Thursday, July 27, 2006
An April 4th Escapade
I wasn't supposed to be here, looking at Iranians who might look right back at me, from atop a wooden park bench or crouched beside the charcoal grill. It is past midnight on a Monday evening and paragraphs on my Guantanamo research paper still await me. In the morning, my professors will expect me. I don't arrive searching for serious answers to Iran's foreign policy, I just want to window shop the perspectives of a community.
I might leave the website reconnected to an old friend from Berkeley, or hungry from the photos of saffron rice at an Iranian party. An exceptionally cheesy personal advertisement might make me cringe or laugh -- depends on the day, the mood, the level of joy or velocity. I might remember that I want to return to Iran, but be too lazy to read all the words in a two part piece. If I want to procrastinate even more, I might click on a video link, hear farsi from the flat surface of a computer screen against a white wall, inside a school, millions of miles away from Tehran/Mona/Roya and the heavily polluted tree lined streets where I make immature faces at eating kaleh pacheh in the early mornings.
It doesn't boil down to barefoot children selling batteries and bouquets at stop lights, or bazaar shopping, visiting for a wedding/crying when I have to leave -- after all, even though I was away for two decades, I can still smile and say my name is Bahar...and then remember, that this is all a dream and that my research paper is calling, and with the high-tech speed of a single key, i can turn off the machine, get up, and leave.
That is the privilege with which I procrastinate and with which I escape. When I feel sleepy, all I have to do is x out of the screen and images of a homeland's barefoot poverty disappear. I can read about two million prisoners in the United States, then open a new screen and download music to match the flavor of my coffee. Reading/writing/thinking are too easy when the motor reflexes of my index finger control the course and content of what I see.
So when I am emotionally exhausted from imagining Tehran as a bombed out ashy cavity in the center of the millenium's next invaded country, with the privilege of not having to live the potential reality, I can just refuse to look at another headline or news magazine. From the face of a computer screen, nothing will force me to live the humanitarian tragedy-to-be. At a distance, we become allies and enemies/hypothesize other people's suffering/claim to also be aggreived/write/laugh/remember/and become shy about sharing poetry/ in the quick and easy world of information technology -- where you dont have to be, anywhere you dont want to be and I wanted to sit by the reflecting pool with Mona before it became too hot in Shiraz. But one hour has passed already, my paper is still rotting, and this whole time that I thought I was going to escape/procrastinate into the iranian.com, I realize now, it was the iranian in me that was wriggling to be free.
half filled dreams
She never listened to her own self. Like millions of people who society expects to do what they are told, who society does not entrust with faith in their own intuition, she never opened her ears to her own maddness or dreams. Behind the glassy eyes was a real human being molded into a perfectionist machine. Like a sick scientific experiement of privilege, analytical skills, and indecisiveness, all she could remember was reading a line in a book on a New York subway -- again an extremely bright sunny day muted -- insulated by the air conditioned structure of the train. The author, who himself had once enrolled at insane asylum, which was actually no refuge to begin with, had written that "the happier people can be, the unhappier they are."
The train headed into a tunnel, the lights flickered on and off, the world waited for her with great expectations, a dead grandmother talked to her in dreams, and all she could think about was how "the happier people can be, the unhappier they are."
In the dirty city, across the street from a shiny blue bank -- a bank brand new from punishing people with heavy penalities and fines, was a gothic church. A place of worship littered with a circle of white cops, white cops with guns, batons, bullets and big iron-pumping muscles. Two black men surrounded by six white cops with sterioids in their arms. The steriod side of the street smiled steroid smiles and made steroid jokes. The black men in their autumn jackets, holding their hands out of their pockets, in the autumn air. Waiting. Waiting for what?
Holding his wallet in his hand, his hand intentionally out in the autumn air, so that the police do not mistake a hand in a pocket for a hidden gun and shoot him in the name of habitually racist violence against black men and then rob the english language of meaning by calling it self-defense,
Who was in his wallet? A christmas picture of a little girl watching cartoons on a saturday afternoon waiting for him to come home?
Or was she across the street too, watching him shrug his shoulders, standing tall, over six white rats in tight blue uniforms, with buttons bursting from too much fourth of july fruit salad or a lifetime of canned thanksgiving meals, their state sponsored laughter echoed into the city like a mean ghost hording and scavengeing the hollowed out hearts of people, stealing the air from breathing cavaties.
Welcome to America!
Six white cops with steroids in their arms surrounding two black men with family pictures in their wallets. At a place of worship, across the street from an expensive bank, and a downtown bus stop with Asians, Latinos, Christians, Muslims, and Jamaicans. Everybody watched the black and white-ness of America. The perpetual violence of America. Welcome to America.
And at night, she could not forget, the next morning, she had to file papers and figure out a way to make money in a market economy maze, but all she could do was think about the six sterioid smiling po-lice, fangs coming out of their mouths, and two black men, standing with their hands intentionally out of their pockets.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
A Hole in the Sky
When you disappeared, you left a gaping hole in the sky. All that was left was a thin ceiling of black velvet. A few diamonds and pearls, stitched into constellations by a seamstress with a second hand apron and shooting stars in her eyes, glimmered faintly. To fill the hole you had left, she stayed up all night with a needle and thread, sewing ambers and emeralds back into the beautiful blackness, of the universe's torn velvet dress. Refusing to remember your smile, your voice, the almond shape of your eyes, fields of strawberries that stretched in your heart, and groves of ancient oak trees that wrinkled around your eyes, so that she would never witness another hole in the sky, she continued to stitch day and night. When her calloused fingers trickled with blood, rubys rained from the sky, melting into drops that dried across the earth of oil and clay, earrings and tile, painting the magnificient desert the sunset red we see today.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
A Small Section of Window Screen
First grade was the year of Mrs. Fleming, the Flintstones, and the perfection of cursive handwriting on sheets with the dotted line in between. The other girls at school sparkled in new jeans and crisp white canvas shoes. I clashed in plaids and prints, and jeans that didn’t fit. Despite mild protests from her two children, my mother, who later became known to me as the queen of eggplants and third world feminism, allowed us to watch only one daily hour of T.V. Sixty minutes were split between the Flintstones and the Jetsons, between the bedrock past and fantasies of a future society. Tied to a political history, our dim lit apartment seemed to lag behind the year and time of the sun lit American world oustide, moving forward and walking by. Fortunately, the somber mood still left room for rollerskates, ribbons, and monarch butterflies.
In America, we began life in the time of revolution, oil, and Reagan’s policies. We were emotionally exhausted and the fabric of our lives felt used and worn out. Yet at the same time, our family was young and we held in our hands a bouquet of every flower picked from a field of dreams.
Life as a Mango Slice
A boy from a caravan passing by pulled a ripe mango off the tree and cut the fruit into thin strips to be dried. Thus, she began life from the perspective of a mango slice. When the boy reached the city, he set sail for an island where he would only be surrounded by dolphins and singing mermaids. He left one last mango slice in his pocket, to bring a sweet taste to his mouth when the seas became stormy. As he boarded the ship, he slipped on the deck and while the boy survived, the last slice of mango fell into the Sea.
As a slice of dried mango protected in the warmth of a pant pocket, the water felt cold and choppy, but a large streak of sun was shining directly above me. I floated for what seemed like an eternity. There was no television, no cell phone, no war, no exams, no grading, no xenophobic policies, no prisons, and no police brutality -- but there was also no love, no peace, no music, no candles, and certainly no hugs.
I became radioactively ill because depleted uranium (used by the world’s strongest army to violently obtain oil in a war that misleadingly appeared extremely neat and clean on T.V.) had seeped into the sea with all its carcinogenic, defect inducing capabilities. I also faced a bit of factory made toxic waste that had been illegally dumped in the sea.
I nearly became friends with a bannanna peel who in a previous life had died from the broken heart of losing a spelling bee, but my potential friend was drowned in a single gulp of sea, by a pregnant whale – she was very thirsty. The face of the glaring sun was dehydrating the texture of my mango slice body, so I dove deeper into the water. To my surprise, the ocean floor was covered with high-rise buildings, suburbs, farmland, and rural areas. People with webbed hands and feet swam around the ocean floor cities and streets. Airplanes flew underwater across the globe.
I couldn't believe my eyes and I knew that if I was to ever reach the shore of a landmass, no one would believe me – I understood that to the human world I was just a talking mango slice. In fact, most people would rather believe they are hallucinating or going crazy then actually find it in their heart to live beyond stereotypes and pay attention to the words of a mango slice.
I felt the water rise as the arctic glaciers melted away carelessly, little did I know about the disasterous flooding or the epidemic of global warming. By the time a huge wave ultimately pushed me to shore, I was exhausted. My worst fear came alive when a bird flew down and pecked at me with its sharp beak.
Later that night, caterpillars crawled over me and discussed America’s embarrassingly high incarceration rate while admiring the tangy sweet flavor of the mango in me. I had always felt that the untimely and abrupt death of all my people left a gaping hole in the sterling sky. The memory of rosewater, pearls, and calloused hands still haunted me. Early the next morning, before sunlight littered the waking world, I turned into a butterfly, floating through the hole in the sky, and closing the door behind me.
Monday, January 09, 2006
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Earth of Oil Rich Poverty
Barely a moment was left, for a sip of hot tea. The discovery of soil saturated with oil, was at first, a blessing for the southern city. Until, however, major fossil fuel companies determined that profits will increase by the projection of pipelines through the backyards, gardens, graveyards, and ruins of the depleted country.
Massive bombing pulvarized preschool children playing on swings. Cartons of dried milk dropped from the sky, exploding into clouds of powder and smoke, with every landmine that was hit. Families taped dark blankets against windows, to blind the airstrike pilots, from detecting any sign of life. Grandmothers no longer dried cherries on balconies. With a bouquet of tulips and jasmine, Nazanine got married, in the safety of a parking garage underground.
At the end of the bussiness day, began the nightly state of seige. Global economists cheerfully predicted lower prices at the gas pump. Journalists from around the world arrived at the scene in helicopters that chopped up the occasional blue sky, with expensive camera equipment, priding themselves on their own bravery, excited about the prospect of writing the first story.
In the Next Measure of Time
Will school bus drivers become obsolete, when children finally learn to fly? If there are any cars left on the street, will they be programmed to function automatically, with each city's red lights? Would cable TV be a microchip implanted into the left brain? Would continents collide, so that borders are blurred even in the daytime? Would the new drugs be 10 dimensional experiences? Will shoelaces automatically untie? Will post-colonial countries get first dibs on hosting world sporting events? In the next measure of time, would it be possible to choose the navigation of life, between cruise control, default, and each person's very own personal destiny? Will criminalized people of color, ever be recognized as a generation of angels in disguise? Would it be possible for people who commit suicide, to change their mind and come back to life? Would explosives detonate in slow motion, so that it is still possible to save people's lives? Would we remember everything that we had once forgotten to write?
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Hossein and the Russian Orchard
Yellow brick walls too high for children to climb, surrounded the fruit trees, with the exception of an unlocked entry. While the owners were never seen, local residents believed that ghosts occupied the Russian owned property, which stood in an eery silence, on the Iranian side of the choppy grey sea.
Five forever hungry boys with mischeivous apettites and a much younger porcelain doll of a sister, a father in the bussiness of port administration, and a mother made of pearls and thick calloused skin, had found a new home along the coast of the Caspian sea. Hossein was forced to travel alone, because the four other brothers, who took taxis, trolleys, and busses to school in the mornings, had no need to enter the orchard full of ghosts, with walls wrapped in vines of grape leaves. As for the porcelain doll of a sister, she was far too young to attend school, and by the time she was old enough to start the first grade, the family had moved back to the constant traffic and transportation of a big sprawling city.
Naturally, Hossein was afraid, but he did not have the luxury of a horse or carriage. Thus, he was forced to walk through the orchard alone at night, where a breeze among the leaves can easily disguise the uninvited arrival of a spririt on the scene. Branches of trees, drooping from the weight of cherries, apples, nectarines, were no longer appetizing.
Ordinarily, after a dinner of soft steamed rice and the tumeric seasoned drumstick of a chicken that took forever to catch, Hossein cleaned his teeth and laced up his shoes of canvas and cotton, kissing his mother good-bye. One night, after class, from the bazaar near the school, he bought a bag of fresh yogurt and stone baked bread to bring home.
By the time he reached the front door, his body trembled with fear and the yoghurt had spilled on shoulders, kneecaps, and young hands shaking nervously. The state of shock excused his attendance from school for the week. Thereon, every night, armed with a wooden spear and a German Shepherd, the mother made of pearls and calloused skin accompanied the boy who eventually became the champion of boxing, through the abandoned orchard of ghosts and grape leaves.
Decades later, after the fruit had rotted in the trees, after the inauguration of a new regime, after camels and terrorists stereotyped the country, after families moved away overseas, my father tells me that the walls of the Russian orchard are still standing.