, Newburyport, MA

November 23, 2012

‘I feel fortunate that we were able to come to this country’


---- — Much Thanksgiving lore is built around stories of newcomers like the Pilgrims, who hundred of years ago were gratified with the opportunity to settle in the “new world.”

Numerous modern-day Newburyport-area residents also left their original homelands and were themselves newcomers to this region.

They have memories of their decision to come to a different country and feelings about making a new life here.

The following area residents agreed to be interviewed about their lives in the U.S. and, during Thanksgiving week, offered their thoughts on settling in a country far away from their original homes.

All have been successful as merchants and businesspeople and have developed active family and community lives here.

NEWBURYPORT - Some families linger over the decision of whether to leave their native land but the parents of Dr. Sam Merabi had to act fast when their time came.

They were natives of Tehran in the late ‘70s, and the revolution in Iran was rapidly changing the face of the nation. Prosperous families relocated if they could.

“I was just a child, 3 or 4, but I remember it was a hard time,” said Merabi, who today is a dentist here. “Visas were hard to get, and some people we know fled (without papers).

“Our family had been doing well in Iran but when we got here, moving to a mixed neighborhood in the Philadelphia area, we struggled. As I was growing up, my parents expected me to excel and create a career with a future.”

While his parents worked and studied to learn usable skills, Sam hit the books and made due with what was offered.

“Later I learned that my parents had to be careful about money and even food,” he recalled. “If we had three apples, there would be a discussion of how to ration them.

“As a child I didn’t really know it, but we were on the edge.”

Merabi excelled in school, and went to Brandeis University in part because it had a good Middle East department. And perhaps because he grew up in an low-income neighborhood, he has always reached out to help in the community.

As a student and grad student, he worked in community centers in the Boston area. Through this work, he realized he wanted to pursue dentistry.

He recently opened Portside Family Dental at 7 Brown Square here.

“Working with youngsters, I found that a trip to the dentist would actually solve a problem,” the 36-year-old Newburport resident said. “If you deal with occupational or medical therapies, the challenges aren’t solved as quickly.”

Merabi enrolled at Tufts University Dental School in 2001 and has been pursing the profession since graduating from the four-year program.

But after dental school, he continued his education. The thoughtful medical professional earned a master’s of public health from Harvard, which gives him a broad range of expertise when it comes to wellness issues.

One of his projects for his public health study program was to create a program to improve dental health in a village in the the African country of Malawi.

But what started as a focus on better teeth has expanded to involve a project of charting water sources so villagers can drink untainted water.

“Once I got involved there, I realized that the problem was farther ‘upstream’ and that improving the water source was essential to dental health,” he said.

Though he was felled by malaria the last time he went, he said, “I plan to keep going there to improve conditions. The families who helped me while I was sick were so kind and concerned - I don’t think I can just stop that project.”

Because Iran has turned into an inflexible, almost rogue, state, the Merabis do not return to the old country.

Given the sudden fall of the middle class there, Sam says he has been fortunate to have landed in America.

“I have absolutely benefited from growing up in this country,” he said. “There were schools, social programs in the community and I remember watching PBS and getting excited by the science I saw there.

“Given the situation - where families in Iran and many others had to suddenly leave - I feel fortunate that we were able to come to this country and start new lives.”