed to stir up in myself enough gratefulness, or if I failed to properly display it, I would lose all that I had gained, this western freedom, the promise of secular schools and uncensored books.

    The children were merciless in their teasing, and soon I developed a tic in my neck. Other odd behaviours followed. Each time something bad happened, I would repeat a private mantra, the formula I believed was the reason for my luck so far, and my ticket to a second escape maybe even a life I would actually enjoy. I said it again and again in my head, and sometimes accidentally aloud:

    Im lucky. Im grateful. Im the smartest in my class.

    Im lucky. Im grateful. Im the smartest in my class.

    That last sentiment (which I did a poor job of hiding) didnt go over too well. What right did I, a silly Iranian, have to think I was better than anyone?

    Still, my mother suffered more. In Iran, she had been a doctor. Now she worked in a pharmaceuticals factory, where her bosses and co-workers daily questioned her intelligence, though they had a quarter of her education. The accent was enough. If she took too long to articulate a thought, they stopped listening and wrote her off as unintelligent. They sped up their speech and, when she asked them to slow down, they sighed and rolled their eyes. If someone messed up a formula, she was the sole target for blame.

    The hate did eventually wane; some would say that thats the natural cycle of things. We assimilated. No longer dark strangers from war-torn lands, at some point we stopped frightening them. We went to work, to school, to church. We grew familiar, safe, no longer the outsiders.

    I dont believe in that explanation. What actually happened was that we learned what they wanted, the hidden switch to make them stop simmering. After all, these Americans had never thought we were terrorists or Islamic fundamentalists or violent criminals. From the start, they knew we were a Christian family that had escaped those very horrors. And they, as a Protestant community, had accepted us, rescued us. But there were unspoken conditions to our acceptance, and that was the secret we were meant to glean on our own: we had to be grateful. The hate wasnt about being darker, or from elsewhere. It was about being those things and daring to be unaware of it. As refugees, we owed them our previous identity. We had to lay it at their door like an offering, and gleefully deny it to earn our place in this new country. There would be no straddling. No third culture here.

    Nayeris family having a picnic in Iran in 1976

    That was the key to being embraced by the population of our town, a community that openly took credit for the fact that we were still alive, but wanted to know nothing of our past. Month after month, my mother was asked to give her testimony in churches and womens groups, at schools and even at dinners. I remember sensing the moment when all conversation would stop and she would be asked to repeat our escape story. The problem, of course, was that they wanted our salvation story as a talisman, no more. No one ever asked what our house in Iran looked like, what fruits we grew in our yard, what books we read, what music we loved and what it felt like now not to understand any of the songs on the radio. No one asked if we missed our cousins or grandparents or best friends. No one asked what we did in summers or if we had any photos of the Caspian Sea. Men treat women horribly there, dont they? the women would ask. Somehow it didnt feel OK to tell them about my funny dad with his pockets full of sour cherries, or my grandpa who removed his false teeth when he told ghost stories.

    Such memories, of course, would imply the unthinkable: that Iran was as beautiful, as fun, as energising and romantic, as Oklahoma or Montana or New York.

    From then on, we sensed the ongoing expectation that we would shed our old skin, give up our former identities every quirk and desire that made us us and that we would imply at every opportunity that America was better, that we were so lucky, so humbled to be here. My mother continued giving testimonials in churches. She wore her cross with as much spirit as she had done in Islamic Iran. She baked American cakes and replaced the rosewater in her pastries with vanilla. I did much worse: over years, I let myself believe it. I lost my accent. I lost my hobbies and memories. I forgot my childhood songs.

    In 1994, when I was 15, we became American citizens. I was relieved, overjoyed and genuinely grateful. We attended a citizenship ceremony on the football field of a local college campus. It was the Fourth of July and dozens of other new citizens would be sworn in with us. It was a bittersweet day, the stadium filled with cheering locals, a line of men, women and children winding around and around the field towards a microphone at the end zone, where each of us would be named and sworn in. I remember staring in wonder at the others in line: I didnt realise there were this many other brown and yellow people in Oklahoma. Yes, there were a handful of black people, a few Jews here or there. But this many Indians? This many Sri Lankans and Pakistanis and Chinese and Bangladeshis and Iranians and Afghans? Where had they been hiding? (Not that I had looked.)

    Halfway through the ceremony, an Indian man, around 80 years old, was led to the microphone, where he introduced himself and swore allegiance to the United States. When he was finished, he raised his fists and thrashed the sky. I AM AMERICAN! he shouted into the microphone. FINALLY, I AM AMERICAN! The crowd erupted, joining his celebration. As he stepped away, he wobbled and collapsed from the effort, but someone caught him. He turned back and smiled to the crowd to show he was OK, that this fit of joy hadnt killed him, then walked away.

    Thats my favourite day as an American, my first one, still unsurpassed. No one was putting on a face that day. No one felt obliged or humbled, imagining their truer home. That old man was heaving with love. The people in the stands were roaring with it. Its a complicated memory for me now. I refuse to deny the simple and vast beauty of it, though I know they cheered not the old man himself, but his spasm of gratitude, an avowal of transformation into someone new, into them.

    Years passed. I became as American as a girl can be, moved far away, grew into my mind and body and surrounded myself with progressive, educated friends. The bad feelings disappeared. I started to love the western world and thought of myself a necessary part of it. I moved around with ease, safely flashing my American passport, smiling brightly when customs officers squinted at my place of birth. It didnt matter: I was no longer an asylum seeker. I had long ago been accepted. I had a stellar education. My confidence showed (and maybe it helped that I had caramel highlights in my hair). Again and again I was welcomed home at JFK with a polite nod or a smile.

    Other immigrants have written about this moment: the welcome home at JFK, its power on the psyche after long flights. For me, as soon as those words leave the officers mouth, my confidence is replaced by a gush of gratitude. Thank you! I say breathlessly. Thank you for saying its my home. Thank you for letting me in again. In that instant before my passport is returned to me, Im the old man punching the air.

    When I was 30, I had another citizenship ceremony. This one wasnt the sleepless obsession that the American one had been. It was simply that I had married a French citizen, he had applied on my behalf, and, having passed the language and culture tests by a whisker, I became a Frenchwoman of sorts. I travelled a lot in those days and so I decided to have my fingerprints taken (the last step in the paperwork) on a stopover in New York. The police officer whose job it was to oversee the process asked why a nice girl like me needed fingerprints. I told him, to which he replied: Couldnt you find an American man?

    Though I hadnt given it much thought back then, I said: American men dont like me. He gave me a puzzled look, so I added, The American men I know never try to impress you or not me, at least. They think I should feel lucky to have them.

    He gave a weary sigh. No man likes to work for it.

    Some men work for it, I said, trying to sound defiant.

    He laughed and bashed my fingers into the ink.

    My second citizenship ceremony was held at the French embassy in Amsterdam (my then home) beside families from Lebanon, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco and a number of sub-Saharan countries. The image that stays with me is of families singing the French national anthem, the Marseillaise. The awe in their faces as they sang that song, every word practised, moved me. Even the small children straightened their shoulders and sang from memory. I had made a stab at memorising the words, but mostly I read off a sheet. I was proud, but they were experiencing something else: a transformation, a rebirth. They were singing their way into a joyous new life. I took a moment to think of that old Indian man from years before, to do an imaginary fist-pump in his honour.

    Ive been moving back and forth between New York and Europe pretty much my entire adult life. When I lived in Amsterdam, even highly educated people openly complained of too many Moroccans and Turks in certain neighbourhoods. Geert Wilders, the head of the far-right Party for Freedom, had warned that the country would soon become Nether-Arabia.

    In Amsterdam, I got to know Iranian refugees who didnt have my kind of luck with their asylum applications. One man in our community set himself on fire in Dam Square in 2011. He had lived in Amsterdam for a decade, following their rules, filling out their papers, learning their culture, his head always down. He did all that was asked of him and, in the end, he was driven to erase his own face, his skin.

    Remembering Kambiz Roustayi, a man who only wanted a visa, his family and his own corner of the world, I want to lash out at every comfortable native who thinks that his kind dont do enough. You dont know what grateful is, I want to say. You havent seen a young man burn up from despair, or an old man faint on a football field from relief and joy, or a nine-year-old boy sing the entire Marseillaise from memory. You dont know how much life has already been spent settling into the cracks of your walls. Sometimes all thats left of value in an exiles life is his identity. Please stop asking people to rub out their face as tribute.

    With the rise of nativist sentiment in Europe and America, Ive seen a troubling change in the way people make the case for refugees. Even those on the left talk about how immigrants make America great. They point to photographs of happy refugees turned good citizens, listing their contributions, as if that is the price of existing in the same country, on the same earth. Friends often use me as an example. They say in posts or conversations: Look at Dina. She lived as a refugee and look how much stuff shes done. As if thats proof that letting in refugees has a good, healthy return on investment.

    But isnt glorifying the refugees who thrive according to western standards just another way to endorse this same gratitude politics? Isnt it akin to holding up the most acquiescent as examples of what a refugee should be, instead of offering each person the same options that are granted to the native-born citizen? Is the life of the happy mediocrity a privilege reserved for those who never stray from home?

    This semester, Im teaching an American literature course at a private international school in London. My students have come with their families from all over the world and have empathy and insight, but for the most part, they have lived privileged lives. For the last semester, Ive forced them to read nothing but outsider fiction. Stories by immigrants and people of colour. Stories about poverty. Stories about being made to sit on the periphery. Most are loving it, but some are frustrated. Ive already learned the race stuff, one said, after our third story with a protagonist of colour. More than one parent advised me thatBharati Mukherjeeand James Baldwin are not important when these kids have yet to read classic writers such as Harper Lee (because how could they develop their literary taste if they hadnt first grounded themselves in the point of view of the impossibly saintly white family?).

    Even among empathetic, worldly students, Im finding a grain of this same kind of expectation: the refugee must make good. If, in one of our stories, an immigrant kills himself (Bernard Malamuds The Refugee), they say that he wasted his opportunity, that another displaced person would have given anything for a shot at America. Theyre right about that, but does that mean that Malamuds refugee isnt entitled to his private tragedies? Is he not entitled to crave death? Must he first pay off his debt to his hosts and to the universe?

    Despite a lifetime spent striving to fulfil my own potential, of trying to prove that the west is better for having known me, I cannot accept this way of thinking, this separation of the worthy exile from the unworthy. Civilised people dont ask for resumes when answering calls from the edge of a grave. It shouldnt matter what I did after I cleaned myself off and threw away the last of my asylum-seeking clothes. My accomplishments should belong only to me. There should be no question of earning my place, of showing that I was a good bet. My family and I were once humans in danger, and we knocked on the doors of every embassy we came across: the UK, America, Australia, Italy. America answered and so, decades later, I still feel a need to bow down to airport immigration officers simply for saying Welcome home.

    I became as American as a girl can be. I started to love the western world and thought of myself a necessary part of it Dina Nayeri

    But what America did was a basic human obligation. It is the obligation of every person born in a safer room to open the door when someone in danger knocks. It is your duty to answer us, even if we dont give you sugary success stories. Even if we remain a bunch of ordinary Iranians, sometimes bitter or confused. Even if the country gets overcrowded and you have to give up your luxuries, and we set up ugly little lives around the corner, marring your view. If we need a lot of help and local services, if your taxes rise and your street begins to look and feel strange and everything smells like turmeric and tamarind paste, and your favourite shop is replaced by a halal butcher, your schoolyard chatter becoming ching-chongese and phlegmy khs and ghs, and even if, after all that, we dont spend the rest of our days in grateful ecstasy, atoning for our need.

    In 2015, I moved to England again, a place I no longer associated with the permanently numb tip of my little finger, or the strange half-sensation of typing the letter a on a keyboard. I became a mother in a London hospital. Now I have a little girl who already looks Iranian. The first major event of her life was Brexit. The second was Trumps election. At 5am on Brexit morning, as I was feeding her, the memory of my pinkie returned. We had just learned of the referendum results. On Facebook, every former immigrant I knew released a collective shudder all of them recalling their first days in England or America or Holland. They began sharing their stories. What I remembered was that boy who pushed my finger into the hinge of a door. That other boy who slammed the door shut. Theyre adults now. Most likely, theyve lived lives much like their parents, the ones who taught them to hate me in 1985. Most likely they believe the same things. England doesnt want us, I thought. It doesnt want my daughter. It doesnt want me.

    Nowadays, I often look at the white line through my pinkie nail, and I think I finally understand why gratefulness matters so much. The people who clarified it for me were my students, with their fresh eyes and stunning expectations, their harsh, idealistic standards that every person should strive and prove their worth, their eagerness to make sense of the world. They saw right through to the heart of the uneasy native.

    During our discussion of Flannery OConnors A Displaced Person, the class began unpacking Mrs Shortleys hatred of Mr Guizac, the Polish refugee whose obvious talents on the farm would soon lead to her mediocre husbands dismissal as a farmhand. Shes seen the images from the Holocaust, the piles of bodies in Europe, said one student. So if one of those bodies in the pile can escape death and come to America and upend her life, then how much is she worth?

    I was stunned silent (a rare thing for me). By the time I formulated my next question the conversation had moved on, and so I presented the question to my next class. Would anything be any different, then, if Mr Guizac had been grateful to Mrs Shortley for making room for him?

    Around the table every head shook. No. Of course not. Nothing would change. Mrs Shortley wants to be above him, to be benevolent, to have control, said one insightful student. Once the guy starts doing better on his own, control goes, no matter how grateful he acts.

    The refugee has to be less capable than the native, needier; he must stay in his place. Thats the only way gratitude will be accepted. Once he escapes control, he confirms his identity as the devil. All day I wondered, has this been true in my own experience? If so, then why all the reverence for the refugees who succeed against the odds, the heartwarming success stories? And thats precisely it one can go around in this circle forever, because it contains no internal logic. Youre not enough until youre too much. Youre lazy until youre a greedy interloper.

    In many of the classes Ive taught, my quietest kids have been Middle Eastern. Im always surprised by this, since the literature I choose should resonate most with them, since Im an Iranian teacher, their ally, since the civilised world yearns for their voices now. Still, they bristle at headlines about the refugee crisis that I flash on the screen, hang their heads, and look relieved when the class is finished. Their silence makes me angry, but I understand why they dont want to commit to any point of view. Who knows what their universe looks like outside my classroom, what sentiments theyre expected to display in order to be on the inside.

    Still, I want to show those kids whose very limbs apologise for the space they occupy, and my own daughter, who has yet to feel any shame or remorse, that a grateful face isnt the one they should assume at times like these. Instead they should tune their voices and polish their stories, because the world is duller without them even more so if they arrived as refugees. Because a persons life is never a bad investment, and so there are no creditors at the door, no debt to repay. Now theres just the rest of life, the stories left to create, all the messy, greedy, ordinary days that are theirs to squander.

    Main photograph by Anna Leader

    Dina Nayeris new novel, Refuge, will be published by Riverhead Books in July

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    Parks exclusively for women are popping up in Iranian cities, but critics are divided over whether this is just another ploy to keep them hidden in public

    I love to take off my headscarf, says Laleh, 47, a hairdresser from Tehran. Shes sitting with a group of friends around one of the many picnic tables in the Mothers Paradise, a park in the Iranian capital. Shes wearing a fringed mint-green T-shirt through which you can see her bare stomach. We can wear airy clothes here, and thats a freedom I really enjoy.

    Behind her, a group of women wearing T-shirts and skinny jeans are dancing to loud pop music. One of them climbs on top of a table and sways her hips to the rhythm of the music. A group of schoolgirls wearing white headscarves stop to watch.

    We hate the headscarf, says one of Lalehs friends, a retired nurse. We are so happy to be able to go to a place where we can walk around uncovered, do sports and sunbathe.

    In the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran, women must abide by a strict dress code: a headscarf, long trousers and a coat that covers the hips. Those who flout the rules risk the wrath of the morality police.

    But here at Mothers Paradise park, the women who have hung their headscarves and coats on the branches of trees nearby arent breaking any rules: this is one of Tehrans women-only parks, a popular new development across the country.

    The Mothers Paradise was the first to open in the capital, in 2008. Three subsequently materialised in other neighbourhoods and then spread to other cities. In the popular tourist city of Isfahan, for example, there are now five.

    While women-only parks also exist in other Islamic countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia to offer women recreational spots safe from sexual harassment, in Iran they have at least ostensibly also been set up for health reasons.

    Iranian women exercise together in a central Tehran park. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

    Reza Arjmand, a sociologist at the University of Lund, Sweden, who recently published a book about the parks, says Vitamin D deficiency is a problem in Iranian cities, where women are forced to cover themselves in public and often live in apartments with small windows that dont admit much sunlight. A study in 2001 for the ministry of health revealed an alarming growth in the number of women developing osteoporosis, which Arjmand says inspired the authorities to start building the parks.

    Traditionally it wasnt considered decent for Persian women to walk around in parks, Arjmand says. And after the Islamic revolution of 1979 the government deemed parks for women unnecessary. But when it turned out that the next generation runs medical risks because their mothers are unhealthy, the authorities became interested.

    According to Arjmand, the parks also offer the authorities a great chance to take segregation of women and men to another level and for this reason many Iranian women are fiercely critical of them.

    These parks are an insult and I will never go there. I refuse to be secluded in a reservation, says Roya, a feminist writer who asked for her name to be changed. If you put women in separate parks, men and women will never learn how to interact in a normal way. This can lead to dangerous situations.

    Criticism has also come from conservative Iranians. The pro-government sociologist Ali Entezahi has stated that parks where headscarves can be removed will only cause confusion among women, because they might start doubting the necessity of covering themselves up in public at all times.

    At the Mothers Paradise, women eat lunch in pavilions, some train on outdoor fitness equipment, others buy soft drinks at a kiosks or are busy with their children. There are girls in miniskirts and shorts, but some women prefer to keep their coats and scarves on. A large metal fence shuts out the outside world. Female guards in blue uniforms with white gloves and a whistle keep a keen eye on everything. It is strictly forbidden to take photographs.

    And on closer inspection, the parks are not as woman-friendly as their name suggests. Though there are a few playgrounds for children, there are no changing facilities for babies, and boys above the age of five are not allowed to enter. According to Arjmand, it was initially announced that women would be involved in the development of the spaces, but in the end they were designed solely by men. We have many great female architects and urban planners in Iran, but they havent even been asked for their opinion.

    Finding suitable locations for the parks has also been problematic, because of the risk that men could see in from a window or a balcony from a neighbouring building. As a result, many of the green spaces are situated in suburban areas, which make them difficult to reach for many women. Some are also required to close early, to prevent a confrontation between unveiled women and male gardeners who come to water the plants meaning working women are unable to use them.

    It is a strange paradox: Iran is building parks for women but doesnt seem to have considered the qualities that would make them uniquely attractive to them.

    Nevertheless, Arjmand does see a positive side to the development. No matter how you look at it: a group of women will benefit from these parks. For women from religious families this is often the only possibility to spend time outside without a headscarf.

    Its true that these parks isolate women, but it also offers a group of them a freedom they formerly did not possess.

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    Order has immediate chilling effect on Iranian community, as some worry about family and friends who have green cards and visas who are marooned in Iran

    The sun still shined on Westwood Boulevard, the thrumming commercial heart of the biggest Iranian community outside Iran.

    Families lunched on chicken kabob at Flame, Shaherzad and other restaurants. Students browsed titles in Farsi bookstores. Music lovers flicked through CDs of Ebrahim Ebi Hamedi, the king of Persian pop.

    Just another Saturday in Tehrangeles, a portmanteau of Tehran and Los Angeles coined by exiles and their descendants also known as Little Persia, a term so well established Google Maps recognises it.

    The apparent normality deceived. In hushed and bewildered tones, people wondered whether they still recognised the United States, the adopted homeland that had welcomed and sheltered them but now labelled them potential terrorists.

    It is totally unjust. This will affect thousands and thousands of families that are completely innocent, said Siamak, a 56-year-old physician who fled Iran after the ayatollahs took over in 1979. We ourselves are victims of terrorism. Now we are branded terrorists?

    The news was still sinking in: Donald Trump had signed an executive order halting arrivals from Iran and six other Muslim-majority countries as part of his extreme vetting to keep out terrorists.

    The order, named the Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, imposes a a 90-day block on entry from citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.

    Irans foreign affairs ministry said it will take legal, political and reciprocal measures.

    Overnight, many of the up to 500,000 Iranians and Iranian Americans who live in southern California felt as though the US border had clanged shut. If they leave, they may not be able to return. Those who are currently outside the US even those with green cards and visas are marooned.

    My friend is visiting relatives in Tehran and now hes stuck, said a young bookseller, who like most interviewees did not want her name published. Hes got a job here, a mortgage, car payments. What will happen to him?

    The question hung over every family with noncitizen relatives abroad. Its ridiculous, said Sam, a restaurant manager. Weve felt good here. California is very open-minded. But now this. His voice trailed off.

    The director Ashgar Farhadi, who won an Oscar in 2012 for his film A Separation, and is nominated again for The Salesman, may not be able to attend next months ceremony, an absence which would fuel Hollywoods animus towards the Trump administration. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called the prospect extremely troubling.

    One middle-aged woman, loading groceries into a Porsche, quivered with indignation. Iranians are not murderers. Iranians are not terrorists. Americans should know that. She said sanity would return. Trump is not going to last so long. Theyll impeach him.

    Trump had promised a crackdown during the campaign but the executive order still came as a shock. Californias Iranians, who often prefer the term Persian to distance themselves from Irans current leadership, form a thriving community with roots stretching back decades. Some arrived as students in the 1960s, followed by waves of exiles after the 1979 revolution.

    Muslims tended to settle in Orange Country and the San Fernando valley, Jews in Westwood and Beverly Hills.

    Anecdotal evidence suggests many Jewish Iranians voted for Trump because he strongly backed Israel and bashed Tehrans rulers. Some are unrepentant.

    Yes, Trump! said one 70-year-old man who gave his name only as Kevin. He will stop the terrorists. You know when you leave your house, you lock the door, right? Hes doing right.

    Asked whether a blanket ban on Iranian citizens was a good idea, Kevin hesitated. All, maybe not. But you have to lock your house.

    Hassan Ali, a 29-year-old engineer from Pakistan who was buying pepper in Tehran Market, said targeting Muslims or any other religion was un-American. This country is supposed to be a melting pot.

    The executive order seemed to have a chilling, immediate effect. Of 16 people of Iranian heritage interviewed at random in west LA, not one was willing to have their full name published.

    Holly Dagres, a Middle East commentator, discovered the same reluctance among her contacts. Iranians are scared to share.

    The community in Tehrangles learned to keep its head down during the hostile atmosphere engendered by the 1979 hostage crisis. Embracing the term Persian evoking carpets, cats and antiquity was a way to avoid connotations of terrorism and fanaticism.

    But that linguistic sidestep did not deflect Trump, said Siamak, the physician. He has branded us. The stereotype is back. I fear things will get worse and worse.

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