“Will we still be cousins when we grow up?”
It was a question my American-born baby cousin, Bahar, asked me after I explained all the family ties between us — the who's who of this big Iranian family. My reaction was like one of those adults laughing at a little kid's funny question. I said “Of course we will.”
She explained, “Well, my mom says that everything changes when we grow up.” The simple and childish logic of Bahar didn't strike me until a couple of days later, while I was counting how many first cousins I have.
The count: 35 first cousins, including the one in my aunt's belly, arriving in the world in October. And then today I looked into my personal address book; all I have is the email address of six of them. And all we do is exchange jokes.
I remember Iran, long time ago, when I was in elementary school. When my cousin Mahnaz (dokhtar khaleh) used to help me with my homework. I exactly remember one day when we bought a notebook together. It was in the 80s and Michael Jackson and Madonna were hot topics of the day, even in our Shiraz. I remember my teenage boy cousins practicing their break dance, and Madonna's earring on Mahshid's ears. Or Arash's craze about Michael Jackson's shoes.
Who else… Korosh (pesar ameh) who called me Darbo Daghoon, cause I always had a bruise somewhere on my body as a result of my adventures. Or Ali, my best friend of all times; he was one year older than me. We used to share homework so we could finish faster and get to play with our Commodore 64 or vasatoo.
They were not all good; I can never forget Mehran (Gave Pishoony Sefid) — the black sheep. He was all about headaches and pain; nobody liked him, and he didn't like himself either. He never got out of the trouble, but still he was a cousin.
Cousins were somehow our half, the part that always was with you in some way. Good or bad, it was our cousins, and back in Iran they were not just cousins. They were distinguished by their sex, their side of the family, paternal and maternal. Funny or not, some cousins even fell in love with each other, and could have married each other. (I am not going to argue over it, I am educated enough about the genetics.)
Back then, when I was the same age as Bahar, I had maybe 28 cousins. And I had them all. Mahnaz used to help me in crafting. Koroush used to take me biking; Ali was my best play date. And then I was 14-15, and Mina my baby cousin came along. It was my turn to baby-sit her, to teach her how to talk and give her “makine” (the way she called macaroni).
And the story continued until I packed up to come to the U.S. Mahnaz went to Germany, Mina to Canada.
For some reason my American cousins, other than Bahar, were never a part of my life. They live maybe 20 minutes away from me. But we are only cousins, attached by blood, not heart. For them I am the Iranian girl, who doesn't fit into their criteria of COOL.
I think I am at a point where I hate family gatherings, where I have to see my cousins, sit with them and talk to them about my life. The parties where by 9 o'clock my cousins are off to the movies with their friends and FUN.
Even cousins who raised me, or were raised with or by me, are not the same. The best relationship I have with them, is to put them in my email joke list and see them a couple of times a year.
Ironically my cousin Fariba, who used to baby-sit me all the time, doesn't ask me to baby-sit her daughter, she is better off with an after school program. Because I am young and want to have fun, why should I have to baby-sit my cousin! This is America, who cares about others?
I miss the joy of playing with my baby cousins, and chatting with my peer cousins. What movie, or nightclub can replace the joy of seeing Mina saying her first words? Or Bozorgmehr revealing his secret hiding place in his room? When can beer drinking with my buds replace the joy of girly chats and gossiping between me and Katy?
I know Neda will never figure it out. She is American, and to her “cousin” is just another word. I know Essie will never figure out how much I want to help him find a job. Why, he wonders; she is just another cousin from an army of Iranian cousins.
I was thinking yesterday, what happened to Ali? All I have from him is a picture. I haven't talked to him in three years. He is still in Shiraz. I don't even have an email address from him. Mahnaz is now a mom in Germany, and I never got a chance to help her son, with his homework. Let me check… oh I don't have her new email address!
Nima is in Canada now, I have his phone number. But he is usually out at school or work. I will never get a chance to tell Kourosh's little girls about the times when their dad took me to park. I will never hear Jesica's first words. I didn't attend Arash's wedding.
And now, I have cousins named, Anna, John, Christopher, Hanna, and David. They are as foreign to me as their names. Anna was introducing me to someone in a party and was saying: “I know we are somehow related. She doesn't have any idea…”
I should tell Bahar, that “No we may not stay cousins when we grow older.” We will be cousins only in words. In reality, the best we'll do is exchanging jokes through email.