Dec 1, 2011

Hope is the thing with feathers*

It comes fast. You feel your body getting tense. You feel ants crawling under your skin. Your chest feels heavy. You gasp for air. There is none. You are cold. Covered in sweat. You want to push down the very heavy rock from your chest. You cant. You want to cry. You cant. You gasp for air... you gasp for air... you hear the sounds... the music... you see the scenes... blood, butchered bodies, gunshots, your dad's hand that was hanging out of the ambulance back door, mothers who moan and scream to the sky and sob... never ending tears... tear gas, rapes, tortures... you gasp for air... for air... for air in total darkness. 

And after a couple of minutes that feels like a life time you can breathe. You throw up, you cry, hard and long. And it's gone. The flash back is gone. 

My friends and I are messaging each other. That we miss each other. That we wish we could get together for tea or a drink like normal friends do. I tell them I am hopeless. Nothing will change. Not in our life time. That we have no country left. No land. As we are messaging each other, I watch the clips from the protests. I see young lives fall on the streets, covered in their own blood, I see mothers crying over the tortured bodies of their children... and the weight is there, on my chest. I see blood, I see hope, I see torture wounds, I see graves, many of them. I see my mom sobbing for my brother... I see unfair, unjust in its extremes. And I gasp for air. I try to focus. Breathe in... breathe out. I say to myself "yes, you can. you can cry. Cry. Breathe... And this time I can. tears open the way of breathing. Oh how grateful I am to my tears.
People should live happy lives, grow old with their families and friends, and then die. I guess it's a no brainer for my Canadian friends.
For me and my family and friends... we dream of being able to have tea together.
one day.
some day.

* by Emily Dickinson

Sep 29, 2011

"Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me"

It was exactly 9:30 when my cell phone started to ring. Right in the middle of a meeting. A school meeting in which I was discussing the situation of two young children whose only family, their mom is dying. The children who go to school hungry with no or very little lunch and who need to get ready to say goodbye to their mom. All through the meeting my heart was filled with this enormous sense of sadness, emptiness... I tried to remember the old woman's words in the Family Group Conferencing Training that I attended a couple of days ago: this is our story, we have written it and we need to own it. I thought these two little folks have written a pretty tough story for themselves. I thought about my role. How on earth can I make it easier for them?

I dont pick up my phone in meetings unless it is from my son's school. It was an unknown caller. I turned my cell phone off, apologized to the people in the meeting, discussed who is going to do what and who is going to call who. When I opened the car door the phone rang again. An unknown caller was trying to get a hold of me. I picked up the phone. It was my friend from Iran. She told me she missed me. We haven't seen each other in 5 years. I miss you too, I told her. She told me she felt she needed to talk to me after the news about Nahal. Who? Nahal? What about Nahal I asked. She was surprised I hadn't heard. I told her I try to avoid the News from Iran. I need to protect my heart I said... She said Nahal committed suicide.

Nahal was Behnam's girl friend. Behnam was a human rights activist. He was imprisoned and after his release he committed suicide.Why? I bet you dont want to know what happens in Iran jails if you dont already know. She was not his wife, she was not the mother of his children, she was not his fiance. She had no status, no legal rights. No one recognized her pain. The law of the country has decided that a piece of paper gives identity to women. She was made silent by the stupidity of that culture. She wrote quietly in her blog of how she missed him, how she felt it was unjust, how she wanted to be with him, how painful it was to wake up to face the reality every day. And one day she decided she wanted to die. And she died.

I told my friend I had to go. I didnt. I just had nothing else to say. I told her I would call her back later.
I went to work. I smiled at everybody, talked to a couple of co workers, did some phone calls, did a couple of reports and drove home over lunch time. I hid under my blanket and cried. I looked at her picture and cried. I read her blog and cried. Lunch time was over. I washed my face. I put a light make up on and went to work. I did some more phone calls, did some more reports, looked at her picture, didnt cry because I was at work and then went to pick up my son.

How was your day mama? he asked me. It was good love, I told him. And let the his smile and smell wrap around me like a shelter from the reality.

Jul 22, 2011

my dying little baby boy

Baby boy I was finally about to go to bed when I saw you. You were lying on the ground, with cracked open skin, with flies sitting on your face and around your lips, with eyes half open and with your mother's hand on your little head.
Baby boy the reporter said you are three years old. Same age as my son. You know, I buy my son all organic food and fruit, wooden toys with chemical free colours and organic cotton clothing. Just before I saw you, I went to his room, I smelled him, kissed him and thought to myself that no matter how challenging it is to be an immigrant, I am very happy that I am here. In Canada. Where I know he is safe.
What was your mama thinking when she walked for a month to get you and your siblings to where you could have something to eat? How did she survive when she lost your three siblings to starvation? How tired were you little boy when you walked for a whole month on the dry desert? Your lips were dry. What did your mama tell you when one by one your bothers and sisters fell? Little boy I wish I could do more than donating some money or sitting here weeping.
The doctor said he didnt think you would survive till tomorrow but I will never forget your face nor will I forget your mama's hand on your head. A woman who lost all her four children in a month to starvation... starvation... starvation...

Jun 30, 2011

in another life my li'l bro

Tomorrow is Canada day li'l bro. Li'l bro is how you signed off  your emails or the cards you sent me. You remember I told you about my first Canada Day here? I told you I cried the whole time. I told you how I wished we could have a National Day as well. A day when we could go out, drink, scream our heads off  and be happy. Just be happy. You said " and feel the unity". I was talking to you on the phone. I told you about the fire works, people with their lawn chairs, families hanging out, kids having fun, couples kissing and I said at the end "how I wish next year we could celebrate it together". That next year never came. It's my 10th Canada Day here. I can't help but think about all the social science and community development theories I have come to learn in these years. I cant help but think what a carefully planned job it is to kill the spirit of a nation or even worse, to make it sick, so sick that nothing can cure it. This is what they have done to our land my li'l bro.

I will celebrate the Canada Day tomorrow with people most of whom take what they have for granted. Things like being allowed to celebrate their national day, to dance, to sing, to have boy friends and girl friends, to drink beer under the blue sky, to swim in a lake, to say what they want and not be sent to jail for it. you know, simple little things.

I will cry just like every other Canada Day. I miss you my li'l bro. You never made it here for Canada Day. You never even got to see my little sunshine. Did you know his hands are just like yours? With the same short chubby fingers and funny looking nails?

I hold his hands and I smile. My heart fills with love and regret. I am sure you know what I mean. You always did and I keep talking with you, in my dreams, in my head, as I am cooking, cleaning, driving, change diapers, read, I talk with you, I carry you in my soul.

Jun 27, 2011

Every breath I take

My son- 3 years old- gave me the nail polish yesterday. The red nail polish. He asked me if I wanted to "colour" my toe nails. I asked him back: do you want mommy to colour her nails? Yes, yes please he said excitedly. We sat down and did some painting on my toe nails together. When it was all done, he told me "look mommy, you are now even more beautifuler".

I was there with him but I wasnt present. I was thinking about my childhood. My mom was sad most the time. It was war, there was no money and even with money there was not much out there with all the sanctions. My dad had to work away from home. There was so much family drama and trauma and political nonsense.

And my mom? A beautiful young woman with three young kids with very limited resources in a male dominant society who had to raise her children on her own. When I think back I remember her sitting at the kitchen table, listening to some sad music, smoking the unbearable burden away with never ending tears on her face.

My son asked me if I wanted to "colour my hand nails" as well? I said no, not now sweetheart.
Why he asked.
Because I have to go to work tomorrow and I cant I told him.
He looked at me puzzled. I looked at his eyes and the journey in childhood was over. I was back. To here. To Canada. Where I CAN wear nail polish to work.
I corrected myself: oh! mommy is being silly. Of course we can colour my hand nails together but it's getting late now. Why dont we try it some other time?

You know? Where I come from, we were not  allowed to have nail polish at some work places, all universities and schools, and for a long time even on the streets and when it came to clothing and school uniform, the only colours we were allowed to wear were back, grey, dark blue and brown. You want to know why? because it was beautiful and would make men horny. You want to know how old we were? As young as 6 years old all the way to university.

I can't stop thinking about my mom. It must be painful to want to be happy but not being allowed to. It must hurt really bad to watch your children watch you cry... day and night... night and day.

And I know I can never live life free of my past. It is in every breath I take.

Mar 15, 2011

Creatures of Habit

I think about the first days after our arrival in Canada a lot these days. Maybe it is because I have come to peace with the fact that I no longer have a land. I have embraced the fact that the reality is not that I have two homes(as my husband says to comfort me sometimes) but that I am a landless gypsy. A sad yet liberating feeling...

Anyways, new immigrants or those who are thinking of moving to Canada often ask me what I remember from the first days... first weeks... first years...

First days? It was December. I remember myself bundled up in two blankets, my eyes all red for all the tears I shed at nights because I missed my family back home, sitting by the fire place at my aunt's home thinking I couldn't possibly survive this cold. All I could think about was that I wanted to go back... go back... go back.
Next thing I remember is that I was horrified by the extreme sweetness in everything. Bread, ketchup, donuts, yogurt, muffins, corns and list goes on and on. You have to have lived in almost any other country but the US and Canada to know what I mean. I was sickened by sweet baguettes. Sweet baguettes? really? (One wonders about the connection between pharmaceutical companies and the food corporations but one rather shut up than be accused of being delusional about conspiracy theory). I told my husband I would starve to death because I couldn't eat bread. And guess what? I LOVE bread.

Well! here I am! Alive and kicking. I survived the crazy Canadian cold and sweetness. Actually, every once in a while I drive to a Tim Hortons drive thru and order myself a very sweet filled with preservatives and additives Boston Cream with a coffee. After all we are the creatures of habit.

Feb 15, 2011

Because you are from the land of "Axis of Evil" my son

As the car approaches the customs, I feel my body getting tense. My son is watching Max and Ruby on his portable DVD player. I tell my husband "I hope they dont make us go inside for once". The officer has dark skin. That is the first thing I notice. I think to myself "he is an immigrant too. He understands". That is a huge assumption to make but a hopeful one. He asks for our passports. Passports are passed to him through the little hole in the window. He asks where we are from. It says it right on the passport but they have to ask. We are originally from Iran and are Canadian citizens now. My mom, pointing to the back seat has a US green card. He asks a bunch of questions. What was she doing here? When was the last time we visited the US? What was the reason for the visit? How long did my mom stay with us?

He asks us to wait there. "You might not even have to go inside" says the officer. I feel like dancing. Yaaaay! for the first time we dont have to go through the Home Land Security shit. I was wrong. Another officer approaches. He tells us to get off. The other officer, the dark skinned one, says to him: they are Canadian citizens. They are not even going to spend the night in the US. They are just dropping their mom at Buffalo airport". He doesnt care. He asks us to get off. We do as he says. He asks for the car key. We are surrounded by 4 officers. It is a scary scene. My mom looks frightened. I should have told her to expect this. I unbuckle my son. He asks: where are we going mommy? Inside I say. He looks around. It is very windy. He says: but look mommy no one is leaving their cars pointing at the otehr cars. "It is very cold, I dont want to leave the car" he continues . "Why do we have to go inside"? I try to think. Should I be lying? He is three but a smart three year old. I look at my husband desperately. He is busy listening to the officer who is telling him to get on the elevator and go to the second floor. I tell my son that they need to see out passports to make sure that we are safe.

US border makes me angry. Very angry. They have a list of 50 some countries on the walls who are considered dangerous. The citizens or once citizens of those countries are subject to whatever the custom officers decide for them. They have to answer any and all questions and let them play their disgusting mind games.

Mind games you wonder? I can tell you stories... I was 5 months pregnant. We were going to LA to see our friends and my aunt. The flight was for 4:20 PM. It was before Obama. We had to wait and wait and wait. After 2 hours 45 minutes they call my husband's name. My back is soar. I keep walking in the room. I look at the clock on the wall. It shows 4:00. I think there is no way we can get to this flight. The officer who was interviewing my husband is gone and my husband is waiting there. I go to him and ask him what happened. He says the officer said the computer just froze and she has to re start it. I look at the monitor. The monitor is positioned somehow that we can easily see it. "it is not frozen" I say to my husband angrily. He says: hush! I point at the clock. He says to me "they do that on purpose". They do what on purpose? I ask. They want to see how you react under stress. Dont give them an excuse to kick us out and not let us in the US. He knows me too well to know that I am ready to explode any minute. He says quietly: "The time on the clock is not accurate. We still have an hour. They set it like this to stress us out". He asks me to control myself. They call me later. The officer tells me he knows my brother in law lives in Washington. He asks me if I know what he does. He is a computer programmer. Do I know where he works? No sir! There is no reason I should know where my brother in law works. How long has he been married to his wife? My angry side starts arguing with my Buddhist side. Should I tell him to fuck off or should I continue faking this stupid smile and answer all his absurd questions? I continue smiling with my hand on my very soar back. Has the marriage been arranged or were they dating before getting married he asks. I take a deep breath. I am not quite sure. They families were old friends so I guess they knew each other. But we are not going to see them in  this trip. We are not going to Washington. In fact I have seen my brother in law only a few times. He says he knows in a very cold voice. They know everything. To prove it he said he knew I worked in a Hallmark store. Oh! that! I had forgotten about that. It was right when we had arrived in Canada. It gives me peace of mind to know that there are people who know everything about me in case I end up with dementia later and cant remember a damn thing from my past.

We go to the second floor. We wait there for half hour. The guy checks my husband's passport. Asks him how his name is pronounced and lets us go. Thanks to Obama the three to four hour wait is now down to almost half hour and the best part? No finger prints.

We drop my mom at the airport. My son cries. He asks "why does grandma have to go back? Why dont we go to Iran? Will she come back again"? I swallow my tears. I tell him that we will go to Iran one day. Then he gets to see Iran and his uncle. Grandma will come back very soon. I tell him I know he is very sad now but I promise he will feel better soon. My mom cries and looks away. My son cries. I have learned to swallow the pain.

We take him for an "elevator ride" hoping that he might feel better. he counts: 1 2 3. Look mommy! There is only three of us. We have to be four. Grandma is missing and he cries again.

We drive back. He falls asleep in the car. Once we cross the border my body is relax. I am home. I think to myself maybe by the time he is older I wont have to answer his questions with "because you are an Iranian my child". Maybe there will be no border, no religion, no countries. I laugh at myself. At my silly idealist self. We stop at Tim Hortons.We are home.

Jan 25, 2011

it all happened in my head

This is a small box of my dad's notes sir. I cant get rid of it. I have to take it with me. You don't understand. I lost my dad when I was 19. Do you want to know how? oh I am sure you don't. People don't like to hear sad stories. Life is too short to be sad. But see, this note, my dad used to write me little pieces of poems and put them on my night table when I was asleep. You know what it says? of course you don't. You don't read Farsi. It says "Only from the heart Can you touch the sky." It is from Rumi. I was 17 then. So see, I cant leave this box behind.

This one? oh no sir. I cant leave this one either. This is my grandfather's diary. Oh, I should write about him one day. They say I am just like him. He was an actor. A very restless soul sir. I get you are not interested in personal stories but everything in this suitcase has a story. In his diary he wrote about his first days, months and years as an immigrant. I am going to be an immigrant in about 24 hours. I need his wisdom. Don't you think?

This little plastic bag? This weighs no more than 300 grams sir. I have to take it. This is my childhood in this plastic bag. You see this empty TakTak bag? Oh! you have no idea what TakTak is, do you? Ok, I will tell you. We grew up in war. There was no KitKat. It was banned. All foreign made chocolates and candies were banned from entering the country. Sanctions and such. Then some smart guy made TakTak, an unfortunate tasting imitation of KitKat. Our dad was away for long periods of time for work and our grandparents would bring us goodies. All made in Iran. All tasting bad. But we didn't care. We saved them all in a big plastic bag in the storage room. We were little kids sir and the yukky goodies were so tempting but we were determined that we would wait until dad gets back so we could have them as a family. Now, you see sir, this old faded TakTak bag is so precious to me. I cant leave it behind sir.

Oh this yellow bandanna! You know sir, there was a student protest in my country years ago. I was there. I couldn't breathe. There was tear gas and batons. I get it. You are not interested. I shouldn't be boring you with my nonsense. After all you are a costume officer not a social worker. A young student gave this yellow bandanna to me to cover my face. He was covering his own face with it. I was chocking sir. He saw me. Took my hand and we ran together. He then gave me his wet bandanna and ran. It has to be wet to protect you from tear gas. I know you didn't know this. I am happy you didn't have to learn this on a hot Summer day like I did.

Thanks sir for letting me take this extra 2 pounds to my new home. You know I never saw that boy again. The one who gave me his wet bandanna. I want to think that he survived and found himself a new home. Just like I did.

Jan 18, 2011

A nation's dream...

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes, A Dream Deferred

Jan 15, 2011

Trauma in "Farsi"

My mom and I sit in the living room every night when my husband reads to our son and tucks him in. I sometimes watch a documentary or a movie on my laptop or read a book, an article or some of my favourite blogs when my mom watches the news on Iranian satellite we got for her last month when she came here for a visit. I have chosen to avoid all Iranian TV channels as they bring back a lot of trauma and bad memories for me.

I admire my mom’s strength and spirit for being able to sit there quietly, watch the news, discuss what is happening and give me her political –sometimes hilariously funny- analysis of the situation, kiss me goodnight and go to bed. She told me the other night that she still has hope. She told me I am so bitter because I have lost hope. She said one dies when one loses hope. I thought about what she said for two days to realize once again that moms probably do know the best.

Now, I find it quite fascinating that I am living this double life. When I leave work my “Persian life” starts. I speak Farsi to my son, I make Iranian food, I don’t watch Iranian TV but I follow the news on internet. (I can only read the news as watching it will expose me to sounds, pictures, and faces that are major triggers for me). I read Farsi books to my son and play English board games with him in Farsi. We talk about the top news of Iran in Farsi over supper. I am anxious, passionate, on edge, filled with love, I am a bag of mixed emotions and feelings. There is Trauma in "Farsi".

I go to work every day. We greet each other in English. We talk about our workload pressure and the bad air quality of the building and our spirited toddlers and crazy teenagers and hockey and the damn long Canadian Winters with all the germs and viruses. I am calmer, nicer, more focused, have more energy. We ask each other “how are you?” and we answer each other “fine, lots to do as always. How are you?” There is no trauma in "English".

I should find some studies that would show how living in the context of a language/culture can bring the trauma close to surface.