Alienation is being too Persian for Arabs and not Persian enough for Persians.
Alienation is being too Western for Easterners and not Western enough for Westerners.
Those were the exact words on my mind as I boarded the plane leaving my country of birth to Canada. The words were very sobering, and I couldn’t think of anything else to explain the sense of utter disconnect I was feeling.
I was born in a small country in the Middle-East —the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan— to a father of Syrian origins and a Persian mother, who love michael kors outlet. My parents lived away from their countries and the inherent nostalgia that they carried within was passed on to me, and I in turn would learn to live with it throughout my life.
I was a little blonde girl with scraggy limbs and plump cheeks. In school, the children always considered me a foreigner, and whenever I visited Iran, I was referred to as the Arab.
The idea of home always plagued me, how do you define such a thing? Was it the 60 year old three-storey house I lived in? My father’s family had lived in it prior to my birth, and they only left when my father’s siblings found new modern houses to move into, leaving an old then-decrepit house for my father to rescue. The house never felt like it was ours. Whenever kids in my neighborhood pointed and asked me if it was my home, I never knew what to tell them. Out of habit, my relatives who had grown-up in there would walk into the garden without permission and pick lemons or cherries off the trees, and there was nothing we could do about it. We couldn’t tell them not to, we couldn’t tell them to get out because the trees were ours or the house was ours, we lived in it now, yes, but they had lived in it longer than we had as a family. For a long time, my bedroom was my home, because that space was the only one that felt truly as mine. I had a key; I could lock myself in that space and stay in peace.
Our house only became a home, our home, psychologically and emotionally, over a decade later. But that didn’t stop me from getting attached to it. We had a big garden, one in which I spent most of my days playing in the dirt, climbing trees and befriending hedgehogs. I had a favorite spot at the far end of the garden, where the ancient bent branches of an olive tree created something of a hideout for me. Whenever I’d get upset, I’d climb the tree and hide between the branches until I felt better. In that garden, I planted tomatoes and strawberries with my father who loves gardening. Another vivid memory is my habit of cutting fresh mint leaves for my mother’s tea every afternoon. Those memories made the fact that it was my home more real. It was my home because “I” had so many memories of it, playing, walking, running, and crying in it. The tomatoes and strawberries and the stray cats I fed, all were mine because I took care of them. When I was young, that’s how it felt; if I had invested emotionally in anything, then that thing became mine. That investment of emotion, effort and time made it mine.
Like a swinging pendulum my life consisted of years of traveling back and forth between Jordan and Iran. My existence in Jordan was punctuated by my summer visits to my grandmother’s house in Iran. My grandmother in Iran lost her husband after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. She lives with my unmarried aunts in a small but beautiful house in the centre of Tehran. The house has an intimate walled garden with a fountain where every morning sparrows bathe. My granny always kept potted flowers: pink, blue and yellow, and was particularly fond of a string of white jasmines that encircled the walls and made the entire place always smell of spring. I always felt irrationally attached to that house; just looking at pictures makes me feel like a child again. I realized later that my love of the house was a reflection of my love for my mother’s family. I always felt much closer to them than I ever did to my father’s. With my mother’s family, I always felt at peace, not judged, welcome, understood and loved unconditionally, they were kindred souls and I didn’t have a single thing to prove to them, I was a child and was expected to just enjoy being a child. From then on, home to me became that place where those who loved and understood me were. Home was my family in Iran.
Because I felt that very little was mine, I had the tendency of becoming extremely attached extremely quickly; to people, to objects, to animals, to memories… It seemed that as soon as I formed a connection to someone or something, I was forced to leave, or say my goodbyes again. I wanted things to remain unchanged, and remain unchanged as mine, I wanted guarantees that these people wouldn’t leave, that these objects wouldn’t be taken away from me and that these memories would stay. Of course, most times they didn’t, and it hurt. The Buddha taught that attachment was the cause of all suffering, I agree to a point, but at the time, I knew no other way and after trying the opposite, detachment wasn’t much fun either.
When I left to England for my undergraduate studies, I left with the determination that I would start with a clean slate. I tried to completely forget all my notions of home and what makes one, all my notions of identity and belonging. Maybe in England I could just be a girl with no past and no country, just a girl in transition living in a dormitory doing what she has to do before she can find a place for herself in this world. Maybe I’d return to Iran, maybe I’d find a nice man, and he can be a permanent home to me! Isn’t that what those Persian mystics say? Home is the heart of the Beloved! Where he is, home is!
When years later I boarded that plane to Canada, I did it knowing that I was headed to a country of cultural nomads, a country that had successfully managed to integrate people from every culture and walk of life and offer a place for them to exist in peace away from whatever was happening in their own countries. I live in a rented apartment in a lovely, quiet neighborhood. I share a floor with American, Persian, Russian and Korean neighbors. Canada to me is a model of what a perfect world with all races should be like and this is why I love it so. I don’t feel particularly attached to the place I am living in, I don’t consider Canada (or anywhere) my home but I very much consider it my country.
Ironically, the only time in my life to ever experience blatant racism was here. But it was an orphan incident with a semi-literate man. Strangely enough, the incident was with a Native American who told me and a Korean friend to whom I was teaching English, to go home, before berating us about stealing the land and being useless immigrants. My immediate reaction was to chuckle at the word Home. I wanted to tell him: Et tu, Brute? But I instead gave him a lesson in history, manners and a piece of my mind. I am severely allergic to stupidity, and more so to goons and racists.
I envy those who have a one word answer to the question Where is Home for you. I feel connected to a region; the East, I feel connected to ideas; the West. I feel connected to my childhood memories and to those I love. “I” feel connected to my memories of all the places I’ve lived in, including this apartment and neighborhood which do not belong to me and which I know I will inevitably leave, sooner or later. I know but it doesn’t matter to me anymore. I can live anywhere, people refer to me as Cosmopolite, but I just tell them that I am jaded. I’ve been through the same experiences a few times and they no longer have an effect on me. Maybe I am numb, maybe I am flexible, I don’t know. It’s all equally mine and not mine at the same time. Maybe home is a psychological transformation, a new state of being where you feel that the only thing that all these locations and memories and stories have in common is You. Maybe Home is what Emily Dickinson said:
“Where thou art, that is home.”
Sherveen Ashtari Bio:
I am a freelance writer and an English teacher. I live in Vancouver.
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