For all bi-cultural Iranians who feel
they don't really belong anywhere
July 29, 2005
Alone I walked through the alley again on a moonlit
My body, a pair of eyes
seeking your sight.
My soul, a cup brimming with your desire
I was again the same old lover on fire.
Deep in my soul, the rose of your memory gleamed
The garden of a hundredfold memory beamed
Many a night has ever since spent in darkness of woe
You never sought any news
of your lorn lover to know.
You will never again set foot in that alley though!
Through that alley I walked
once again but in sorrow
Excerpt from Fereydoon Moshiri's Koocheh ("Alley"), translated
by Ismail Salami
Nousha sat across her friend Sami in one of the trendy cafés
of North Tehran. Before meeting Sami, Nousha had been browsing
the books at Shahreh Ketab ("Book City"), a new bookstore
in North Tehran mimicking Barnes and Nobles or Indigo but with
its own distinctive flavour of Iranian bookstores carrying posters
of Iranian literary figures and copied CDs at modest prices. She
lifted the books one by one and browsed the spines for titles that
intrigued her. How she loved being around books -- that literary
world of fanciful characters where she could take refuge in her
Browsing the spines, she recognized Fereydoon Moshiri's Ba
Tamameh Ashkhayam ("With All My Tears"). How she loved Moshiri's
poetry. Funny, she thought, how she had lived abroad since her
tender years but still managed to read and be moved by Moshiri's
poetry. She thought Iranian poetry or poetic speech read like a
poignant melody -- specially, if it was read in that gruff Khosro
She flipped the book open and there it was -- her favourite Moshiri
poem, Koocheh ("Alley). She recalled Milan Kundera's The
Unbereable Lightness of Being. At the very moment when she had been reviewing
her past in her mind's eye, she had flipped the book open to Koocheh ("alley"). How appropriate! Fortuitous! As her tears
were about to take her over, she recoiled from her philosophical
state to maintain proper form. She continued browsing the books:
Forough, Hedayat, Moshiri, Sohrab -- all translated to English.
To her chagrin, she even discovered English poetry books written
by Iranians. She browsed through Sarvenaz Heraner's Tears for Fears
and was glad to find herself in the verses of someone else's poetry.
She had felt so lonely ever since her arrival. She had relished
her time with her family but somehow had felt out of place. While
she spoke the same language and had the facial features of an archetype
Iranian girl -- arched eyebrows and big brown eyes -- she found
it difficult to relate to Iranians who had never lived abroad.
A few days ago, she had visited a beauty shop in North Tehran
to have her eyebrows shaped. Having sat in the waiting area in
the company of her uppity Tehrooni compatriots, she had eves dropped
on the desultory conversations of the girls who were having their
faces threaded and hairs highlighted while feverishly admiring
themselves in the mirror. She must have heard Zara and Mango at
least twenty times. Nousha was impressed by their beauty. Their
sense of fashion, on the other hand, she found smart, extremely
trendy but at the same time ubiquitous -- these girls looked like
clones of one another. She also found their incessant obsession
with materialism somehow annoying. She found herself unable to
relate to the materialistic culture of North Tehran generally.
How Nousha had felt alienated in the West and had longed for
passing by the old streets of her childhood. How she had carried
the dream of walking in her old neighborhood on her shoulders and
how heavily that had weighed. She had dreamed of meeting up with
her past for so long and now that she had, somehow she was disappointed.
If only she had left it as just that -- a dream -- then maybe she
could have still sat in her room day dreaming about the streets
she had once played in while letting the wonderful nostalgia take
over her body as she lit a cigarette and laid her back to her bed.
She purchased a few posters and a few cheap CDs, a number of
books and headed over to the trendy café next door. The
café was located upstairs in a two-storey mall called "Arian" in
North Tehran. It overlooked Mirdamad Street. Nousha loved sitting
by the big windows sipping on her café glace admiring the
beautiful vista of her childhood neighborhood. Intellectual conversations
with her friend Sami over café glace and Kent cigarettes
in Iran's coffee shops were enough for her forlorn to give way
Her friend Sami who had lived in the West for over 18 years had
recently moved to Iran to help with the BAM disaster and to look
into job opportunities. How Nousha admired Sami! After completing
dental school he had abdicated his dental crown (no pun intended)
and had handed it over to his parents on a silver platter to follow
He had immediately left for Spain for a one month excursion which
had turned into 6 months of contemplation. He returned absolutely
convinced that he wanted to become a psychologist. After a few
arduous years, he had finished his masters in psychology. And now
fate had brought him back to Iran.
Sami beckoned to the waiter to bring over an ashtray. He lit
a cigarette and took a sip of his cappuccino. He looked at Nousha
and said, "I am so confused Noush, azinja moondeh azoonjan
"What do you mean Sami?"
"Do you ever get the feeling that we don't belong anywhere?
When my parents sent me to the West I was a child of 12 years.
With my dark features and strange name I became a hermit in a strange
land trying to make sense of what had happened. Looking back, I
don't know how I got through it. The other day my mom told me to
be careful when I cross the street. It made me laugh and cry at
the same time. Parents can be such a nuisance."
"Well, after years of soul searching, I mustered enough
courage to follow my own dream but I still felt a missing part.
I was convinced that Iran would be the answer. I will always be
a Sami Khoshbayanee with the strange last name in the West. I tried
becoming Shawn Khosh for a while but people still asked me where
I was from to which I replied half Spanish, half Middle-Eastern.
I hated lying. I hated changing my name and I hated changing my
identity to belong. So here I am. But now I wonder. Is this my
place? I am worlds apart from the Iranians in Iran. I am constantly
feigning a smile to jokes I do not find funny and cannot understand.
Maybe our only panacea is to head out like Columbus and find a
new land for all bi-cultural Iranians. Maybe then we won't be homeless."
Listening to Sami, Nousha wanted to simultaneously laugh and cry.
She could not believe how her how experiences resonated with those
Sami and Nousha conversed over another cup of café glace
and a few more Kent cigarettes laughing and crying over their similar
experiences in the West and in Iran.
After coffee, Nousha took Sami to the bookstore next door and
told him she had found a haven in Iran where the two of them could
fit in. She then said goodbye to Sami and headed back "home." Walking
back, Nousha recalled her favourite Moshiri poem, Koocheh ("alley").
She was the lover and Iran her beloved. She recalled her parting
at the Mehrabad airport all those years ago. She had promised herself,
at the time, that she would never betray Iran, that she would remain
chaste, a faithful lover and that she would count the days until
she would meet her beloved again. She had reviewed ever alley way
in her mind's eye a million times. Her fire had been burning for
all these years and when she had finally met up with her beloved,
he had betrayed her. Her beloved had called truce with destiny
and had slept with time. She no longer recognized his face. Maybe
he no longer recognized hers. And so through that alley she walked
once again but in sorrow.