Mother and daughter preparing tea in Lavasan, Iran. All rights reserved.
He let his mind drift as he stared at the city, half slum, half paradise. How could a place be so ugly and violent, yet beautiful at the same time?
-Chris Abani, Graceland
I came across this quote tonight while reading a book on poverty and the growth of slums worldwide. The quote really struck me because it reminded me of how much we judge people and places by their external appearances. It has always been a (optimistic) belief of mine that in order to appreciate the beauty of anything, we have to take time to really see. But it seems that as we mature, it becomes more and more difficult to see the good. We start to lose a little bit of the optimism that we had when we were young when we see that despite our best efforts, we are powerless to bring an end to the bad: poverty, violence, death, cruelty, and struggles for money and power.
But reading this quote has reminded me yet again that the ugliness of life is a part of life itself, and it may even be this very ugliness of life that helps create life’s beauty. I saw a lot of the ugly life during my research this summer. But within the slums and villages that I went to, I also had the blessing to see the simple acts of kindness and love that make it all worthwhile: mothers and daughters preparing afternoon tea together, young cherry pickers laughing and working together, keeping each other company on a hot summer day, and strangers preparing sweet sherbets and desserts for visiting researchers that stumble upon their tiny homes embedded deep within the hillsides of Tehran.
Filed under lessons, life, love
I sit here writing tonight from a friend’s apartment in the north of Tehran, Iran. For a moment, I almost feel as if I’m in the States. I get to watch Oprah talking to Dr. Oz on TV. The AC is blasting. A can of coca-cola is waiting for me in the fridge. How strange it is to be in a completely different coutry in the so-called “developing world”, but feel as if you’re sitting in your own living room in northern California. How globalized our world has become.
I’ve been putting off writing a post for quite some time now, mainly because I’ve been waiting for a noteworthy event to happen that would be interesting to everyone. However, Riad’s beautiful comment on my last post touched me and triggered some thoughts that I thought I would share with all of you tonight.
On the way to a conference last week, I was faced with a more or less challenging situation: an intense dialogue among a few colleagues about the significance of different cultures in world history and development. This is a complex topic and it’s hard to make simple conclusions on the matter. I want to write about this experience though, not because I am after advertising or defending a particular nation or want to offend others. This is simply my way of alleviating pain after hearing highly ignorant and uneducated remarks by supposedly educated individuals in the United States.
I was faced with the question of “who contributed the most to our history” or “whose work we should look for when studying the history of art, philosophy, poetry, architecture, literature, and so on.”
I have often noticed that Europe stands out in the American version of history in many different fields. For example, I happened to take introductory courses to political philosophy and architecture history at Cornell University as an undergraduate student. I can confidently say that the majority of topics covered were related to Rome and Greece and some times Great Britain. I, like many other students, left our class thinking that these concepts were first introduced by these nations only and others were mostly followers. Plato’s Republic was introduced to us as a book that marked the beginning of philosophy and political dialogue and such ideas seemed to begin in a society where thinking and logic were encouraged for the first time. Democracy was shown to be the most mesmerizing concept in a world of chaos. We were introduced to every famous architectural piece in Europe and briefly reviewed a few others (i.e. Ancient Egypt, Japan, and India) in the last couple weeks of the class. Even specialized courses tend to be biased and negative towards eastern nations, following the language used in ancient Greek historical records.
I was faced with the same dilemma in the car last week.
Cyrus’ Cylinder: Considered as History’s First Declaration of Human Rights
in Ancient Times is today displayed at the British Museum.
©British Museum, London
Filed under Africa, America, art, culture, development, India, Iran, lessons, literature, poetry, popular culture, sociology, traditions, War
Last week, on Sunday morning while the streets of New York City showed small signs of spring but cold winter winds could still freeze my bones early in the morning, we got on the bus to go to Manhattan for a special event. The Iranian community in New York (and many other parts of the world) had organized a parade in the city for celebrating the Persian New Year, Norooz of 1387. I was a part of one of the dance groups representing a nomadic tribe in Iran, the Qashgai’s. We got ready on the bus and by the time we got to our destination, the sun began to shine to some how help us through. The wind in Manhattan gets blinding sometimes, especially when you are used to the California weather. When our bus approached the location of the Parade, we saw little kids with the Iranian flag painted on their cheeks, young people holding the Iranian and American flags together, yelling “Norooz Mobarak” meaning Happy New Year. When they saw us, the color of our costumes made their smiles wider and voices louder, they waved at us showing their excitement and support. A huge crowd of Iranians and non-Iranians were gathered on the two sides of the street, holding multi-national flags, cheering us on. When we started dancing, I was cold in the beginning and my eyes were watery due to the wind. After a few seconds, I forgot all about myself and immediately melted with the energy of the crowd and what was going on around me. It was like a slow motion experience, when I was watching the crowd from above. I looked around me to see my friends dancing with me or the people yelling “dametoon garm, thank you, beautiful” and saw many different faces. In our group of Qashqai dancers, there was only one Iranian and one half-Iranian, the rest were from all over the world. There I was among a group of dancers from the U.S., Italy, Japan, Mexico, Israel, Tajikistan, and Iran, dressed in traditional Qashgai costumes, dancing like the nomadic women of the mountains in Iran. I bet the Qashgai women have no idea that such an international group was trying to be like them in the streets of Manhattan on the other side of the planet. Next time I go to Iran, if I go to the mountains and stay with the Qashgai’s for a few days, would they believe me when I tell them about my experience in America? How would they feel about it?
We are living in a magical age, experiencing so much unity and having access to much information is bringing us closer to each other. Despite the current direction of the governments that try to advocate separation while demonizing others, we are moving toward unity at a fast pace, in my opinion. I felt this when I was in the middle of the Parade dancing and I feel it today as I see people with many nationalities here in the streets of Berkeley, protesting against the Chinese invasion of Tibet. I felt it when an Indian taxi driver in New York asked me what this event was about and when I told him it’s for the Persian New Year, he said: “oh yes, Happy Norooz to you and to all Iranians.” Becoming global does not mean to forget about our backgrounds, cultures, costumes, histories, and traditions. In my opinion, unity and globalization is about being aware of what a girl my age is going through in Baghdad, what a mother needs to do to survive in Darfur, how a young boy struggles to earn money for his family and study at the same time in southern Tehran, what games children play and what they learn in school in Kabul, how many people spend their youth in prisons in China, and how Qashgai women dance in the mountains of Iran. We don’t need to travel to all these places to know how; we only need to care and once we sit behind the magical screen and type the name, hundreds of links show up to take us to the places we like. We only need to care and it is my responsibility to get to know you on a deeper level and go beyond our surficial differences, so that we can together prevent hatred and war in the future and among our children and grand children.
Filed under Africa, America, Communication, culture, India, Iran, lessons, life, traditions, War, youth, youth voices
As a young child growing up, I would listen to famous classical singers of my parents’ generation such as Hayedeh and Mahasti. Mind you, this was not my choice. My mother loved (and continues to love) classical music and the depth of their songs, their voices. So what seemed like every day, we would listen to Golha-ye Rangarang or Gol-e Gandom or Azadeh or Khodahafez or any of the other multitude of songs put out by Hayedeh and Mahasti that became instant hits and that I used to passionately hate. Whenever I would complain that the songs were too “funeral-like”, my mom would smile and continue singing along, amused by my boredom and distaste. Continue reading
Filed under lessons, life, music