July 11, 2012 § Leave a comment
I can’t believe that I’m here. Writing, I mean. It doesn’t come so easily anymore, at work, at home, on my phone, there seem to be so may obstacles to taking the time. Thinking the thoughts. Being back in the state of mind where it’s not a chore to feel, but rather an outlet–a cleanse, even–a necessary shed to move onto the next stage. Writing used to be the phoenix rising from the leftover ashes of whatever emotional flame I had felt–be it an inferno or nothing more than a spark. I miss the feeling of letting go and I can’t help conflating it with my life in Spain. It was another summer just like this one that I was mourning the end of a nine-month adventure in the North of Spain, and it seems that this summer in Washington is a similar eulogy for adventure come and gone. It doesn’t help that I can’t seem to find a good soundtrack for anything–I used to get so into my music, I’d get lost in it and swear to anyone who’d listen that it must have been written just for me. Could that be?
Anyways, I suppose I really must explain myself. Not even to you, dear reader, but rather to myself. Where have I been for the last six months? Running in and out of class, rallies and protests, spending fruitless nights in the library’s purple hall under flourescent lights, playing Research Assistant in the NY Times 1851-1980 Archives, impressively sticking to a short-lived gym routine and planning, planning, planning. I’m joining thousands of other twenty-one year olds in Washington DC for a chance to intern at thousands of organizations all pledged to the greater good. A lesson I’ve been having a hard time learning this semester has been discretion, and in the effort to apply my education I thought I’d not say precisely where I’m working, but I’ll describe it to you as such: it’s a tiny little organization, no more than five staff and four interns. We’re almost one-to-one Experts to Young Things, and our office is littered with eighteenth century maps, framed leaflets from the Qu’ran and old Palestinian dresses (let me just take a moment to inform you that I was strokes away from typing “garb,” that all-too-often relied upon word to describe clothes, or more precisely swaths and swaths of black fabric covering a woman to the point of unrecognition). I work at an admittedly small NGO that deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and advocates for the end to said conflict through a negotiated two-state solution.
I could tell you that a semester in Jordan sparked my interest in the Cause, or maybe the weeks of travel to Israel and Palestine that I did after that semester, or that perhaps it was my intense study of the Middle East that brought me to delve further into the tightly-wound knot that is the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. But I would be lying, because really the thing that pulled me into a situation which has become highly academic, polemical and esoteric was its most essential element: a person. Namely, my second-year Arabic teacher Suhad. She told us about her family’s home in Gaza, about her experiences during the Second Intifada at Birzeit University, about the fifty-two days she spent between the Israeli and Jordanian borders as a stateless person, about coming to the US and re-doing her entire college education, and about the uphill battle she’s been fighting since birth. Her eyes pulled me in, right back to the center of this thing–the people whose lives will never be entirely their own, but rather a part of the intractable conflict in the Holy Land.
The dynamics of the conflict don’t touch the office on a day-in-day-out basis, rather I feel like I have ample time to be lost in my own thoughts. Recently, those turn to my future more than ever. Who will I be, what will I do, where will I live, what will I need to get there, how will I pay for it, how will I compare to the other 1,313 people in my class, how will I justify the choices I’m making now to myself in ten years, how will I stop worrying and just do it–there are streams and streams of questions that are never ending. And I hate being in this city trying to figure myself out. DC is a beautiful little town, exceptionally clean and with sprawling boulevards that lead up to a plethora of impressive monuments–it is a city with an image. The people who live in the District are always on the move–moving in, moving out, moving up, moving around until they can achieve what they want. Most of the people I’ve met are fiercely qualified, naturally competitive people who know exactly what they want, what they believe and who they are; after all in a place like this, how could you lose time questioning the essentials?
I’m not sure where I’m going, and right now I feel a little bit like the District itself–pretty, well-polished, but without a voice. Filled with countless experiences but not necessarily all the wiser for it. I don’t know what I want, and the scary thing is that after three years of throwing myself into a new language, a new place and so many ideas and people that have challenged the very core of my beliefs, I don’t know if I want to be a Middle East expert. Or policy worker. Or intelligence analyst. Or translator. Or diplomat. I know my bougie complaints (oh that’s a new one I just learned, apparently one can be sheltered from restaurants just as easily as one can be sheltered from their own upbringing) are not worth indulging, but for lack of graduating even more clueless about myself than when I entered Tufts, I feel like some serious introspection is necessary. But on the plus side, guess what I’ve decided to take next semester? Elementary Farsi (at Harvard, coincidentally, because Tufts hasn’t yet come to the realization that a solid Farsi program is really the only way to become competitive in the second-tier Ivy category)–and who knows? Perhaps I’ll be writing my next post another six months from now from Iran–inshallah!
July 16, 2011 § Leave a comment
“Take off your escarf.” – Hamid’s soulful eyes – Gabe meets fashion students at Moshir al-Mamalak – stolen prayer stones from the Jumeh Mosque in Isfahan – Gabe’s eggs – “I’m sorry my dear, no dancing for you.” – the Parthian Pinhead – green tea or black? – the perfect enamel bowls without saucer – Patty’s the only one who orders faloodeh-bastani for me! – Amanda loves her watermelon – when the girls are alone, all we eat is bread and lines of cheese – Daddy’s ghetto – “where’s Gabe?” – fruit plates: oranges, apples, and Persian zucchinis – Tom’s Axis of Evil Tour: Cuba, North Korea, Iran – two separate security lines at Mehrabad – “Chuck, I think our surrogate daughter is a little pixellated.” – the American-loving owner of Shahrzad and his guestbook – “How much was the carpet?” “$125,000. But he made money on it–he traded one of his Caspian Sea properties, and he’ll take the carpet as down payment.” – Bebakhshid. – another long bus ride through the mountains, and Amanda’s asleep – Hamid’s music: persian pop/flamenco/poetry recitation – “Five million dollar single-family homes.” – ice cream in that Northern Tehran mall, right off of Vali Nasr (Pahlavi) Boulevard – bird-pecked fortunes at Hafez’s tomb – “This used to be called Queen Elizabeth Street. Now it’s Farmers’ Street.” – creepy male mannequins at the Isfahan bazaar – Rebecca’s glue stick – “Hey Gaaabe, wanna pass me a water?” – mango juice (nectar) in Yazd – Persepolis was astounding – Patty and I have matching manteaus, Rebecca and Amanda have matching manteaus – “You know who Maz Jobrani is? You should have a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies!” – turquoise necklace from Shiraz – “That’s where Mr. I’m-a-nut-job works.” – Chuck attempts a duet with Rojan – we see a Saudi woman in a burka at a restaurant in Shiraz-how does she eat? – an actual coffee shop in New Julfa-latte please! – To badi. To latti. – individual servings of mast-o museer in Ayabaneh – fesenjan – delirious at the Tehran Contemporary Art Museum – Persian herbal infusions: one tasted like drinking a rose, straight; the one with vinegar, honey and cucumber cools us down; and the clear one is actually pure mint and sugar – “You are the only Americans in Isfahan right now. Oh, yes, the Police must keep your passports, just so they can keep an eye on you.” – our room in Shiraz comes with a complimentary Quran, and book of Hafez poetry – Amanda and I stay up gossiping and giggling all night – Mr. Olympic at the gym–did he have green eyes? – charity collection boxes protect against seventy disasters – carrot jam, sour cherry jam, cedrate jam – black turban means you’re descended from the Prophet on your father’s side, white on both sides, and green on neither – sangak, lavosh, barbari, taftoon-we love all bread – special Isfahani pudding tastes like arroz con leche – Tah-chin, the national dish – “You have something on your shirt?” “What?” “Got you!” – trying to order pomegranate juice by ourselves at Mahtab truck stop – “This is a beautiful, eighteenth century Safavid caravan saray. Look!” – Patty’s chador is falling off in the mosque – lion attacks a bull at Persepolis, a symbol of Spring overtaking Winter, for Norooz – who wants a full camel head for dinner? – Chuck gets a kiss from a shirazi at Eram Gardens – pictures of martyrs line the side of the highway – “Baba!” – “Amandah! Rebeccah! Alexah!” we love our long a’s – crossing the street alone in Isfahan is impossible and terrifying, we need a local.
June 28, 2011 § Leave a comment
Tehran is like nothing I’ve ever seen. The streets feel surreal; I feel as if I’m walking around an extremely detailed and life-like movie set, replete with extras in chadors and Louis Vuitton scarves, terrifying traffic, and a foreign script on seemingly every surface. It’s the Farsi that leads me to believe I’m in an illusion, and that nothing is real. Perhaps because I’ve only ever visited countries that use the same script that I do (Phoenician), but I will seemingly never tire of seeing that lazy, tailed lettering on storefronts, street signs, graffitied walls, on the sides of fences where old Qoranic verses greet passersby with the question “With Gods will, what else do you need?” on the neon signs indicating “harooj” or “exit”, even on the side of Coke bottles and Pepsi cans–all the daily intrusions of text onto image leave me exclaiming with wonder at the beauty of it all. It’s like being on sensory overload. It’s almost too much to take in. The people don’t even seem to make sense visually in the public space. It’s as if they’re simply moveable dots, punctuating the epic poem written across Tehran’s flat surfaces, half of which is deftly authored by the government–proclaiming everything from the names of martyrs to a calligraphied “May God Protect You” on the side of the highway–while the other half is a composite of the verses of seven million tehroonis, each contributing to their own lines to the national Persian epic.
Of course, there is more to Iran than just Farsi–even though so far it is my favorite part! Perhaps adding to the movie-set quality, I feel as if I get to play dress-up every time I walk out of my hotel room. “Wearing hijab” or abiding my appropriate Islamic dress has been the quickest transition I’ve ever made. I finally figured out how to wear my roosari (“headscarf” in Farsi) without having to fidget with it every few minutes, and I’m quickly getting used to seeing my face framed in black silk instead of my wavy brown hair–the effect of the scarf is instant and completely transformative. I feel at once anonymous and seen on the streets, almost as if we’re all in on the same secret–all the women, that is–and we give each other encouraging smiles when a scarf slips, or when we catch each other adjusting our scarves in mirrors and store windows. It helps one feel less American and more and more “native”, as if we can share in the same, shared public experience. Speaking of wearing hijab, the best part of the day came at the end, after in-depth tours of Golestan Palace and the State’s Crown Jewels collection, our guide, Bahman (my new favorite Persian) took all of us women–Patty, Rebecca, Amanda and I, and the men (Tom, Chuck, and Gabriel)–to a true Iranian department store to shop for manteaus. Yaas was almost like a Persian “Target”, identical to “El Corte Ingles” in Zaz (Zaragoza, Spain), boasting a grocery store on the first level, home appliances on level two, and finally women’s wear on level three. There we searched through racks and racks of varying manteaus, which resemble a shirt-dress that can be anything from just below hip level to mid-thigh or down to the knee, with long sleeves and usually some form of belt–but nothing that would be tight enough to show too much figure. So, of course, the four of us walk away with almost identical manteaus, all in shades of tan, camel or light beige. Now we even blend on the streets of Tehran, perhaps adding our own punctuation to the enormous textual landscape.
The sights we saw today were, in a word, glittering. We first visited Golestan Palace, used by the Qajar kings (shah, in Farsi) and the succeeding Pahlavis. Rulers from both these dynasties had a fascination with travel and visiting foreign royals in addition to fierce pride for their country, leading to a palace that is neither eastern nor western, but an experience entirely unique. The interior of the palace was almost fully covered in small tiles of mirrored glass. The effect is alarming–it’s kind of like stepping into the interior of a diamond, or a disco ball. After that we ate lunch (oh my god, Persian food is the best) and hurried off to the State’s Crown Jewels collection, housing the largest pink diamond in existence (182 carats, called “The Sea of Light”) the crowns of famed royals, a useable, life-sized globe made entirely of precious stones (emeralds, rubies and diamonds) and gold, with Iran set in diamonds. We saw gifts of foreign dignitaries, entire swords encrusted with diamonds and rubies–it was magical. As we make our way through this Persian epic, winding our way between history and the present with incredible ease, I feel beyond thankful that I have the chance to visit this place. The distance between dream and reality is still vast–Iranian reality feels like an illusion, a movie, just surreal–but the more I’m here, I have the feeling I’ll be able to sound out the words of a national identity, and maybe one day really understand it.