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When he called his academic adviser, in Princeton, and the Swiss Embassy, which represents U. Three hours later, he called again, sounding happy. He was packing. He told Qu that he had been asked to leave the country immediately and that there was a man waiting downstairs to escort him to the airport.

The worst option is the one that both countries say they don’t want: a full-on war.

Wang said that he planned to call the Swiss Embassy and ask them to have someone meet him at the airport with a plane ticket. He was coming home. That was the last time Qu would hear from Wang for nearly three weeks. His language abilities and passion for his work reminded other Princeton graduate students of scholars from another time. The son of a stage designer for the Chinese Air Force performance troupe and a tailor, Wang grew up in a crowded apartment in Beijing in the nineteen-nineties. He traces his curiosity about far-away places to his grandfather, an editor of the French-language edition of a Chinese-government-owned magazine who spoke several languages, including Esperanto, despite never leaving China.

When Wang was a little boy, his grandfather would present him with a stack of old letters, all written in green ink, the color of Esperanto, and Wang would eagerly cut out the stamps for his collection. In middle school, Wang bought a Hindi textbook, because he thought the script was beautiful. After trying to study the language by himself, Wang came to an impasse: he had never heard any of its letters spoken aloud. Wang met with the translator who, for the first time, pronounced the letters he found so beautiful on the page.

At the age of nineteen, Wang ventured abroad for the first time, visiting India as an exchange student. After his mother married an American citizen, he moved to the United States. Wang met Qu in Hong Kong, in , where they were working for the same law firm. Wang was about to start a job with the International Red Cross in Afghanistan, as a Pashto translator. One of his roles was to meet with illiterate inmates in rural Afghan prisons and write letters for them to their families.

Like his grandfather, Wang had an extraordinary gift for speaking foreign languages. In , he and Qu married, and he applied to Princeton. The following year, their son was born. At first, after Wang was arrested, Qu used to stare at the Evin Prison complex on Google Earth, zooming in as close as she could on the courtyard where her husband spent an hour each day, trying to imagine his life there.

In the end, it was Iran that made his arrest public, announcing on state television, in July, , that he had been sentenced to ten years in prison on espionage charges, following a closed trial.


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When she is not working at her full-time job as a lawyer or caring for their son, Qu puzzles over how to bring her husband home. She has worked with Princeton officials, talked with experts on Iran, and lobbied members of Congress and the Trump Administration. In February, prison administrators summoned Wang to their offices. For a moment, he let himself hope he was being released. Wang had heard that such things happened quietly, with no fanfare, warning, or goodbyes. When he arrived at the office, Wang saw his suitcase—the one that had been confiscated two and a half years ago.

He took a breath and asked a guard if he was being freed.

Habib Elghanian

The guard smiled and asked Wang how many more years he had left on his prison sentence. The prison authorities were simply returning his suitcase and other belongings to him. Inside the suitcase, he saw a stack of books on the history of Iran and Farsi-language textbooks he no longer needed after more than two years of language immersion in prison. Before leaving the room, he took only one item: a photograph of his wife and son.

The port today is a sparsely populated village where most people are old, and it no longer resembles the place where I left my childhood memories. The sweet days are gone.

Revisiting My Grandfather’s Garden

Sharafkhaneh port, East Azerbaijan province Iran Construction of the road has caused the northern and southern half disconnected and has made natural and fundamental changes in the hydrodynamic and ecological characteristics of the lake region. A tire covered in salt in the coastline of Shahid Kalantari bridge. In an effort to prevent salt storms, the Urmia Lake restoration department plants trees in part of the lakebed that has completely dried up.

White-collar staff visiting the site now park their cars where once the lake was full of water.

See a Problem?

Lake Urmia East Azerbaijan Iran. Agriculture can be considered as the primary water imbalance driver in Lake Urmia basin. According to the local farmers near Lake Urmia, basin crop yields are decreasing, and this is believed to be due to soil salinization.


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  • Road to Urmia city West-Azerbaijan Iran On holidays People come to see lake Urmia around" Shahid Kalantari" highway that still has water. Construction of the highway has caused the northern and southern half disconnected and has made natural and fundamental changes in the hydrodynamic and ecological characteristics of the lake region. Urmia city West-Azerbaijan Iran Photo taken by my father shows my uncle the man standing at the end of the boat is riding on his boat with my grandfather the old man with white hair and some other people probably guests inside. Lake Urmia. A bench in the middle of the lake which is possibly carried by local people or wind from the dilapidated Ship beside it.

    Children who live in a village beside Lake Urmia play on the dried lakeshore. Urmia Lake East-Azerbaijan Iran. People came to see lake Urmia and to take a picture from a desolated ship that was surrounded by salt for kilometres. Lake Urmia is showing signs of recovery in some small parts. Good rainfall combined with the opening of Boukan dam seems to have set the lake on the path to recovery in small regions, But the lake is far from a complete recovery. Only 5 girls live in her village that none of them is in her age and she spent most of her time with her dad. The population of the village dropped one-third as the salt lake began to shrink.

    Galgachi village West-Azerbaijan Iran A tea-house in Galgachi village. The tea-house has lost nearly all its customers. Inhabitants in the village are migrating to other cities or villages. After the shrinking of the lake, the population of the village decreased from to 35 households after drying the lake. Grandmother rest on a chair in her house. My grandmother loves trees and flowers, and there are many plants and unique flowers in every corner of her home. Water crises and Urmia lake drought which increased the salinity of soil affected her gardens especially almond and grape trees , and she sold her gardens.

    She made a miniature garden in her home.

    This teahouse located on the cost of Sharafkhaneh port beside the lake used to be full of tourist and people who came to visit and swim in the lake. Now It looks old and dirty, and no one comes to buy anything, and it is only open in summer weekends now. In the guesthouse lost its prosperity, and since , it has become a quite desolated place.

    Badri family are willing to sell their property and move to Shabestar city at a distance of 60 kilometres Sharafkhane Port East Azerbaijan Iran A farmer mixes grass and salt on the shore of Lake Urmia and parts of the lake that is dried up. He dries and keeps grass for winter to give to his cows. Kalantari bridge West-Azerbaijan Iran.