Salam, Khoda Hafez

I watch a lot of terrible reality television. I have no shame about it. But the past two weeks, I’ve found myself crying during Shahs of Sunset. And not because I’m watching grown adults act terribly while occasionally speaking Farsi.

For as long as I can remember, I have identified myself as Iranian American when asked my ethnicity. I was born in Indiana. I’ve only been to Iran once. I don’t look particularly Persian and I can’t speak the language outside of a handful of phrases. But, it’s always been something I’ve been proud of. Something I could latch onto and call mine. My mom read me The Hobbit has a bedtime story. My dad read to me in Farsi.

The past two weeks have shown the crew of Shahs heading to Turkey, because it’s the closest to Iran that several cast members could get. One a political refugee, one is gay. They will never be able to step foot in the country they were born in. Watching Asa and her family reunite for the first time since her family fled Iran was harder than I thought it would be. I’ve had that reunion. I may not be a political refugee, my father left Iran for college and has been back several times. But it took 20+ years before he was able to go back. It took 20+ years before I got to meet an entire side of my family that I’d only heard about in stories and whose voices I’d only heard over the phone. Who had only seen me in photos. It took twenty something years for me to be able to discover I had a piece of my heart across the ocean.

Listening to Asa and Reza talk about how the country they love so much is also a country they have so much anger and animosity towards and I understand the conflict. Saying that my dad is from Iran or even just saying the word Iran draws people’s defenses up. The majority of the United States only sees Iran as an evil country. And there is a lot wrong. But there is also so so so much right. My family lives there. Half of my DNA is Iranian. The culture, the history, the land. It’s magical and life changing despite all the war and misguided politics. My trip to Iran was, without hyperbole, the single most life changing event in my life.

I started watching Shahs because it was a reality show on Bravo about Persians. I kept watching because it was a reality show on Bravo about Persians. They looked like my friends and family. Listening to people speak Farsi is my single favorite sound in the world. Watching the show brought a little more of that into my life. But for all of the bad behavior and buying caviar out of a vending machine with $3,500 cash, they’ve done one thing right. They’ve shown that at the heart of this “scary” country is just people. Good people. With families and a history and a love for each other and the language and the food and the country that may not accept them anymore.

Family

The first time I met them was in 2002. My parents and I boarded a plane pointed at Iran (well, it was many planes, and there were all sorts of delays and running around catching cabs and yelling at stupid people behind counters and running to connecting flights and accidentally stumbling into the red light district in Amsterdam with my parents, but that’s really neither here nor there). I was going to meet my family for the first time.  But here’s the thing, they were only family in theory to me. Family in name, yes, but I’d never met them. Never even talked to them on the phone. So, I was excited, but I was also nervous. I was spending two weeks with a small army’s worth of strangers who shared a last name and the slightest of resemblances to me and we didn’t even speak the same language. I spent the majority of the flights sleeping and trying to figure out on a scale of 1 to Michael Cerra how awkward things were going to be.

And then I stepped off the plane. And as we got our bags and went through security something inside me clicked. When I saw them waiting on the other side of that metal gate I knew. My brain might not have been there yet, but my body knew, my bones knew. This was my family.

I spent two weeks there, getting to know them, letting them get to know me and basically falling in love. Two weeks of sight seeing and so much food my clothes barely fit and cousins (so many cousins!) and seeing the town where my father grew up. Getting on the plane to go back home was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

The day after Christmas 2010 my dad and I piled into his car and pointed it towards Toronto. My aunt and two of my cousins moved to Canada about six months ago. I was almost as nervous for this trip as I was the first time I saw them. I was cool to my cousin when she was eight and barely spoke any English, but sixteen and speaking my own language? Teenagers scare me, yo. Even ones I’m related to. Even ones that gave me a tiny, red velvet bear to hold onto when I flew back to the states so I wouldn’t be alone. A bear that I still have.

Turns out I didn’t need to worry. She may not be eight anymore, and I may not be able to pick her up and carry her around, but she’s still just as awesome. Moreso, even. They all are.

Eight years ago

Two weeks ago

 

It was only three days this time, and we spent a good majority of that crammed into the back seat of my dad’s car while we drove around Toronto and visited family. Three days of food, and family and skypeing with family in Iran and making a fool out of myself via xbox kinect games.

 

 

 

I also got to show off my new ink.

It’s ‘family’ in Farsi and it’s in my dad’s handwriting. Dina over a Voluta Tattoo did an amazing job, don’t you think?

We may have gone eight years in between visits, but it doesn’t make our bond any less. My body is different around them, more alert. Reminding me that these people are important. That even when I’m struggling through the roughest year of my life my family will always be there.

And I couldn’t love them more if I tried.

I Don’t Know Much

I have started and stopped and erased about 10 different versions of this in the past few days. I feel like I should say something. I have so much to say, but it’s just not coming out. Not coherently anyway.

The situation in Iran is almost paralyzing for me. It’s huge and scary and makes me proud and terrified all at the same time. I will not pretend to have a wealth of knowledge on the politics of what’s going on. Because I absolutely don’t. I first heard about it when I singed in to Twitter and saw the hashtags #IranElection #CNNFail. I was snuggling a baby this weekend, taking pictures and eating fair food, not watching the news. I have a very limited knowledge of what’s happening. I’m keeping up through Twitter and various blogs (as traditional media seems to be both failing and flailing to keep up).

What I know about the politics of what’s going on is not much. (Although, this article is extremely helpful) But I do know that when I look at these pictures I see my cousins, my family that is too far from me. I know that when I see pictures like this one, and Twitter reschedules its maintenance, and one of my favorite authors goes green and changes his timezone on Twitter to support Iran my heart swells because for once Iran is being seen not just as a member of the Axis of Evil, but for the individual, loving, diverse, beautiful people that make up that country and people all around the world are supporting them. I know that suddenly Shiraz seems much closer to Tehran than I ever thought before. I know that I’m embarrassed when I go to CNN and the first thing that I see are the Jonas Brothers and a story about allergies. I know that as I follow (and that’s all I really can do, follow) what’s happening I become overwhelmed, because my family, my heart is so far away and it’s been six long years since I’ve seen them. Six years since I learned that all it would take for me to know, really know that this was my family was to step off a plane and into their arms. Six years since I sat in the house my father grew up in and had family member after extended family member march through the doors with food and gifts and hugs and love as though I’d always been there, as though it wasn’t the first time we were meeting. Six years since I held my baby cousin in my arms and tearfully said goodbye to a family I’d just met and left a piece of my heart in Shiraz.

I want to talk about the role social media is playing, given traditional media dropped the fraking ball. I want to talk about what’s right and wrong and just ridiculous and unbelievable. I want to talk about Ahmadinejad getting the hell out of dodge and into Russia. But every time I try and and write something about those topics I look over and I see this picture

Cousins

and I can’t focus and I can’t think of anything but my family. I don’t know much about the election, but I do know that I’m proud to be able to call myself an Iranian and I’m proud of every single person standing up for themselves and I’m heartsick that my family is so far away.

tora dust midaram