Since applying for visas in January, the mothers of hikers Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal have been packed and ready to go at a moment's notice, said Shourd's mother, Nora Shourd. They learned last week the visas would be granted and they all will fly out of New York City together, Shourd said.
Though the visas don't explicitly give the mothers permission to visit the prison and see their children, "we're pretty sure we'll be able to do that very soon after we get there," Shourd said. "That's the main reason we're going, so we think that's going to be the first thing we do."
The mothers think they'll be allowed to stay for a week, though they're hoping for more time if Iran doesn't release their children, Shourd said.
"We're going to be so overwhelmed with emotion when we see them, I don't even know what we'll say," she said. "We do want to ask them to talk about their experience, how conditions are. We'll give them the space and let them know how much support they have, but the main thing will be: Tell us everything you need to tell us, what you want the world to know."
The mothers will be bringing some small, personal gifts for their children, in the form of pictures, handwritten cards and letters, she said. "Right now, we just don't want to do anything else. We just want to go," Shourd said.
The hikers, who had been visiting the Kurdistan region of Iraq, were arrested July 31 as they walked a trail that crosses an unmarked, zigzagging stretch of the border with Iran.
The three have not been publicly charged with a crime or spoken with their hired attorney, but Iranian officials have suggested they are involved in American spy efforts. The suggestions have been flatly denied by the U.S. State Department, and the hikers' families called the idea ridiculous.
"We are grateful to Iran for issuing our visas," the mothers said in a joint statement. "This is an encouraging development. We are overjoyed that we will soon be able to hug our children but our joy is naturally clouded by the fear of returning home without Shane, Sarah and Josh. That is more than any mother, anywhere in the world, should have to bear and we would be absolutely devastated."
With the U.S. not formally involved, as its government has no formal diplomacy with Iran, the hikers' families have relied on information from Swiss diplomats who have acted as consulates, reporting last month that Bauer and Shourd were suffering from potentially serious medical problems and that the trio was considering a hunger strike.
"There's a thin line between fear and excitement and we're walking that right now," said Karen Sandys, Shourd's aunt and a Berkeley resident.
"I think it's still cautious optimism," she said of the families' feelings. "I go back and forth. What if they come back with the mothers? It would be so amazing. But the mothers and family are still protecting ourselves against the scenario of having to leave them there. There's no way of knowing. We've never been able to figure out Iran's plans."
If the hikers are released, Sandys said, she's not sure of the logistics of returning them home, "but that'll be the easy part. The hard part will be, if you can imagine that, the moms having to say goodbye to their kids. There's really no plan B for that except continuing to work for their release."
Sandys said she's uneasy about being out of contact with her sister for the week -- she and Shourd talk or text each other every day -- but that she's encouraged by the impact of the news.
"She's going to see Sarah. It's an amazing, amazing thing, and she sounds more charged," Sandys said. "All these moms are being pushed through this experience with very little sleep, but she's feeling better than she has in a while."
The mothers are also asking to sit down with Iranian officials to ask for their children's release.
"We trust they will act with compassion, end our heartache, and let us all be together again as families," they said in a statement. "More than nine months in prison is sufficient punishment for any transgression our children may have committed and we urge the authorities to allow them to come home with us. This nightmare has lasted too long."