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A ramble from Chile
You think of one million things and nothing at all

By Rouzbeh Shirazi
September 14, 1999
The Iranian


This started out as a letter to you, but it blew up. Inspirado por ti.

Imagine -- or perhaps you might understand this all too well -- feeling the entire range of human emotion in one day. You wake up sobbing, sad for something inexplicable and incomprehensible, and with a cup of coffee and a cigarette regain sanity long enough to eat breakfast and ride the two buses you have to ride everday to get to school.

This is the part of the day you enjoy the most. Teenagers, businessmen, mothers and grandparents swirl about you, and the venders spring aboard hawking their wares, each having perfected the art of the 30-second sale. Nailclippers, ice cream, and band-aids compete for your 100 pesos coin, which is apparently the official price for merchandise offered in locomotion. Most people carry on their conversations, indifferent to the mobile bazaar, but you decided to give your coin to the blind man who loudly played the flute in your ear for six blocks, then got off.

The city flies by you, and in that time you think of one million things and nothing at all at the same time, and after forty-five minutes of this sifting, you restep onto your mental tightrope, for you realize you just passed your stop. Fumbling for you words, you are able to get off the bus a block and a half past where you should of, but at least today you were on the right bus.

Encouraged by your half-assed success, you put a little strut in your walk to the campus. Here your bravery and charm emerges again, and for a while you feel loved and important by the random few who have chosen to accept you and wish to know you, and for a time you regain the understanding that this has been the most incredible experience of your turbulent life. You will talk about love, and you will hear the same stories of pain and pleasure. And then you offer in your Farsi-accented Spanish (which is quite popluar here) simpler versions of the same anecdotes that have made you so popular at home, and draw laughter in yet another language.

In these moments, you feel like the perfect chameleon, the universal human, and that maybe just maybe, this is what you have wanted and searched desperately for all your hybrid life. Knowing you have transcended culture, and are accepted for who you are rather than what you are, and being American, or Iranian, or Iranian-American seem like archaic notions of autodefinition. Your epiphanies are shorted lived. Time for class.

Your extremes subside long enough to experience the ubiquitous boredom that a college lecture brings about, and then you step outside again. Seeing no one familiar, you seat yourself in the center of the courtyard and begin to feel lonely. You see other North American students walk by, chattering about the same shit here as they do back there, and it only makes you feel lonelier. Kids from back home offer familiarity that from time to time one needs, but the culture of the intellectual suburban elite is exactly what you were trying to rid yourself of by coming here. Hearing English alternately soothes and scalds you, and after hearing about how drunk someone was last night, you decide today you will maintain your distance from the other gringos.

As you sit and attempt to read something and overhear several conversations, a Chilean student approaches you for a cigarette and you end up with a new friend, and in the three hours that you ended up talking to each other, you relate everything profound and personal that has ever happened to you, and then end up hysterical laughing because you've found explaining the word cheesy to Chileans is one of the hardest things in the world to do in a land where tight jeans and the Backstreet Boys reign supreme. The two of you decide to travel somewhere this weekend, and you really don't care where, because what just happened to you was cool as hell.

In the two months that I have been here, I have gained a new consciousness, lost myself infinitely, and have mangled all my language abilities. I have dreamed of Iranian food, and have spoken exactly six hours of Farsi since I have been here, half in conversation with myself, and half in the weekly half hour conversations I have had with my parents. My words have lost so much power and now I speak a stark and naked style of English, a hazy Farsi, and an emerging Spanish. And in this linguistic decay, I have found a few drinks easily give way to mutual understanding, and that laughter is the closest humanity will come to a universal language. People are people, and culture is only part of the background.

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