On our way to Iran from San Francisco, we stopped in Amsterdam to change planes. Shawhin and I got our coffee and orange juice (I’m the coffee person and he’s the healthy one) and we were on our way to find the gate for the KLM flight to Tehran. It turned out finding the gate was much easier than expected. All we had to do was to follow the large number of familiar eyes who spoke Farsi very loudly. It’s not common to speak loudly among Iranians, but somehow it seemed like we all wanted to make sure others noticed that we are Iranian, kind of like a signal, a way of communicating, a way to make sure other Iranians see us and can come to us if they are lost or need help of any sort.
I felt the excitement of going home after 8 years; it was amazing being among all those familiar eyes, familiar accents, familiar smiles, or familiar complaints. I realized in the middle of my excitement, however, that those eyes and accents were not our only guides to the right gate. It was something much more visual and obvious: the black clothes! Sadly I must acknowledge the current trend of fashion among my fellow countrymen. Black, black, black. All I could see was black, dark blue, dark gray, dark green, basically all sorts of varieties of black with different shades. I told Shawhin if he noticed that we were the only ones not wearing black at the gate while we were waiting for our flight. He laughed and nodded. I saw that his happy eyes transformed to something more like worried happy eyes. Well, I did not want to ruin this experience for him so I changed the topic. I was however deeply concerned about the effects of this color on people’s everyday life back home. Imagine living in a black city where colors are not widely accepted, are thought to be cheap, or are not even allowed in many public places. I wonder if anyone in Tehran or other big cities in Iran worries about this, but there I was waiting at the gate deeply struggling with these thoughts and emotions. I was emotional and excited with the thought of landing at the Mehrabad airport, seeing the Azadi tower when the pilot does a turn around it before landing, kissing the ground of my city, the city that really belonged to me. My fear of black, on the other hand, was constantly on my mind. I wanted to get the microphone from the flight attendant and ask all the passengers to change their outfits and wear brighter colors and was frustrated with my lack of power to do so.
A girl in Sanandaj, Iran, wearing traditional colorful costumes. Photo courtesy of Ddokosic
I bought a calendar with lots of beautiful pictures from different parts of Iran during our last trip in September. This morning when I came to school, I turned the page and found myself stunned by the power of the image in front of me. I had discovered an astonishing scene in east Azerbaijan (a province in the north west corner of Iran) that mesmerized me for a few minutes. I imagined hiking these mountains while feeling the fresh air and the history of this castle amazingly built on a high cliff around 1000 years ago. The calendar says that the castle belonged to a Persian soldier named Babak who fought against Iran’s foreign invasion and managed to protect himself and other soldiers in this castle for 20 years. I don’t know how accurate this information is but I am determined to see this place next time I go to Iran. It feels like I have been there before. There is something in this picture that is too familiar, either the tale behind the image, the scenery, the castle itself, or a combination of them all. Or perhaps it reminds me of the stories my grandmother (Beebee) and my most beloved secondary Beebee (Khadijeh) used to tell me when I was little, stories that always involved some sort of love story, betrayal, heroism, sacrifice, and beauty. They were all happy ending when I was little, but somehow magically transformed into more realistic scenarios as I grew up. I miss them both very much but their stories continue to live with me and guide me as I move on.
Image courtesy of majid_cs
Shideh & Manata, I really enjoyed reading your posts. When I think of the places I call “home”, it is defined by the people who are there. In the past 3 years I have lived in 3 different cities. And each time I have left one place, the new place never feels like home even when all my “stuff” is there. There is a cliche that says “home is where the heart is”. I find it very true. I speak of my “homeland” as Pakistan, though I have never lived there for longer than a few weeks. My “home” is still in the small town where I grew up, although I haven’t lived there in 7 years. I feel at “home” when I am with my family & the dear friends I call my ‘family’. For me, it is not the boundaries of our houses or the soil of a nation that make me love a place or make it a home. It is my experiences, the people and my association with that place.
Last summer I went to Calcutta, India as a chaperone for high school students who were traveling to do hospice work with the poor. Calcutta is where my father was born and where my great-grandfather opened the first optics shop that turned into the family business spanning three generations and four countries. Continue reading
Shideh, your story was lovely. And it really made me think about why it is so hard for us to let go, to free ourselves from attachment to a place, a person or a thing. As a sociologist, I’m constantly being trained to go deeper and question everything. Among all the subjects that we become trained in, culture somehow finds its way into all of them. We’re trained to analyze how culture shapes the meanings that people attach to things, why people from different cultures struggle with each other at times, and ultimately, why culture matters in the first place. Wouldn’t it just be easier to be a “citizen of the world”, having no attachments to nation-states, to boundaries, and to a particular group? The idealist in me says yes, the budding sociologist in me says no.
No because people have a need to feel as if they belong. And they have a need to feel needed. Nationalistic tendencies are just an expression of these needs. While attachments to lands, customs, and beliefs can in fact divide us (as history has shown time and time again), it can also become a uniting force. Imagine what a colorless world it would be if everyone shared one culture, one nation, one custom. There would be limited opportunities to become exposed to another way of life. To open your mind to new possibilities. To have your beliefs challenged. And to come out as a more understanding, intelligent and strong-willed individual.
Cultural exchange in Omani desert. A group of young women from Europe and the Arab world travel through the desert in Oman, in a project aimed at increasing cross-cultural dialogue. BBC News.
I left Iran when I was 16 years old, after getting my high school diploma in math and physics. The name of my high school was (is) Kooshesh (which translates to “hard work” or “effort”) and it was located in Jordan Street, at the intersection of Ghobadian and Jordan Ave. It seems like a different life when I think about it, the memories are awfully distant. However, there are some images and feelings during those high school days that are as fresh in my mind as ever. I lived in Niavaran, north of Tehran, which meant a long drive or bus ride to school every day. My best friend, Samira, lived on Yakhchal St., which was on my way to school. We usually walked together for a while before taking a taxi or the bus home every day. There was a pastry shop on our way on Mirdamad that sold delicious “Noon Khamei’s” and cups of chocolate mousse. I still remember the taste; how lovely it was to spend the little money that we had on those pastries. Some times we got a slice of pizza on our way home too, which usually drove our mothers crazy as they had prepared a meal and were waiting for us at home while we would arrive a bit late with ketchup all over our uniforms and not too hungry!
Image courtesy of Mohammadali
I remember clearly that one day as Samira and I were walking on the Shariati Avenue with a mouthful of chocolate mousse, I told her how much I wanted to come to the U.S. to go to college. I told her that if a miracle happened and I ended up in the U.S., I would finish my Ph.D. and would return to Iran to teach. She didn’t understand why I would want to leave Iran; everything seemed to be great, we had an amazing group of friends, and our parents were doing well. We had hopes of studying engineering in a top university and didn’t worry too much about the future. We would probably get married at some point and have kids and we’d be friends, always. Why leave? Why change? Continue reading
A remarkable talent and an amazing voice: Hamed Nikpay’s music takes me back to Tehran’s old “khocheh baagh’s” (narrow streets separating beautiful gardens of Tehran), the remains of which can still be found in places like Darband or Maghsood Beig. At the same time, his music amazingly represents a multi-cultural background and his recent songs show a strong Indian and Spanish (Flamenco) influence. I’m desperately waiting for his new CD that hasn’t been released yet, but to get a glimpse of what he’s about, here is one of his most beautiful songs. However, nothing can prepare you for the new CD that is going to come out soon. Enjoy:
Below is a picture on BBC that I loved. It seems that life for everyone around the world is becoming more and more stressful. Are we demanding more out of life now than ever before?
Indian lunch-box deliverymen – who deliver tiffin tins to workplaces around Mumbai each day – attend a laughter therapy session to beat stress in the Indian city.