Monday, December 13, 2010

500 DAYS without FREEDOM

I am stunned that after 500 DAYS of fighting with ALL our might, Josh and Shane remain unjustly imprisoned in Iran. 

For 500 DAYS I have not been able to see Josh. For 500 DAYS I have not been able to speak to Josh. For 500 DAYS I have not been able to write to Josh...Not one of the letters I have written and sent has been given to him. 

So on DAY 500 I am posting this letter to Josh in the hopes that it circles the globe and reaches Josh in spirit. 

Dearest Josh, 
I am so deeply sorry for everything you are going through. When I first heard, I wanted to pull you out with my own two hands. When I couldn't do that, I put my hands to constant work to free you. My hands type on email, facebook and twitter, in letters, blog posts, and articles to free you. 

My hands make films and banners and bring people around the world together to free you. My hands hold your hand, Shane's hand, Alex's hand, your mom's hand, your dad's hand, Sarah's hand, Shane's family's hands, our students' hands, and our now mutual friends' hands in our joint fight for your freedom. We will keep fighting every moment that it takes until you are free and with us again. We feel you with us always and I hope with all my heart that you can feel us with you. 
So much love, 

Friday, December 10, 2010


For 16 months I struggled to find words to describe how it feels to have someone I love held illegally in an Iranian prison. On the eve of month 17 one word came to me, one word that captures my feelings.


I am haunted. 
I have been haunted for 497 days.

Haunted by images. 
Haunted by thoughts. 
Haunted by feelings.

Haunted by the thought of Josh held captive. 
Haunted by the image of his blindfolded eyes.
Haunted by the feeling of his stifled voice.
Haunted by the thought of Sarah, and now Shane and Josh 
feeling they lost everyone and everything they love 
without knowing when they will get it back.

Songs soothe my haunted spirit.

I need the beat to keep my heart beating when it wants to stop.
I need the lyrics to express feelings impossible to describe. 
I need the melody to sing when there are no words. 

Sarah’s song is especially soothing…because she knows the pain.
Sarah’s voice is especially powerful…because it was silenced for 410 days.

I wake up every morning singing 
When I get out of this, I'll never lock anything inside. 
Take all my friends for a walk down by the oceanside"

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Synchronicity Gives Me Strength

Yesterday I felt the weight of the continued unjust imprisonment of Josh and Shane more acutely than ever before. I was thinking about how grateful I am for having Josh in my life. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had so much precious time living with Josh. He was fully present with me, fully there for me, on so many levels, on our journey together. From being there to carry whatever I asked of him to being there to carry the weight of my emotional struggles. He lightened my load. Thinking about his presence makes his absence feel even more profound. And I wish I could lighten his load.

My greatest source of strength is the synchronicity I have continued to feel with him, and our shared IHP community, throughout our separation. The synchronicity that has now expanded to include his brother Alex, recently freed Sarah, his friend and prison-mate Shane, other former and current political prisoners, and our continuously growing community of supporters.  Despite the geographical distance between us, there are so many times when Alex senses what I feel and responds before I can even communicate in words, so many times when he feels exactly what I feel. I couldn’t get through this without him.

Nor could I get through it without the incredible family, friends and supporters of Sarah, Shane and Josh who have come together in a strong web of support that carries me through the quagmire. Then there are the former political prisoners - Eric Volz, Roxana Saberi, Laura Ling – who know just what to say and exactly when. And other current political prisoners who I feel connected with more deeply than I thought possible. As an Iranian colleague so eloquently expressed in describing Iranian people’s perspective of Sarah, Shane and Josh, “Their story is our story.”

So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by the synchronicity between Sarah, Shane and Josh and all of us. From the start of our campaign to free them, I could feel Sarah, Shane and Josh with me as I directed campaign social media and organized global action. Keeping the campaign true to them, even without being able to have their direct input, was critical to me. I worked at feeling connected to them despite not being able to communicate with them in person, by phone, by letter or online. I built our twitter support base by spending time embodying each of Sarah, Shane and Josh and following and reaching out to people and organizations I was sure they would each support if they could. Safe World for Women was a key organization I was certain Sarah would support, and I hoped they in turn would connect with and support her. They felt such a strong connection to Sarah that they have fought for her freedom and that of Shane and Josh with compassion and energy beyond my wildest dreams. Hearing that they recently spoke to Sarah directly filled my heart with the joy of a circle of synchronicity complete.  

Last week I met Sarah for the first time. I was preoccupied for days beforehand, sensing the power of meeting when our connection felt so strong throughout her imprisonment. A connection I felt because of how much we have in common in our personal and professional lives, how much I felt she was like me. And a connection borne from 14 months of fighting for her freedom, fighting for her life. Powerful is not strong enough a word to describe our meeting. She greeted me as if she knew that I would be amazed to see her in the flesh. And I was. Stunned. I had to squeeze her arms multiple times just to assure myself that she really was there right in front of me. That she really was free. After such an incredibly long, hard fight, it’s still hard to believe.  At the same time, being faced with the preciousness of Sarah’s life and spirit that we freed fills me with gratitude beyond belief and reinforces the significance and necessity of our ongoing fight for Shane and Josh.

Once I absorbed that Sarah really was there with me, we started talking and didn't stop for hours. We kept interrupting each other because the feelings we were sharing were resonating so deeply. She confirmed for me what I have been sure of all along - we have been connected despite the many barriers Iranian authorities have tried to put between us. There are so many parallels between the experiences and feelings of Sarah, Shane and Josh on the 'other side' of those seemingly insurmountable walls and ours on 'this side'. There are so many examples of us knowing what they are feeling and vice versa, so many examples of us communicating across the abyss. We are two rivers of life, with intertwined tributaries, flowing alongside each other. Our rivers will meet and converge into the crashing waves of an ocean of collective emotion when Shane and Josh are freed. 

Monday, October 18, 2010


This is a film about Josh Fattal, that I put my heart and soul into making, with the INvaluable inspiration of Josh and Alex Fattal, INvaluable help of Producer Stephanie McCabe, INvaluable footage from Yogeeta Manglani and INvaluable photos and quotes from Josh's beloved family and friends. Many of the photos and quotes are from Josh & my former students - after spending 4 months traveling the world together we are all heart broken that he continues to suffer such grave injustice. Not only did Josh do nothing wrong, but he is such a good force in our world - one that we desperately need back continuing to make it a better place. Continuing to make our lives better lives.  May this film help bring him home to us soon. We love you Josh!

Here is the official description of the film:
This is a Free the Hikers film about Josh Fattal, still unjustly detained in Iran along with Shane Bauer. No matter where Josh is, his interest in his environs combined with his kind and thoughtful nature provoke a deep sense of admiration from others. The film contains footage, photos and quotations from Josh's loved ones in an attempt to begin to capture the extraordinary person he is. It starts with letters to him from his family, his roots, and continues to share reflections from childhood and university friends. It then gives a glimpse into how much he was valued as a colleague and friend at Aprovecho Research and Education Centre. The majority of the film shares Josh's journey as the Teaching Fellow on the International Honors Program Health and Community Study Abroad Program. The intense journey took Josh to Switzerland, India, China, and South Africa from Jan-May 2009 with 33 students, 3 co-faculty, and multiple country partners. We hope that sharing this will help to speed his return to us and allow him to resume his journey. See for more information.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fragments of bridges

Geographic places
Emotional spaces
Fragments of bridges
Bringing you close to me

And then breaking
Into smaller fragments
As the days go by
With no word

From you to me
Or me to you

How to bring those
Fragments together
And bring you back whole?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dear Sarah, Shane & Josh - My Hope for You

Dear Sarah, Shane and Josh,

I think of you this morning, light a candle for each of you around my hope stone. I hold hope for your prompt release every moment of every day. I speak for you, I fight for you every moment of every day. I hope you are able to feel that energy and know that you are not alone. There are hands around the world joining together to surround you in one big circle of love. I hope you are able to feel that immense love with you always. I hope it gives you peace and comfort. I hope it brings you home to us soon. Very very soon.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

One Year Free the Hikers Reflections in TORONTO

On August 1, we held a Free the Hikers benefit concert in Toronto to mark one year of unjust detainment in Iran for 'American Hikers', Sarah, Shane and Josh. I spoke at the start of the event and share my words with you here:

"Yesterday marks one year since Josh, a precious brother to me, and his friends Sarah and Shane, now known as the 'US Hikers', were captured and detained by Iranian authorities.  Today marks one year since I felt compelled to post a photo online that I took of Josh hiking in South Africa. Tomorrow marks one year since I found out about Josh’s capture and detainment from Shannon, one of our 33 students on the International Honors Program’s Health and Community Program.  Josh and I taught together on that program, while traveling in Switzerland, India, China and South Africa with our students over a period of four months.  During that time we lived together, worked together, learned together, and most importantly laughed together.  Throughout that period Josh was by my side, supporting me practically and emotionally.  

Tuesday marks one year since I first tracked down Josh’s older brother Alex to say:

Hi Alex - I just heard about Josh and wanted to connect with you. We met in Boston just before the IHP journey - I was one of the traveling faculty on the journey and Josh is a younger brother to me. I am trying to think of anything I can do to ensure his safety - I would love to hear about anything you are doing that I can help with. I'm also contacting friends and family of mine who might have advice.
I hope you and your family are hanging in there - and that Josh is as well as possible.  Please feel free to contact me via facebook, email, phone or Skype. 

That’s how my central role in Free the Hikers campaign began. It has felt like an intense inescapable never-ending crisis from the very moment it began and Alex and I, along with family members, friends, their lawyer and supporters around the world, have put in every ounce of energy we possibly can to gain their release.  We have collected photos and testimonials from family, friends, and prominent public figures around the world. We have built websites and blogs, launched facebook, twitter, and youtube accounts. We have held vigils, benefits and solidarity hikes around the world, with growing support by the day. As I speak to you our facebook support has just surpassed the 17000 mark, with 1000 new supporters within just the past few days.  And this past weekend supporters around the world have spoken out in a strong, collective global call for the immediate release of Sarah, Shane and Josh. I have just returned from a New York City protest outside the Iranian Mission to the UN with all three moms, Josh’s brother Alex, Josh’s grandparents, numerous extended family members, numerous former students of Josh and I and many many campaign supporters, including the cars, trucks and fire engines who honked and flashed us peace signs of support as they drove by us through Manhattan.  Throughout the weekend we have been receiving photos and reports of more than 30 one year events across the US and around the world.  Duluth, LA, San Francisco, Eugene, Seattle, Vancouver, London, Paris, Delhi…and many many more.  Tonight we close our one year Weekend of Action here in Toronto with all of you. A weekend we hope is the weekend that finally brings Sarah, Shane and Josh home. 

We all know what incredible people Sarah, Shane and Josh are – they are the rare kind of people who integrate their values into their every action, every communication.  I was thrilled to hear that President Obama knows that about Sarah, Shane and Josh. On Friday he stated:

They are simply open-minded and adventurous young people who represent the best of America, and of the human spirit. They are teachers, artists, and advocates for social and environmental justice.
It is almost impossible for me to believe that despite all our support around the world, we are still here a year later fighting with all our might for their release.  I started writing Josh a letter last week “Dear Josh, things are falling into place for one year events around the world. The only thing missing is you.”  It is so difficult to describe the feeling of mobilizing people around the world for Sarah, Shane and Josh, without Sarah, Shane and Josh physically with us.  We have to keep our energy and momentum up while our hearts break a little more every moment longer they are held.

I’d like to close by reading this poem by Seitlhamo Motsapi, a South African poet, that a former student of Josh and I discovered when we were all in Cape Town.  The students were so moved by it that they all wrote it in their journals.  And now it captures for us this experience that only a poet could capture so well in words.


i look at you
& you remind me of all the mountains
i haven't seen or embraced
& since you are like every one of us
you rise out of my heart
with the craggy serenity of kilimanjaro
enduring like prophecies
peaceful like distances
since you are like all of us
eternal like every river
even when the sea claims us
for me you carry affirmations
a sprout in the parch, a mend in the rend
water from an ancient well
& since every one of us
carries the seeds of a storm within him
since the mountains come to rest
in the breast of every one of us
beginning the long journey across the desert
since the forests & the skies & the faces of children
overflow with lessons of love
for all to learn
i will always remember you
& your face that is the end of all roads
poetry will never travel
i will remember you
when i have learned the rustle of rivers
when i have learned the inconvenient gestures of compassion
when i have learned to be infinitely present
& yet invisible like the sky

Thank you to all of you for being present and compassionate tonight.

…and a special thanks to my favourite cousin Salina, my other favourite cousin Shazia, my dedicated friend and colleague Deqa, committed campaign supporters Stephanie, Jup, Gurbeen, Reena, Jess, and the many volunteers who made tonight happen." 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

DAY 330: Bowen Island Hike 'with' Josh

DAY 330: I want to be prolific and profound – whatever it takes to get the attention of those who have the power to release Sarah, Shane and Josh from Evin Prison, Iran.

I’m hiking around Killarney Lake on Bowen Island thinking about why it’s so hard for the words to flow. And I realize it’s because I don’t want to write to those who have power. I don’t want to write to the world. I want to write to Josh. Talk to Josh. See Josh…So I will.

“Josh, I keep trying to honour your request to appreciate my freedom. To notice and relish everything I sense – so that I can share it with you while you’re kept imprisoned, locked away from the world, unable to see your loved ones, feel the breeze, hear the birds, taste the rain.

It’s hard to be fully present anywhere I am when my heart is with you. But these few days on Bowen Island I try to drink everything in with all my senses. Today as I walk around the lake I listen to the breeze through the trees - ocean waves meeting the shore. I feel the fingers of the breeze stroking my hair, as I admire the ferns as far as my eye can see. The leaves on the trees reflect dark shadows into the lake merging with the emerald green lilypads. The birds sing to each other through the ocean breeze under the wispy, white clouds painting the blue sky.

The sun shines straight down form the tops of the tall tree trunks towering over me, feeling as if a divine presence is showing me the way.  The moss clings to the branches and the fallen trunks, an enchanted forest of green.  I walk the trail and am stopped in my tracks by the beauty of the sun shining on a boulder springing with ferns.  I look up into a web of latticed leaves, some shimmering in the sun and those beneath in contrasting shadow. 

My peaceful reverie is broken by some other hiker loudly exclaiming over the root structure of a tree curved like a ‘C’.  I walk past in search of a quieter space to plant my own roots.  I see a sign indicating a look out point and I take a turn to see what I can see. I wonder what beautiful sites you saw on your last hike and wish you could tell me about them. Did the falls remind you of our swim amidst the falls in Gordon’s Bay, South Africa? Or our cave boating in China? 

I imagine you sitting beside me on the wooden bench looking out over the lake and telling me all about it. I carry the hope that those vivid images and memories carry you through your many minutes, hours and days in your cell. And drown out memories of your traumatic capture.  I breathe deeply. Breathing the forest air in and breathing my pain out.  Again.

I come upon a seedling growing right out of a seemingly dead and rotten trunk. It makes me think of rebirth. Hope that rebirth is possible. Birds flying from the ferns growing from fallen trees renew my hope.

I stop and look at the path behind me and the path before me and wonder when you will be given back your freedom to continue on your path. Into your future. Why have we had to yield here? Why is there this bend in the road? A butterfly flies towards me from the bend, then flutters above into the trees.  Reminding me that transformation is possible. Sometimes necessary. I wonder how this is transforming you. And wish you could tell me.

I scrutinize the footage from your mother’s visit looking for signs. I see sadness in your eyes such as I have never seen.  I see anger as you draw your breath in at the injustice of the reporter's question, “Do you regret walking into Iran?”, when you know that you were captured in Iraq and violently forced into Iran.  Then sadness at your inability to speak out about the injustice for yourself.  The injustice of your violent capture and the ongoing injustice of your now 11 month imprisonment, without due process. I feel sadness with you as you lower your eyes, knowing you have spoken out about injustice for so many others…including me.  I hold onto the strength and peace of spirit I feel emanating from you.  The peace of the lagoon and strength of the mountains I pass as I continue on my way. 

Hot, crispy yam tempura and cool, soft avocado sushi rolls melt in my mouth and assuage my post-hike hunger pangs. They will tide me over until the light dinner of Bowen Island salad greens, BC tomatoes and cashew carrot ginger soup I pick up from the Ruddy Potato, Bowen Island’s organic food store. I carry my dinner up the trail to Artisan Square. I love a place that has trails leading me where I want to go.  The never--ending slope tests my lungs. Lungs used to the relative flatness of Ontario.  A vista overlooking the ocean against a mountain backdrop provides a welcome respite.  And Cocoa West, the Organic Chocolate CafĂ© up ahead provides an irresistible lure.  The hot chocolate is foamy, rich, chocolate goodness and the tiramisu and salted caramel chocolates heavenly perfect creations. I want to share them with you. 

I wonder about the food that you’re eating. Do you have any choice? Variety? How hard do you find it not to be able to cook for yourself, others…as you used to do for me? How hard do you find it not to be able to grow your own food or at the very least choose fresh, healthy food and herbal remedies to soothe your body, mind, heart and soul? Or does worry about your larger predicament overshadow such mundane concerns?

I want to share my Rescue Remedy with you. And the Vital Ginseng and Vit E capsules you bought me in Cape Town that I’ve been rationing for 11 months. The 11 months that you’ve been cut off from me. From everyone. I’ve needed everything I can get to help me stay strong.  My nosebleeds that started on Day 250 in Brooklyn and recur on particularly stressful markers, are telling me that my strength is limited. And I worry about how long you can wait. For the Iranian authorities to finally see that there is only one thing they can do and that is to release you and Sarah and Shane to the many, many thousands around the world waiting for that day. 

One last dip in the sizzling, bubbling hot tub overlooking the sweeping valley. The clouds that were hovering so low I couldn’t leave the comfort of my ‘Forest’ room, have lifted. I can see another whole mountain range in the distance. I can’t take my eyes off their snow-capped peaks and the glowing ‘Pink Jasper’ sky. The mountains stand strong and defiant – unmovable amidst the shifting clouds. And Pink Jasper signifies healing, justice, protection, and courage.  I send that all to you."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Too Many Bittersweet Occasions

On Sunday, while celebrating my niece Rehana's 11th birthday with our family, I told her that Josh's birthday had just passed on Friday. She furrowed her brow in pain and frustration and exclaimed, "And he can't celebrate."

We have already shared many such bittersweet occasions. Thanksgiving in October, my birthday in November, Christmas, New Year, Navroz... Occasions that should be celebrations but that don't fully feel like celebrations. Instead they're reminders of what Josh, Sarah, Shane and their families are missing. What they don't have the freedom to do. The simple freedom to be with their families and to celebrate occasions that mark the passage of our lives.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Forgotten Prisoners | A Safe World for Women

In 'The Forgotten Prisoners', made by Safe World, Chris Crowstaff interviews Sarah's mother Nora and I, within the context of the overall story of Sarah, Shane and Josh and our campaign to free them from Evin prison, Tehran, Iran.