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Using our platform to reach and amplify voices by being EPOXI and LGBTQ, AA plus folks is at the core of the Moth's Mission. These stories are vital in helping to build empathy across racial and social lines during this pivotal moment in our history. Please consider supporting the moth with a donation today. Your gift will sustain them all through the covid-19 pandemic so we can continue to share even more of these stories with the world to give simply text.


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This is the Moth Radio Hour, I'm Jay Allison, producer of this radio show, and this time we're bringing you a storytelling event recorded live at the beautiful Wilbur Theatre in Boston and presented in partnership with public radio station WGBH.


The theme of the evening was Twist of Fate. And your host is author and storyteller Tara Clancy, Boston are.


You're good. All right, all right. Well, I was going to come up here and say that they, you know, they brought me in because I'm like, you know, local flavor.


But the truth is in New York, because my accent is now so rarified, people always ask me, like more than once, if I'm from Boston, they'll ask me why of the first few times I'm like, no, no, no, no.


And finally, I was just like, yeah, I am. I am from Wellington. It's very fancy. I grew up in a big house, you know, a lot of money.


No, I am from Queens. All right. So the question tonight was, tell us what the last time you were surprised, what was your last big surprise? When I asked our first story teller that question, she said today when she picked out a pastry thinking that it was Berry, but instead it was beet.


Yuck. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Sophia Stefanovic.


Last year, on top of my relationship with my boyfriend, Michael, I found myself in another relationship with a woman called Cindy and it was based on deception and guilt and it left me feeling like crap.


So I first met Cindy on the Internet via my spam folder. She was single. She was a hairstylist. She was from Senegal. She was obviously a scammer. Now, I already knew something about scammers because I had written for a TV show a couple of years back and I researched them. So I knew that romance scammers approach lonely hearts online and they start a relationship with them and they eventually fleece them of their money.


And I had even become friends with a romance scam victim, an 80 year old guy called Bill, who had been left heartbroken and bankrupt by his scam.


And just before I moved from Australia to the US, I celebrated Bill's birthday with him and I was the only guest. And we spoke, as we usually did about his scam.


And he said something that really stuck with me. He said that the whole time he was being scammed, he sort of knew in the back of his head that he was being scammed, but he kept sending money because he couldn't bear for it to end.


And I found that fascinating, how someone's you know, like I'd always thought that scam victims were pretty gullible people and that they were a bit stupid. But Bill was neither of these things. He was a really smart, worldly man. And I thought it was amazing how, you know, someone's loneliness can override their common sense.


And so last year, my boyfriend Michael and I make the big move from Melbourne, Australia to New York. And every day Michael goes to work and he makes new friends. And I stay at home researching scams because I want to write about them.


I want to write about victims like Bill and I want to write about perpetrators.


So that's around the time that Cindy's email comes into my spam folder and it says something like, Hello, my sweet man, are you looking for a friendship?


And, you know, everyone gets those emails. You get them all the time, you just press delete.


But for me, at this particular point in my life, it was like this amazing present that had dropped in my lap. And here I had myself like a guinea pig scammer.


So I responded. I clicked like reply. And I said, Hello, Cindy, tell me about your hairstylist work. And immediately I get this ping notification that Cindy wants to chat with me and she says, Hi, sweetie.


And clearly, she she's got her wires crossed between me and someone else who she's scamming because she asks me what the weather is like in Mumbai.


So I Google it and I tell her what the weather is like in Mumbai.


And it becomes apparent that she thinks I'm a middle aged man, which I also don't correct her on, because, you know, we're all lying to each other at this point.


And so she thinks I'm a middle aged man in Mumbai and she knows about the weather now. And I also use like a fake unisex name just to to make things a bit easier for myself.


So Cindy sends me a photo, and she's the Senegalese woman, quite pretty, with a full build hair tied back in a ponytail, leaning against a car. And even though I know that this isn't necessarily the real Cindy who I'm talking to, the scammers often steal photos from various places. It's easier to attach a face to a name.


So whenever something comes from Cindy, this is the woman who I think of and the World Cup soccer is just starting at this point. And I'm a fan. And because Cindy is from Senegal, I assume that she is to because soccer is big in Senegal.


But she tells me that she's not into it, but that she will make an effort to watch it because I like it. And that's what people in relationships do for each other.


So according to her, we're now dating.


So while my boyfriend is at work, my Senegalese girlfriend and I chat online and watch soccer.


And when my boyfriend is not at work, I, like, tactfully close my laptop because I don't want him to think that while he's away, all I'm doing is chatting to scammers. And I don't want him to see just how many pings I get from Cindy because I get so many pings from Cindy. Like Cindy is probably the most attentive person I've ever semi dated in my life.


I if you know, if I go to the restroom or something, she'll she'll write like, Hey, babe, I love you.


And if I'm not there to answer immediately, she'll write the same thing like 60 more times.


So I'll come back to this screen full of, like, I love you, I love you.


I love her, you know, in some ways really nice and in some ways really overwhelming.


So, you know, we've been chatting for a couple of weeks. And one thing that is quite strange is that. That I find strange is that Cindy hasn't asked me for any money yet, even though technically that's her job as a scammer.


So she she sends me emails full of her favorite, like R and B lyrics and photos of herself, but no money requests. She does, however, start asking me for a photo of myself, and she still thinks I'm the middle aged Indian guy. So I've got a problem now. And I think, OK, I'm just going to I'm just going to come clean. Cindy's going to break up with me. I won't be too bad because, you know, this is taking up quite a lot of my time.


I think I've taken this relationship far enough.


So I type hey, Cindy, I have a confession to make.


And she says, what is it? And I say, I am not a man.


And his silence and I think, God, Cindy's up at 1:00 a.m., she's working really hard for a buck and I've just told her that I've been lying to her and she says, well, send me a picture.


And by this point, I thought that I would be Cindy free. So I'm a little bit kind of confused that she's asking me for a picture. So I make something up about how I don't have any pictures on my hard drive.


And she says, hey, listen, you have been lying to me for several weeks now. I have sent you my photos. The least you could do is send me a photo of yourself.


And in this moment, because I'm kind of prone to feeling anxious and guilty at the best of times, I think actually she's right. I really should send her a photo.


So I get a photo, I send it, and I wait to see what she says.


And she writes back and she says, Oh, you're pretty. And I her all in capitals. All right.


Thank you. So you because, you know, I'm quite flattered.


Also, I'm really relieved that she's not angry at me anymore. Also, I've just realized that I've sent her a real photo of myself that she could potentially trace back to the real me and then send me a dead rat in the mail. So I'm kind of dealing with all this stuff.


And Cindy's typing a really long message because I can see by the little dots and she sends it and she says, hey, listen, I was brought up thinking that women should be with men, but I have fallen in love with you.


And I am willing to give this relationship a try. Even though you're a woman. I'm willing to keep going with it if you are.


And I'm kind of taken aback by this as well.


And in the heat of the moment, I type, okay, let's do it.


So suddenly the real me is dating Cindy. And so Cindy soon becomes tired of just chatting online and she asks me to call her.


So I dutifully do.


And she picks up the phone and says hello and I say hello. And suddenly my Scammon not only has a face from the photo I remember, but she has a voice and she doesn't sound like someone working for an international criminal organization. She just sounds like a tired woman trying to keep her voice down.


And a baby starts crying and I say, Oh, do you have kids?


And Cindy says, No, no, no. That's just the kid of this family who I share an apartment with.


And I think maybe she's not telling me the truth then that she's a parent. And I wonder whether she has a partner or if she's a single parent.


And then Cindy says that she's about to be evicted from her apartment and she needs one hundred and forty dollars.


And there it is. It's it's what I was waiting for this whole time.


But suddenly I'm not really ready for it because Cindy isn't just a spam in my inbox anymore.


She's actually a real person on the other end of the line, asking me personally to help her as I make up a lie about how I told my friend about her.


And my friend said that maybe Cindy's a scammer. And it's not that I think that.


But, you know, are you. And Cindy says, what? And she says it with such outrage that for a second, I think, hang on, what if I've got this whole thing wrong?


And she is just like a hairstylist from Senegal who did fall in love with me thinking I was a middle aged Indian man and then has stayed in love with me, actually, and immediate.


And then I think, nah, that's probably not true. So I say, I'm sorry, I can't send you any money.


And she says, all right, never mind. And the conversation peters out.


And afterwards, even though I know that it's Cindy's job to scam me, I can't help but feel guilty because I think about her tired voice. I think about that baby crying. And I think that one hundred and forty dollars isn't really that much money.


And I start Googling Senegal and I see that fifty percent of its population lives in poverty. And who's to say that Cindy isn't one of those people? And right on cue, an email comes from Cindy and she reminds me of her hard life.


She tells me that her parents are dead, that her uncle is abusive, that she could sell her body like other girls, but she doesn't.


And she says, I'm trying to be a good girl. Please help me.


And even if they think she's telling me aren't true, I know that they could be true.


And I feel like a jerk for stringing her along and I decide that I want to write Cindy a real letter from the real me and I start typing this email in which I want to be honest and I want to tell her a little bit about me, but I end up telling her a whole lot.


So I tell her that my family moved from Yugoslavia to Australia when the wars began, that my dad died when I was little, that when my parents took us over to Australia, they thought that we'd never be split up again. But that here I've moved to New York and I've left my mother behind and that I miss my mom and my sister.


And I don't know why I'm telling Cindy all of this.


Like, I think maybe I want her to see that I'm different to the other people she chats with on the Internet.


And I think I want her to like me. But in any case, while I'm typing, I find myself crying.


And I write to Cindy that if only she'll be honest with me and tell me about her real self and about being a scammer, that I'll find some money and I'll send it to her that I don't mind.


And the next day, Cindy writes back and she ignores most of my e-mail and just says that she's not a scammer and sends me her Western Union details, and that kind of annoys me.


So I go back to her and say, I'm not going to do it on this. She admits to being a scammer. And we go back and forth like this for about a week, getting more and more annoyed with each other until finally Cindy snaps and she writes me this email all in caps, angry voice, telling me that I'm a wicked, selfish woman and that she wouldn't want my money even if I did send it.


And she tells me that God will send a helper for her because God always helps those in need.


And she tells me that she never wants to hear from me again. And for the first time in a month, my computer goes completely silent.


And after Cindy dumps me, I feel like I understand Bill a little bit better, because Bill said that the whole time he was being scammed, he knew in the back of his mind that he was being scammed, but he kept sending money because he didn't want to get dumped the way that I had.


And Bill made up excuses for his scam, just like I made up excuses for Cindy, even though I knew she was a scammer in the front of my mind. But still, I told myself, you know, maybe she is a single parent.


Maybe she she really needs this money.


And remind me of one of those, you know, those really bad relationships that you stay in and you overlook so much bad stuff because you don't want to be alone.


And, you know, I still think about Cindy sometimes, like when I'm watching sports and I wonder I wonder about her.


I wonder if her baby still cries while she's scamming people. I wonder whether she still has that photo of me and if she will one day take her revenge. I wonder whether she thinks about me at all.


And if she remembers the things we told each other, some of them true, some of them not about soccer and friendship and love.


Thank you. So fiercely proud of its. Sophia Stephanides is a Serbian Australian writer living in New York. She hosts the monthly literary salon, Women of Letters at Joe's Pub, and she's the author of You're Just Too Good to Be True, A Love Story about Lonely Hearts and Internet Scams. The Moth Radio Hour is produced by Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and presented by Rex.


This is the Moth Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Jay Allison, and we're bringing you a live event recorded in Boston at the Wilbur Theatre. Here's your host, Tara Clancy, telling a story of her own.


All right. We're ready. Me maybe make it one on one. Here it comes.


So for my first son, it was super easy. My wife and I, we went to a sperm bank. We got sperm, she got inseminated. And nine months later, we had a baby.


But my second son, things get a lot more interesting.


So we go back to our same doctor when we were ready to have this second kid. And at this point, my wife is ten years older than me. So she was 42 and I was thirty two. And we sit down, you know, down at his desk and he just says right away, he says, listen, medically speaking. Tara, you should have this baby. And right away, I say. No. Just like that, no.


Have you seen me? No, no, I don't do those sorts of things and really, really like I want to be pregnant about as much as, like that guy. Right. Actually, that guy wants to be pregnant a little more than me. All right, I tell a little I want to be pregnant, but he convinces me that I have to go home and I have to think about it.


And, OK, fine. I decide that I'm going to at least give it up one night and give it one night. And I said, OK. And I go back to my apartment and my wife gives me some space and I'm just like, I'm pacing around the apartment and I'm trying to, like, hype myself into it, you know, I'm trying to convince myself to do it. And the way that I'm doing that is like the same, I think is as the way I like, you know, the night before my my my varsity softball tryout, you know, like I'm just walking around the apartment.


I'm going, come on, Clancy, come in. In in the clutch, you know, come on. You know, we're going to take one for the team, you know. Come on, let's go. You can do this, you know, and I go over to the mirror in my apartment and I'm just looking at myself in the mirror and I turn and it puff out my shirt and I'm you know, I'm imagining myself pregnant. But more than that, I'm imagining somebody else seeing me pregnant.


And I don't realize what I'm doing in the moment. But I'm going.


You talking to me? You're talking to a pregnant lady. You talking to me, right?


Like all the women, they go home, they knit booties. I'm De Niro in Taxi Driver.


But it works. I don't know why or how, but it works, I decide that I am going to go through with it and so I go back to the doctor. I have this, like, preliminary bloodwork done and I go back to the doctor and I sit back down and take a look at me and he just goes, OK, Tara, you have a fertility problem. I said, yes, I know it's called being a lesbian.


Why am I paying you for it?


Now, he said you have another one, so really?


And he said, But look, it's not the end of the world. Just instead of doing insemination like we did with your wife this time around, we have to do an in vitro fertilization. So they go in and they remove your egg surgically and they put them in a little dish and they fertilize them and they put the whole mess back in. And it's super common these days, really. Statistically speaking, 99 percent of the time, absolutely nothing goes wrong.


And one percent of the time you are me.


I had the one and only like life threatening response to in vitro. And I'm not going to bore you with all the medical details. I'll just put it like this. It was as if when they removed the eggs from my body, that first part of the surgery where they removed the eggs from my body. It was as if, like, unbeknownst to me, my uterus had LoJack, right?


Like the second they came out of my uterus, like Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray, or the police arrived at my uterus. It was terrible. I almost died, but I didn't hear.


And and and they couldn't go through the second half of the surgery and I had to recover.


All right. A month later, I'm recovered. We go back into the doctor and he goes, look, all right, at this point, we can continue on.


We can do the second part of the in vitro. And we're you know, that's about to be that.


And then he says, but actually. Medically speaking, there's a better option at this point. And that is that Shawna, my wife, that you carry this baby. And he starts to go into all the science shit about why this is better, but I'm not listening to any of it because I'm too busy doing the fucking jig.


I'm like, de de de de de de de de de de de de de de de de de de de de de de de de saved by the bell. This is amazing. Yes. Yes, she will. And we do it. And let me just not, like, undercut the beauty of that for a second. My wife got pregnant with my biological baby, the baby that I could not have pretty much. It was amazing.


And all goes well. Nine months go by.


I get that familiar shake in the middle of the night. We've done this once before. I know what that means. I hop out of bed. I don't even look at her. I pull up my pants, I grab the hospital bed. But when I turn back around to face her, it's it's not good.


It's like she has gone zero to 60 in a second. And I don't know if this is normal or not, but of course, for a second I have that panic of I'm like, oh my God, you know, this is all my fault. It was too good to be true, but there's no time for that. I just go over to her. I throw her arm over my shoulder, I help her down the stairs, we flag care, we get into the cab and she is going bonkers.


She's got her feet out the window. I'm leaning into the driver. I'm like, you got to go through the life. You got to go through the like. There's going to have the baby in the car go through the lights right in the cab goes. Uptown, we get to the hospital. You can't get out of the car, I get a wheelchair, I put her into the wheelchair, I go flying up into the maternity ward. We get into the triage area, you know, and I take one second.


I take my eyes off, I turn to the receptionist and I say, I don't have time to fill out any paperwork. Just point me to an hour and just point to an hour really fast. And then when I turn back, my wife has gotten up out of the wheelchair. She's got her hands on the armrest. She's got her shirt on particular. I got her pants down about that. She is piss and moan and scream and she's like.


Other ladies in the room, in the waiting room were like texting their mom, like I just started labor, you know, she's screaming, she's gone bonkers. Finally, this nurse comes in, right. And she's from the islands and she's like, she's going to have that baby on the floor, gets up on a gurney. You're going to have that baby on the floor atop in the gurney, and I'm excited, like you're going to have a baby on the floor, on the floor, on the floor and have another baby on the floor is going back and forth.


He put her up on a gurney that wheeler into a room and like 10 seconds later, we have a perfectly healthy second little boy.


Thank you. Thank you. We love him, but I think we named him in vengeance. My first born son is named Ray Clancy. He will punch you in the nuts.


This second guy, we named him Harry, Harry Clancy. He will sell you a used Honda. All right, are you ready for some more stories? All right, when I asked our next story to tell you the question, when were you last surprised, he said he said it was when his wife threw him a surprise fiftieth birthday party on his 50 first birthday.


But she bought him an awesome guitar anyway. Please welcome Paul Manafort. Memorial Day weekend 2014, my wife Mary and I are in bed and we get a phone call at midnight.


Wakes us out of a sound sleep, it was Mass General Hospital calling to tell me that they had a liver available and I needed to get to the hospital by 3:00 a.m..


I've been on the liver transplant list for almost almost two years, and this was the first phone call I'd gotten telling me I needed to get to the hospital. Now, I live on Martha's Vineyard. There are no ferries or planes running at that time of night. So Mayor decided to make some phone calls.


She called Angel Flight.


She called our local hospital. She called our local police department. She called the state police. She called the Coast Guard.


No one was able to help us. She then said, Honey, I got a great idea, let's call our buddy Jay Wilbur, he's our local harbormaster, maybe he can take us over in a zippy fast boat over to the mainland. So we call Jay, wake him up out of bed, and he says, absolutely, I'll get you guys over. He said, meet me at Owen Park Boat Dock in 15 minutes. So we get in the car, grab our gear and we're in the car and we're heading over to Owen Park.


On the way there. Mayors phone rings and it's the state police calling, they've had a change of heart. They're going to meet us in Falmouth with an ambulance and a police escort and get us up to Boston. We get into Jay's boat and within minutes we are in Falmouth. We got in there so quickly, we beaten the state police and the ambulance.


When they got there, they loaded me into the back of the ambulance and they put me up front with the driver and off we went. By the time we hit Route three, we were going 110 miles an hour. We had a police escort in the back, a police escort in the front. The blue lights were blazing like crazy. And we got to mass general just before 3:00 a.m..


We had made it from my house on the vineyard to mass general in under an hour and a half. A record in any book when we got to the hospital, they started prepping me for surgery, doctors and nurses were coming in and out like crazy.


And then our friend Martha called a while after we were there and she said, You guys, I just saw you on the Channel five early morning news show.


She said the headline read Vinyard Man Rushed to Mass General for life saving liver transplant. And then it quieted down.


A surgeon walked in a while later and I thought to myself, all right, the waiting's over, here we go. He came in, sat down at the edge of the bed, and he said, Paul, I have bad news. He said the liver that we thought was going to be available for you turned out not to be any good. You won't be getting a transplant today. I was devastated, I mean, early on, they had warned me that this might be a possibility of not getting it the first time out, but still, I was devastated.


We had just accomplished this Herculean effort to get the Boston and it turned out to be for naught.


So we got dressed, we got our gear. We headed down the south station to catch the Peter Pan bus back to Woods Hole in the ferry home. And the early 80s, I had been diagnosed with hepatitis C and over 30 years my liver took a beating.


Finally, with the advances of medicine, a cure became available that took care of my hepatitis virus.


But the damage was done. I had cirrhosis and liver cancer and I needed liver and they needed it soon.


After that first phone call, I had four more calls over the next several weeks, I had one more trip to Boston and I had three phone calls that kept me on standby. Each one would raise my hopes up high and each one ended the same way. Sorry, not today. I was beginning to think that maybe this wasn't going to happen and I could die. One night while watching the Jon Stewart Show. I had a complete breakdown. The rejections had built up so much that I couldn't handle it, and I sobbed uncontrollably in my wife's arms, she just cradled me and kept saying over and over again, I have faith, honey.


Don't give up hope. She's one of those glass half full kind of people.


But I was losing hope.


But she just kept holding me in your arms, telling me that I could hang in there. Don't give up, keep the faith and have hope. Towards the end of August, the phone rang again at midnight. This time it didn't wake us up. But it was Mass General Hospital, I knew instinctively who would be, and I heard those familiar words, we have a liver available and you need to get up to Boston. I just took the phone and handed it to my wife.


I couldn't deal with this. Not again. Conversations from back and forth for a while, and then finally the surgeon called to talk to me directly. Said Paul, I know you've been through this several times now, but I have a good feeling this time, he said if I were you, I'd get up here. So once again, it's midnight on Martha's Vineyard, how are we going to get to Boston this time? I then remembered a conversation I had with film director Doug Liman, who has a house on the vineyard, and we talked an event at an event we were both at over the summer.


We talked for a while.


And at the end of that conversation, he said, Paul, he said, I have a plane. And if you need to get to Boston while I'm still on the island, he said, I'll fly up any time of day or night. And I'm thinking to myself, this is Doug alignment, right? Sure. Yeah. He's going to fly me up to Boston.


So I decided, what the hell? I'll give Doug a call. I call Doug. And when he got on the phone, the first words out of his mouth were, is it time? And I thought to myself, wow, this dude's the real thing. We met Doug at the Martha's Vineyard Airport at 230 a.m. it was a beautiful starlit night with not not a moon in the sky, and there wasn't a breath of wind. It was perfect.


Mayor, my daughter, Danique, myself and Doug got into a plane and we headed out to the runway. It was pitch black. Doug flipped the switch on his dashboard and the air. This was amazing.


The airport lit up like a pinball machine. All the runway lights came on just like that. It was the coolest thing ever. It was magic. We took off in silence and flew up into Boston.


There wasn't any radio traffic and there was another plane in the sky. It was just so perfect. When I got to the hospital, I knew the drill by heart, doctors, nurses, in and out, but this time something happened that hadn't happened before.


A doctor came in and said. The organ is on its way. And I thought the organ is on its way. Wow, I had not heard that before.


I thought to myself, maybe this time it's going to happen at eight thirty a.m. they came in with a gurney, loaded me up, and they were going to take me off the surgery. I gave my wife and my daughter a kiss and said, I'll see you on the other side. I woke up around eight thirty later that same day and in the evening, the operation had taken eight hours to complete. When I opened my eyes, my wife and my daughter were standing at the foot of the bed, my wife looked at me and she said, Honey, your eyes are wide.


I can't believe it.


For the first time in almost 30 years, my eyes were white instead of a dull yellow. And you know what? I felt amazing.


I know I was on a morphine drip, but really I felt amazing.


It wasn't until I returned to the vineyard that I realized how bad my life had been because of my liver disease. And now. It's more than a year later. I'm stronger than I've ever been in my whole life. Yeah. I've got muscles, I've got muscles where I never had them before. I'm happy, I'm healthy, and I'm living my life to the fullest.


Paul Manafort, who lives on Martha's Vineyard, where he's an actor and a singer and performs in plays and musicals for adults and children. He's a member of the West Tisbury Congregational Church Choir and is a skilled woodworker and general contractor for photos of Paul and his family. Visit the Mosig.


The Moth Radio Hour is produced by Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and presented by Park's.


You were listening to the Moth Radio Hour from PUREX, I'm Jay Allison. Here to introduce our last story from this live moth event in Boston is your host, Tara Clancy.


All right. When I asked our final story, tell you the question, when were you last surprised? He said he is about to be really surprised because it is probably the first time he is ever on a stage without his guitar. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Salman Ahmad.


There's an old saying in Pakistan which goes like that whisper in your heart has strength. It may not have wings, but it has the power to fly.


I first discovered that whisper around the age of six, I was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and there was a family wedding and at family weddings, there always used to be music.


So at this family wedding, Kovalik concert was taking place. Kovalik music is about unity, sacred union, whirling trancelike rhythms, handclaps and joy.


So as a six year old, what I remember is my aunts and uncles dancing in a state of bliss, Fanaa Mystical Ecstasy, and some of them were throwing money at the musicians and I thought that's a pretty good job.


But also I knew as a six year old in Pakistan that my career or what my mother always said was, son, you can either become a doctor or you can become a doctor.


That was not for me, Cutaş.


When I was 11, my father, who worked in the airlines, he came home and he said, I've got a job offer in Manhattan.


And so we're moving 8000 miles away to New York. And so my younger sister and I, you know, I'm going to date myself now. We said Ronald McDonald, 13 channels of television. Let's go.


So we arrive.


And the first two years in my middle school, I'm the only overweight brown Muslim kid. And I have no friends except for TV and radio.


Until one day when I was 13 at my bus stop, this kid who went to school with me, Danny Spitz, he went on to play guitar and the heavy metal band Anthrax. He looked at me and he said, SS dude, you got to get cool.


And I looked and I said, Cool, what is cool?


So Danny took this red ticket out of his back pocket and he said, Dude, if you buy this ticket for me, your life will change. Now, as he was hustling me that ticket, I'm thinking about my conservative Muslim mother who thinks, you know, going out anywhere, you're going to lose your culture, you're going to lose your religion. Yet the whisper in my heart was whispering loudly and I said, what does that take? He said, this is a ticket to see a rock and roll concert at Madison Square Garden for Monday night.


It's the only ticket I have. So I said, Danny, I'll buy the ticket, took the ticket from him, I went home and I said to my mother, there's this fieldtrip.


Entire schools going to Madison Square Garden on this Monday night, and you have to drive me. So my mother looks at me with this silent, skeptical eyes, she says, well, you'll have to dress up.


And so on that Monday, I'm wearing a yellow floral shirt, red and white striped pants, a black belt and shiny black shoes. That's how Pakistani kids went out to birthday parties. And so we drive down from Rockland County into Manhattan.


And I said to my mother, three blocks away from Madison Square, just drop me here and pick me up later.


And as I walk on the sidewalk, I'm going to date myself. They are thousands and thousands of teenagers with torn jeans, peace signs and expressions would say dazed and confused.


So you know where I'm going with this ad on the Jumbotron says tonight, live in concert, Led Zeppelin.


Now for me, Led Zeppelin could have been the Bay City Rollers.


So I walk in and after about hanging around in this smoky atmosphere with thousands, thousands of teenagers who had, you know, these blissful expressions, just like at the Kovalik concert when I was six years old, the lights go down and these four musicians come up on stage.


One of them, the guitar player Jimmy Page, has this two headed guitar.


He's got dragons painted on his pants and these laser lights are hitting him.


And he picks up the guitar and he goes down, down, down, down, down, down, down, down the road, on the other, down the road. And all of a sudden this all mighty roar goes up, saying, Kashmere.


I'm thinking cashmere, it's not safe there.


Pakistan and India have fought three wars over Kashmir, yet in this tornado of guitar, bass, drums and vocals and a whole lot of love, I my heart whispered very strongly again.


And at the end of that show, I said, I want to do that for the rest of my life.


And so I go home and I said to my mother, can I buy a guitar? And she said, Well, if you can save up enough money, you can buy a guitar.


So I worked as a busboy. Blauvelt Coach Diner saved up 237 dollars to buy a copy of a Les Paul.


And once I had that instrument, you know, I just it was my soul mate. I just never, you know, came out of my room, locked myself and listened to the Beatles, listen to the Zeppelin, Hendrix, Clapton, Beck and I learned all the blues. And pretty soon my parents got very scared.


One day, a surgeon, uncle from Pakistan showed up and they said, can you go into his room and extract him?


So my Uncle Anwar comes into the room and I'm wailing away and he says, Bitta, son, what are you going to do with your life?


So behind him was this poster of Jimi Hendrix. I said, I want to be like that guy there. So he goes back to my parents and says, look, if he stays in the States, he's going to become a musician, send them back to Pakistan.


Now, there is no rock music there.


So as when I graduated from high school, my family moves back. I'm back in my city of Lahore.


But now what's changed is they used to be democracy. But while I was away, a general and military dictator came into power. It was like having a Pakistani Oliver Cromwell, no celebration, no enjoyment, no gender mixing, no music, especially not guitar music. It was like the Kingdom of Darkness. And I was in the first year of medical school in Lahore and I was losing my mind. I couldn't go to any concerts. So one day I thought of this crazy idea.


They used to be this Gong Show on TV.


And I thought, you know what?


I'm going to put together a secret talent show. So anybody in my class who can tell a joke, who can juggle, who can do anything or tell, you know, play guitar, can be on stage and have their ten minutes of fame. So I schemed this whole thing up. It was off campus, 60 of us. And at this show, I'm waiting for the juggler to end so I can get up on stage.


I had practiced Eddie Van Halen irruption and I had one accompanying musician with me, a drummer who had a symbol, a snare drum and a bass drum.


And I said to him, I said, each time I look at you just hit the drums really hard.


So I go into my my solo and I close my eyes.


I'm going to the fast finger tapping this part of the solo. And all of a sudden I hear these screams and in my mind's eye, 18 years old, I'm thinking I am the rock star.


This is a little bit like Michael J. Fox and back to the future. And the screams get louder and louder.


And I'm just enjoying myself until I realize that these screams are not of adulation and admiration. These screams are of apprehension and danger.


So I open up my eyes and lo lo and behold, I see the Taliban.


And religious extremists who had heard that there was a den of sin and vulgarity, girls and guys mixing with each other, so they came there with burqas, the through the burqas on the girls. And one of them, this guy with a crazed look in his eye, came up to me. And before I could process what he was trying to do, he grabbed my guitar, my Les Paul, and he smashed it on the marble floor. My rock and roll dream there and.


In a weird way, I also thought, you know, this is complete humiliation because rock musicians destroy their own guitars.


Yet he goes to me, If you ever play that thing again, I will shoot you down. And they had guns and this was also in neighboring Afghanistan. The Soviets were there. So there was a drug culture, heroin and a Kalashnikov culture which had filtered into Pakistan. So it was a really scary time. And a lot of students were killed for no reason. And the stark choices I had was either to cave in to the fear, give up my passion or follow my heart.


I chose to follow my heart. Now, ever since terrorists have hijacked Islam, they've twisted so many things. For example, suicide is haram. It's prohibited. But this suicide bombing, killing innocents is prohibited. But they kill innocents.


And the word, the J word, the dreaded J word jihad, which actually means to strive to lift yourself off, to lift yourself up and to lift society up has been now conjures up these images of violence and extremism.


So I decided while I was in medical school, I was going to wage a rock and roll jihad, a struggle to play my music.


And I started several clandestine underground bands in Lahore, two of which vital signs. Became the biggest man in Pakistan and the one I founded, Junoon, which means uncompromising passion bordering on madness.


In other words, crazy. That ban became the biggest rock band of South Asia. I found myself.


Thank you. In 2008, I took Junoon to play the first ever rock concert in Kashmir despite death threats from militants. I played at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and I'm here to tell you the story at the moment.


Thank you. Samaan Ahmad's band, Junoon, went on to sell over 25 million albums.


The New York Times has called them the U2 of Pakistan, along with Peter Gabriel, Salman wrote the song Open Your Eyes for Pakistan Flood Relief. You're listening to it now. A medical doctor by training, Suleman also travels the globe as a goodwill ambassador, helping to eradicate polio, to see a photo of Salman on stage in front of thousands in Kashmir for the first time, go to the morgue.


That's it for this episode of The Moth Radio Hour. We hope you'll join us next time. And that's the story from The Moth. Your host this hour was Tara Clancy Perez, writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review Daily and The Rumpus.


Her memoir is titled The Classes of Queens.


The stories this hour were directed by Jennifer Hickson Make Bolls and Sarah Austen Ginés, our production partner with WGBH in Boston. The rest of the most directorial staff includes Catherine Burns and Sara Habermann. Production support from Muj Sadi. Most stories are true is remembered and affirmed by the storytellers. Recording services come from Argo Studios in New York City, supervised by Paul Wuest.


The theme music is By the Drift. Other music in this hour from Still Waggons Symphony. For more information on them and for all the music news, visit our Web site, The Moth Borg. The Moth Radio Hour is produced by me, Jay Allison with Viki Merrick and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.


This hour was produced with funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation committed to building a more just verdant and peaceful world. The Moth Radio Hour, as presented by Parks.


For more about our podcasts, for information on pitching your own story and everything else, go to our Web site, The Moth, Doug.