Nazanin Afshin-Jam’s journey from beauty queen to activist. A tale of how one woman's persistant actions to end violence and executions of children in war-struck areas.
The first time Nazanin Afshin-Jam visited my home, I was nervous. What would the award-winning activist, intellectual and beauty queen think of my windows, which hadn’t been washed in a decade, or the dust bunnies dancing around the Asian antiques? (Between writing and being both mom and chauffeur to my two young daughters, cleaning isn’t high on my priority list.) Then Nazanin called from the Toronto airport to ask if Peter MacKay, her then boyfriend (now husband) and (ahem) Canada’s minister of national defence, could change at my house before the duo attended a black-tie fundraising dinner. My stomach churned.
This was in the fall of 2010, and at that point I had known Nazanin for about three years. We’d become close while working on The Tale of Two Nazanins (published in May by HarperCollins Canada), which weaves together the life stories of Nazanin Afshin-Jam and Nazanin Fatehi, who, in 2005, at the age of 17, was sentenced to death in Tehran for stabbing a man who had tried to rape her. With no experience in international diplomacy, Nazanin launched an unprecedented international campaign that eventually secured Fatehi’s release.
Writing Nazanin’s book has been like working with a soul sister. She knows her international relations better than anyone I’ve ever met, replies instantly to emails and manages the neat trick of looking incredibly chic while also being passionate, generous and down-to-earth. I should have known that the dust bunnies wouldn’t faze her. When she arrived, she breezed upstairs and pitched her pink suitcase containing that evening’s gown onto the bed of one of my daughters. (Nazanin is five feet nine inches tall; the bed is child-sized.) That afternoon, we dined on Indian food while my eldest daughter, Lauren, who composes her own songs, played the piano.
SPARK OF ACTION
The seeds of Nazanin’s activism were sown early. In 1980, when Nazanin was a baby, her family was forced to flee Iran after her father, Afshin, a hotel general manager, was imprisoned and nearly executed for playing music, serving alcohol and not displaying a photo of Ayatollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran, following the 1979 Iranian revolution. The family settled in Vancouver, where Nazanin’s protected childhood was punctured by occasional glimpses of her father’s back, laced with scars from his prison torture. Over the years, her father told Nazanin his story. It made an impression.
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More about this woman's courageous campaign to save a child's life, on the next page...