Honeymoon in Iran: From Propaganda to Paradisae

I’ll never take the pre-COVID freedom of global mobility for granted, nor will I forget how it enlightened me about the propaganda surrounding certain countries in the world. Daydreaming about contenders for ‘most treasured trip’ before the globe shut down, I asked my husband what his had been. “Iran.” he blurted at once. “That was my favorite trip, too,” I concurred. “Why Iran? one might ask.

Ancient Persia held mythical status in my mind when I was a little girl. With a library card in hand, I learned that it was the world’s first super power during the reign of Zoroastrian leader Cyrus the Great, a humanitarian who focused on leading with social justice (to say nothing of his architectural and botanical feats). I dreamed of walking through the grandiose ruins in Persepolis, and I longed to visit the gardens described in the mystic verses of Persian poets Rumi and Hafiz. Reading about twentieth-century Iranian history, I also learned that the United States and the United Kingdom had played disturbing roles in the fraught political climate that had led to the othering of Iran in the West.

When the New York Times hosted an educational tour of Iran in 2018, we had just renewed our vows. Since we had missed out on the post-nuptial ritual the first time, this would be our honeymoon. We wouldn’t be able to hold hands in public, nor could we toast our renewed union over Iran’s once-celebrated wine (most of the vines had been burned by the Ayatollah). There would be no little black dresses, either, but traveling to a country that intrigued us—coupled with the thrill of flirting with purported danger—prompted us to book the two-week sojourn.

The U.S. Department of State posted a level four warning regarding Iran: “Do not travel.” On the level four list with Iran were Somalia, Iraq, North Korea, and Syria. Draconian sanctions were to be placed on Iran by the United States government shortly after our arrival, but by then, we were all in. There was some concern that the trip would be canceled, but a small contingent of us showed up in Tehran covered in head scarves and modest dress with eager smiles. 

When we embarked on our cross-country tour of Iran with our small and friendly group, we  discovered that Iranians were the warmest and most welcoming people we had ever met. From Kermanshah (on the border with Iraq) to Isfahan, I could have left my cell phone at a coffee shop, walked off, and had several people chase after me with it. I played pick-up football games with children in town squares, to our mutual delight. We all made friends wherever we landed from the white-capped mountain rest stops to the rose-bush lined paths of Shiraz. When I asked people how they could be so nice to an American when my country had just imposed such severe sanctions that diabetic patients couldn’t even get the medications they needed, they said: “the people have nothing to do with it; it’s not your fault.”

I could have wandered the architectural wonders of Isfahan for weeks. Strolling through the Royal square, or Naqsh-et Jahan square, I kept tracing my fingers over the imbricated tiles of azure and royal blue. The sumptuous Persian blue tilework in the Lutfollah mosque had me repeating the words “elegant” and “regal,” as if I needed new words for these marvels.

Derived from the Farsi “parādaiĵah,” or walled garden enclosure, it was Cyrus the Great’s love of gardens that explains how the word paradise came to be. It was later adapted by the Ancient Greek and Latin languages, and gives English the modern word “paradise.” As we walked through the gardens of Shiraz, my husband and I feasted on pomegranates falling from the trees and freshly squeezed pomegranate juice from street vendors. “Our own Eden,” I whispered to him.

Passing by French school children on a tour of the grand ruins of Persepolis, who leaned against gargantuan columns in awe, I thought about how I would like to raise a little citizen of the world like they were becoming, rather than a petite nationalist who might never find Ancient Persia in her textbook. 

When our tour guide revealed that we were the very last New York Times group going to Iran, we were saddened for those who couldn’t be enriched by the Persian gifts we received. I savor the memory of walnut and pomegranate- roasted chicken that our hosts offered in their homes. I can see the smiles of the college students that invited me to coffee on the streets of Isfahan. I share an Instagram-based friendship with several young women I met in Isfahan and Shiraz. No one has ever made me feel more welcome in a country than Iranians did on the street, and we delved into substantive conversations about philosophy, politics, and art with mutual respect. I wish we could offer such reciprocity to Iranians who visit the U.S., if only the political climate privileged hospitality and openness. Thank you, Iran, for being such good hosts. If we had listened to the propaganda, we wouldn’t have experienced paradise. 


Reborn as Lyme-Free Michelle

I am about to celebrate my new birthday in life on the second of October, the third anniversary of my complete recovery from a disease that had nearly destroyed me. If I could go back in time and visit my former self, in despair at how decrepit I had become, I would explain that my body could be the doctor; that my body was capable of autophagy that incinerates diseased cells. In my quest to recover from late-stage Lyme disease, I had been so intent on putting substances into my body to heal that I hadn’t considered taking things out of my body would be the cure.

Three years ago, after years of protesting the phrase “get accustomed to your new normal,” I found a Siberian doctor who purportedly cured patients with serious diseases through extreme fasting methods that activate cells to burn bacteria and viruses in the body; through his methods, inflammation is eliminated.

Close to committing assisted suicide, I had nothing to lose. But this doctor’s radical treatment consisted of dry fasting—refraining from eating or drinking anything including water—for an extended period of time (that one builds up to through shorter fasts and a stringent protocol).

Although my family fretted about this treatment that may be unfathomable to most of you, I had no fear of autophagy. The science made sense to me. My body felt as if it were full of debris from the inflammation, so I was ready for what my new doctor called “natural surgery.” But the skeptics told me I would die, that I would destroy my body. They had never tested the science of cellular degradation on the human body before, whereas my doctor had perfected this treatment over thirty years.

To illustrate that my family was at rock bottom in the battle against Lyme, my Russian husband—who had stood in line as a child for bread and milk and had an innate fear of starvation— convinced the Siberian doctor to take me on as a patient. So, I went on a journey to the remote mountains of Siberia to spend two months with a wise medical doctor whose methodology was the antithesis of every specialist that had ever worked on my spirochete-ridden body.

Instead of filling me with antibiotics, he supervised me as I put absolutely nothing in my body—no food, no liquid, no pills—until my body ate my diseased cells.

I was told that dry fasting would be a battle, but Lyme had already trained me to be a warrior. Over short dry fasts, my doctor prepared me for the extended one that would eradicate Lyme once and for all. I had begun to think of it as marathon training. I was training my body to increase its endurance for dry fasting similar to how a runner trains for a marathon.

Determined, and witnessing dozens of his other patients endure nine days and nine nights without coming in contact with food or water, I persevered through the fast. What fueled me when food and water didn’t, was my gentle doctor’s words: “Dry fasting has colossal power to heal the body, and to enhance one’s natural system of immunity.”

I woke up each day and affirmed: I am stronger than these diseased cells and spirochetes. I set the intention: If this radical treatment of starving myself in Siberia works, I vow to share it with others who might be close to burning out their wicks, too.

As the days passed under the Siberian sun, I grew stronger rather than weaker, as I recount in my memoir Starving to Heal in Siberia. By the time I was told to start drinking hot spring water after the pivotal ninth night had passed, I looked radiant. By the time I left Siberia, I felt like I was shining and bouncing, and I have never looked back.

Autophagy cleared my debilitating joint pain completely (and it hasn’t returned in the three years since). The persistent chronic fatigue, sinus congestion, tinnitus, migraines, psoriasis, and candida: all gone. My chronic back pain: also gone (and it, too, has never returned). My memory and my ability to think critically returned to me, as well.

I reincarnated back into the same lifetime, but in a new body, a body and mind that allowed me to hike again, to write, to remember what I once knew, and to stay upright all through the day without any fatigue. Now I don’t even tell anyone I meet for the first time that I ever had Lyme; I shed the identity marker of being ill as part of my radical recovery.

I hope that the science of dry fasting can save fellow Lyme and autoimmune patients from the fate that was almost mine. Even though my Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins is not in the realm of the sciences, I have conducted extensive research on this subject with the help of my doctor. In my memoir, I aim to elucidate the science of dry fasting and dispel myths and misconceptions. For, I feel a moral obligation to share my remarkable experiences and pay it forward.

The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.