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August 26, 2003

 Life 
Eyes Open
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

amelie.jpgI open my eyes: The dream stopped; A big flash of events of the past days, my duties today and all that I have to do ... Everything is stale and familiar; I must be awake.

I have trouble focusing. I seem lost and out of place. I am looking for myslef. The radio is on, playing fuzzy classical music, it has to be turned off.

Seems that I have lost myself; I am not the one I used to be; I am not the one I wanted to be and never will be. What happenned to me?

Everyday I want to start my day with a promise, with a holy sign, with a real message. When I think, I can't even remember how it was for me in Iran. How did I wake up? What would I see and want? Breakfast would be ready, life would be already started. How would my parents think? Would they feel the same, or am I really experiencing a brand new kind of misery? Is it because I have moved here to Canada? Is it just that I can't feel at home? What would my life be in Iran? What would I do? What would be different? Would I have different hobbies? I would have a weblog? In Persian? In English? Would I learn Spanish? Someone would mistake me for a Mexican? Would I be doing physics? Would I be teaching? Would I be a salesman? I would be happy? Happier? Like a fish in a lake?

I have my moments; I always had them, those moments of clarity, I mean. You know; When everything seems to be stopped and everything suddenly is so rich in details, a feeling that an opaque screen has just been removed.

And the moment rules.

[post script: Iman, This is how I was thinking today.]

Comments
Senior Grad at August 26, 2003 02:18 PM [permalink]:

See what you did, Iman! How are we supposed to debate now? ;-(

Shiraz at August 26, 2003 05:15 PM [permalink]:

Maybe you should’ve titled the article “Eyes Wide Open”! Since you are so aware of the different paths your life could have taken had you chosen otherwise. I liked reading the article a lot because it reminded me of my own confusion about my life and the choices that I have made in my past :-). I guess in some sense it is good to question ones decisions instead of being carried on by the flow of everyday life. Some of the points that Kaveh mentioned above are directly related to living abroad. Some are just a result of becoming independent. I guess you would have experienced similar dilemma(s?) such as choices of career, hobbies, relationships etc. even if you were in Iran. I don’t know how useful is questioning these choices if there is no way back? We make choices in the best of our ability at the time and we have to face the consequences. Nonetheless we question them all the time. On the other hand by living abroad we face new experiences like how to do deal with people of different cultures and different religions. We learn that the world is much more diverse than what we were thought back at home. I guess this is a very important point and I wish more and more people would have the chance to experience it. Even if it is not pleasant, it makes us become more realistic and down to earth (hopefully). But I also agree that it can some times be overwhelming in the sense that one just wants to go home and be the fish in the lake (compared to the sea).

Senior Grad at August 26, 2003 10:52 PM [permalink]:

Well put, Shiraz. Let me share a bit of my own experience. I came to America quite a few years ago, in my late 20s. I absolutely hated it here for a number of years. I just loathed almost everything about Americans! (No, I wasn't even religious.) Then I went back to the "lake" for a long visit. I had a quite tranquil time and enjoyed my trip, although towards the end I was getting bored. When I came back, I experienced a strange feeling. Similar in strangeness to what Kaveh tries to convey here. It was as if I could for the first time breathe, but I still hated it!

Then I ran into this amazing American guy. (No, I'm not gay.) He's of Iranian descent. I learned a LOT from him. He showed me how to view things differently, how to let go of my crippling insecurities. Little by little, step by step, I made peace with America. I started to appreciate the value of *freedom* in the deepest sense of the word. I still have a long way to go. But this friendship transformed me. One thing I had failed to realize was what I was missing from Iran, my loss, have been good friends that I had left behind. It was only after this invaluable friendship that it occurred to me that I *can* live in America...

Senior Grad at August 27, 2003 01:17 PM [permalink]:

No comments?

I always find it hard to elaborate on what I mean by "freedom" when people ask me to do so. What I mean is not only freedom in *action*, that is to say, being free to do whatever you wish (as long as you remain in the confines of the law) but breaking free from old mental habits and ancient cultural hang-ups. This takes courage. A courage that one may not even realize that s/he lacks, until one morning s/he wakes up (with eyes open) and it hits her/him that s/he was *afraid* of something, simply because it's part of her/his cultural uncharted territory. We all love safety and security, but part of us (the inner child?) yearns for adventure...

One thing about Iranians (and presumably other immigrants of the same origin) is that they stick together in the new land, thus forming Iranian enclaves, no matter how much they're harmed by this alliance. In America, thank God, you don't need to have a lot of "friends" to make sure that you can survive the society's brutalities. There is a proverb in Persian, saying: A thousand friends are barely enough, but one enemy is already one too many. How about a few good friends and no enemies? The truth of the matter is one cannot be honest and close to but a few selected people. The rest, that we keep for a rainy day, are a habit we bring from the old homeland, where social insecurities make forming such alliances a necessity of life.

I guess I'm targetting a cultural trait of the Iranians here, that they do not let go of, even when they apparently have the choice to. This is what I mean by lack of freedom. I think each Iranian who lives abroad, while keeping her/his relationship with fellow Iranians at a reasonbale level, should open up to others in this melting pot and possibly seek friendship among non-Iranians. That is the great thing about living outside one's country, but we don't seem to take full advantage of it. Any comments now?

ali at August 27, 2003 11:03 PM [permalink]:

hmmm, hi, Kaveh! you pointed my great question. Since I have been here, I always have been thinking if here is better or Iran and as well what we have lost is due to aging or immigration. It's still my great question and I still dont know what is the answer, but one feeling: sometimes I think I am lost too.
Senior grad! you are right. We should find new friends, live with people who are around us, maybe do follow basketball and baseball matches to have something to talk with these people, but a great question still remains: " We were born in Iran, it took us more than 20 years to learn how to live there, to learn our souronding and to learn european soccer teams and enjoy following their matches, improvements and .. . Now, is it worth it to abaondon those findings, skills ... and start a new life here or you think maybe life is a little bit short and it is time to enjoy it"

Shiraz at August 27, 2003 11:28 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad:

Yes, I have some comments :-)

Maybe “liberation” is a closer term to what you are trying to explain. This can only take place when you are forced to think about the traditions and the habits that your country and/or religion have imposed on you. The point that I want to mention is that you need not to be abroad to liberate yourself from these chains. It just needs some body or some thing to turn your world upside down. Then you sit down and think what is wrong and if you are smart you realize, too many of your habits are imposed on you and you don’t really believe in them. But I agree that being outside the country gives you a clearer image of how the world really works IF you are willing to see it. By the above remark I don’t mean that we have to get rid of all our customs, I just mean that we have to choose them alertly and not to stick to them just because we are scared to let them go.

I thought I have an answer for why do some people stick to their compatriots and some don’t, but I guess I don’t have any. I don’t know what makes people decide that they can or can’t befriend people of other nations. I can just guess that it is an “insecurity” issue and the fact that one feels people from his/her country understand him/her better. Even though I had the opposite experience.

I think I’m completely lost in your argument about having too many friends in Iran “to survive the society's brutalities”?! Isn't this just a result of your liberation?

Senior Grad at August 28, 2003 12:01 PM [permalink]:
Thanks for your comments, ali and Shiraz. Let me reply from the bottom up. Shiraz: your "getting lost" in my "argument" is understandable. Sometimes I am too consice to make much sense. English is my second language and the word "brutalities" was the first word that sprang to my mind. I should try harder in my writings. In using that word, I was particularly alluding to the absense of meritocracy[=SHAYESTEH-SALARI] in Iran. By using the word "alliance" (again a bad choice, I must admit) I was refering to the bonds that people make in Iran *merely* in order to come to each others' help when they need it. These bonds per se are not bad, even though they often involve a lot of hypocrisy, but unfortunately they tend to override the Rule of Law. One can even claim that it is the primary purpose of them. This phenomenon is empitomized in the commonplace practice known as PARTI-BAZI. Let me step back a little bit and in order to put things in perspective compare the case of the US. (I haven't lived long enough in other countries, and that is the only reason I compare Iran and US. Only if a single lifetime allowed one to have a first-hand experience of all various cultures!) In the US the human relationships can be divided into two categories: personal and professional. It took me couple of years to finally realize what professionalism means. In Iran, on the other hand, either there is no such distinction, or the boundaries are (purposely?) blurred. Example: My first years in America, I hated the empty professional smiles. A smile (among many other gestures) in my old society has a different connotation, and causes a different expectation. I hated the fact that I couldn't become friends with the grocery of the neighborhood. In Iran (or in that Iran that I used to live in, because we presumably come from different strata of Iranian society), if your don't pretend to be friendly with the shopkeepers, they won't treat you right. You're standing in a long line, and somebody who only has a better "public relations" skills go ahead and says: "Asghar Agha, please hand out *our* milk my wife is waiting in the car." Now, this may seem trivial. But I would like to argue that such bonds that we make in Iran to keep ahead of others who are not smart[=ZERANG] enough to generate for themselves such wide-range connections are very harmful to the institution of civil mentality. In fact, I find this trait to be a major cultural obstacle for realizing a civil society, in which the individuals are treated based on being human, not based on whether they are somehow connected to this minister or that grocer. There is a vicious circular phenomenon here at work, that I'll try to explain briefly. See, the existing insecurities (in finding a job, for example) encourage people to pursue such bonds. The "system" (society, government, etc) is regarded as inherently injust and therefore everybody has to try to be on the "right" side of this injustice. Not only that, regrettably, we don't sincerely seem to mind injustice, as long as we are on the "right" side of it. Now, based on this perception, you naturally pursue such bonds to help you in government offices[=EDARAT] and other areas of social life. Then this general trend (for overriding the rule of law through personal/professional connections) in turn causes the injustice that was used in the first place for justifying their existence. This argument deserves to be sent separately, so let me reply to your oth ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Senior Grad at August 28, 2003 12:18 PM [permalink]:

Let me reply to ali now, and then in a few hours to Shiraz's other concerns. (There is a luncheon I have to go to.)

We do not need to become HAMRANG E JAMA'AT (how would one translate this to English? Any ideas?)in this society to be accepted. This is a very common mistake that Iranians make. It helps if you learn about basketball and baseball, but it shouldn't be necessary. How can one force oneself to like anything anyway?! This society, it seems to me, is based on respecting individualism and promoting diversity. That's why you can find the weirdest hobbies among Americans. You rather have to find *like-minded* people. Not an easy task, I agree. Maybe you (I don't mean just you, ali!)should try to start feeling that you belong to wherever you live in. Maybe you should volunteer for some community activity. After all, this *is* the place that you are living in now, *not* your home back in Iran. Of course, you continue to visit the old home in your dreams and fantasies, but this shouldn't prevent you from enjoying your *real* life here.

There's a flaw in my argument. You will say, well, the people who are most like-minded to us are Iranians! True, but I still find exploring a larger domain quite rewarding, not to mention that some Iranian "alliances" that I have seen in this country are pretty unhealthy...

Kaveh Kh. at August 28, 2003 03:17 PM [permalink]:

no comment.

Senior Grad at August 28, 2003 03:24 PM [permalink]:

Let me say that I enjoyed Shiraz's neatly written and easy-to-follow comments. I wish *I* could write that neatly. I have a tendency to jump from a subject to another subject, and while these are somehow connected in my mind, the connection may not be easily discernible for the reader.

Liberation. You are right. "Liberate" is probably the best verb to use here. One should liberate oneself from one's inhibitions--or in Shiraz's terms, things that are imposed on you (I would say "instilled in your mind") by the culture you are raised in. Brainwashing may sound a negative way to put it, but I don't se anything wrong with "washing" your brain once in a while in order to clean it up.

I agree that you do *not* need to go outside your country to be able to liberate your mind. The amazing thing, though, is the fact that living outside your country alone is far from enough for liberating yourself from the old mentalities. They have become part of you--your second nature.

I shall remain silent about whether we "really" believe in what we are indoctrinated with or not, just to avoid some "philosophical" questions like what we mean by "I" when we use the word and how dynamic/static it is and things of that sort. (Alan Watts in "The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are" (an old book, but very much worth looking at) has some interesting insights on this matter.)

About Iranian alliances (the ones I have seen) what's surprising is the fact that although the friends in an alliance may hurt each other, they still prefer themsleves to trying other people! Maybe the reason is they are familiar with the Iranian ways and can best operate in an Iranian environment, no matter how unhealthy it is. And by "hurting" I do not mean physically. Iranians (that I have seen) hurt each other by venomous remarks they make, by interfering in each others' affairs and knowing it their inalienable right to do so, and by punishing whoever does something out of ordinary, by ridiculing each other openly or else. This makes having a relationship with them not a pleasant experience, but a challenge to confront. Finally, in line with Shiraz's experience, my best friends here have not been Iranian either!

Senior Grad at August 28, 2003 04:04 PM [permalink]:

"No comment" to which one of the comments, Kaveh?

Some corrections in my postings:

injust--->unjust
empitomized--->epitomized
consice--->concise

Ali Hosseiny at August 28, 2003 05:00 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad! Well, you are right! maybe you can find some mindful people and talk about something mindful rather than footbal and baseball and whatever, but this will not make you happy and make you believe that you are a successful man in your community. When you were in your home country, if you were in a taxi you could talk with taxi driver and talk with his/her (not "her" yet but maybe in the future) language. If you were sitting beside a kid you could talk about his/her world. If you were sitting beside whoever, you could talk with his/her language and enjoy talking. This is the point. In Iran you tried to know your world. You found who is Makhmalbaf, his movies. You knew every TV characters, you knew some people arround you. This is one of the important things that made you happy, cause you knew a lot. You may find some people and every day talk about special subjects, but it is not the life. Life is that when you get to an elevator and a girl smiles you and sais something funny you get the point right there and reply her comment. When i got here I thaught Americans were some stupid people living a lost world, but latter something came to my attention. I thaught that they were making very nice and mindfull movies, they were improving science, they were doing lots of things in its best manner. So my conclussion was that they are not some fool lost people. They were living but I didn't know their world. That was the point.

Senior Grad at August 29, 2003 10:21 AM [permalink]:
Thank you, Ali, for you comment. I see there is a new posting and the attentions have been shifted to more interesting stuff, but let me provide a reply before I read (and react to!) the next article (about hijab). I had more to say about groupings and how they were related to irrational patriotic feelings, but the readership seemed to have already moved on, so I didn't write more below 'Ticket to Tehran, One-Way or Round-Trip?' I see your point, Ali. In fact I feel it, because I have *been* there. Let me add to your comments that back in Iran not only you could *talk* to people, but you could communicate in all sorts of way (I briefly touched the issue when I was saying something about the "American smile"). In a taxicab, not only you could talk to the driver and your fellow passengers, but also you could tell, more or less, where they come from, meaning what kind of people they are, by just looking at how they have dressed and how they carry themselves and so on and so forth. All this goes right down the tube when you enter the domain another culture, where the facial expressions do not convey what they used to anymore. College girls roll their eyes when they hear something strange, but there is no warmness, for lack of a better term, in their eyes of the kind you could see in any Iranian woman’s eyes. Everything has changed. You find yourself in a frighteningly alien environment, and of course you suffer. So I am by no means denying the trauma that is caused by dislocation. It is not something specific to Iranians entering American. I'm pretty sure a lot of papers, if not books, have been published on the psychology of immigration. 'Trauma', by the way, sounds a bit too strong a term, but only to those who haven't been through the experience of finding themselves, all of a sudden, among people who are very different from what they have known all their life. Almost all the "standards" of living change, even the standards of weight and currency and length and temperature. (Not so much for those lucky guys who went to Canada, rather than the States.) I still say SHANBEH[=Saturday, the first working day of the week in Islamic countries] sometimes when in fact I mean Monday! It is not surprising, then, that during Shah's time when getting an American visa was a piece of cake and many middle class families could afford to send their children to America for getting an education, many of them would return back, as I have heard, from the foreign land to their mommy (and daddy) after a few months, preferring the emotional security of the home-land to the harshness they had to deal with in the U.S. It is tough, no question about it. Especially the loneliness can be painfully unbearable (or unbearably painful) for those who come from a culture where there are always people around you, sometimes to a suffocating degree, and privacy is something unheard of. So in the *short* term, the way to heal yourself may be getting together with other Iranians. The choices, however, as I'm sure you have noticed, are very limited. You've got to hang out with Iranians that you wouldn't approach at all, had the two of you meet each other in Iran, and neither would they approach you. But one has to eventually get past this point, especially one who has come here to stay for at least a few years, unlike our parents who come here for a short visit, enjoy their “honey moon” time in America, get bored after a while, and return to their familiar quarters. Making a ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
rojin at September 3, 2003 05:39 AM [permalink]:

salaam
aaghaayaan va khaanoomhaaye mohtaram!
tamaame oonche ke shomaa alaan daarin hes mikonin, vaaseye maa shahrestaanihaaye ham-daaneshgaahitoon aashenaas. in hes ro maa tajrobe kardim har chand midoonam ke tafaavote farhangiye Tehran va shahrestaanaa, be maraateb kamtar az tafaavote Iran baa keshvarhaaye dige-as.
dar har haal maa khodemoon ro baa aadaabe shomaa, harf zadane shomaa, tarze negaahetoon be zendegi va va va tataabogh daadim. shaayad shomaa ham baayad in kaaro bokonin va shaayad ham na. va in baraaye khaanoomaa sakhtar az aaghaayoone. chon oonaa dar belaade khaareje ehtemaalan vazifeye maadari ro ham bar ohde khaahand daasht, kaari ke baa tavajjoh be in tafaavote farhangi be maraateb sakhttare. man in comment ro gozaashtam tanhaa be in jahat ke mikhaastam begam ye Iraaniye moghime Iran ham mifahme shomaa chi migin va az samime ghalb baraatoon aarezooye kaam-yaabi daare.
be omide inke Iraane khodemoon, jaaye zendegi kardan baashe va majboor nabaashim farhangemoon ro inghad baa khodemoon khar-kesh konim...

[Translation by one of the editors follows. The punctuation of the original comment has been kept. We should also add explicitly that writing comments in Persian is frowned upon!]
Hi,
Ladies and gentelmen!
Whatever you are feeling right now is all too familiar for us, your fellow university classmates from the provinces. We felt the same feelings, although we know that the cultural differences between Tehran and the provinces are much less than those between Iran and other countries.
In any case, we adapted ourselves to your customs, your way of speaking, your way of looking at life, etc. Maybe you should do the same, maybe not. And this would be more diffcult for ladies than for gentelmen. Since they would probably be taking care of the children as well in the lands abroad, a job that is even more diffcult, given the cultural differences. I posted this comment just beacuse I wanted to say that an Iranian residing in Iran also understands what you are saying, and wish you the best sincerely.
To the hope that our own Iran will be a place to live and we won't be forced to drag our culture this much with us...

Senior Grad at September 3, 2003 11:55 AM [permalink]:

I thought it was a policy of this forum not to write comments in Persian. In my postings I have always thought twice before using a Persian word, and have tried to provide a translation, whenever possible, not to discourage the occasional non-Iranian readership. Sometimes, however, I have failed, either because there is no English word capturing the same meaning, or because if there is, I have not been aware of it. (Can PARTI-BAZI, for example, be almost accurately translated to "nepotism"?)

However, rojin's post have been there for quite a few hours now and assuming that it will stay there, I would like to say a few words about it to Persian-speaking readers of this comment.

Regardless of the content of rojin's comment, and aside from the fact that it is written in another language, I can feel that it is different in its overall tone to most other comments. It has, may I dare say, another "discourse"! Let's see if I can convince you of this conviction.

First of all, I believe if it's translated to English it will sound odd to a normal English-speaking person. No American girl, I'm sure, would use such "discourse" for saying something.

The beginning of rojin's comment makes it sound like a formal letter: Greetings! Ladies and Gentlemen! (in reverse order) Without attempting any generalizations, the content *and* tone of the comment is similar to what I have seen in many other Persian weblogs. To me it conveys a kind of MAZLOOMIAT (and how am I supposed to translate this one?) combined with "you think you know it better, but it's not really the case"! The comment ends with a sincere prayer for the well-being of Iranians abroad and wishing Iran a better future. (KHAR-KESH was a new word to me.)

A non-language-related issue about single Iranian girls going abroad. I have observed that girls are generally much faster in adapting themselves to the "American culture", even in the realms of dating and mating. I don't know why. It startles me. Maybe because girls whose parents allow to come abroad alone are already raised in "liberal" families. Some of 'em immediately find themselves a boyfriend and move in with him. Guys, on the other hand, usually stay stuck in their old mental patterns. Some remain forever confused as to whether do it American style, or bring a wife from Iran, not to mention that a lot of them fail to realize what "American style" means for a long time, because they are just trapped in their pre-conceptions for a long long time!

Neo A. at September 3, 2003 01:41 PM [permalink]:

When I read your words of "like a fish in the lake" I remembered this lyrics:

We're only two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Years after years

And what we found
Our last fears…

(Album: how I wish you were here
Music group: Pinkfloyd)

+

As an experience maybe a weblog in Persian could help any Iranian in the other countries to express his thoughts and feelings for himself or the other persons whom he wants know his weblog address!! Specially when there is no paying attention to the others' commentary about what he think or feel when he type a post for the weblog.(of course without disregarding anyone)

+

Nobody knows what is better to choice at all; but though life goes on ,ever in these situations as a fact. In some cases the removal of "an opaque screen" could be harmful, but it could be hopeful either; when the blinding light comes in….


ahmad at September 13, 2003 12:53 PM [permalink]:

[personal ad removed by editors]

Anonymous at January 17, 2004 06:47 PM [permalink]:

The most interesting thing to me about this site(freethoughts) is that as I continue reading over different subjects and comments, I see what is really my thoughts and concerns. Having read
Kaveh Khodjasteh's post, I'm telling myself, what if someday I'm going to go somewhere even much beyond a big country like US. At that time I would probably think about my options in US and criticize myself about what I had done and what I had chosen. I'm now trying to know my whereabouts and my opportunities and try to choose the best.
I'm know trying to broaden my view of the world and recognize the world as it is, as best as I can.