The day I left Iran for good in 1983, I had no idea what living as a foreigner really meant, but now I do.
Being a foreigner no matter where I am, I always comprehend at most half of what people say. It means not getting jokes, not making connections between an old TV show character and something that is happening at the present time. I feel as if I've been thrown onstage to play a role I haven't learned yet. I feel as if I'm trapped at night in a labyrinth, trying to find the exit.
Being a foreigner means I've lost this deep sense of belonging to a place. It feels like an endless struggle just to try to look like everybody else, just to have a banal discussion at work, to offer a neighbor details of a soup recipe, to tell my child a night-time story. It means never being fully in the present, almost like being half deaf, or half blind, or half retarded. It means having to say, “What did you mean?” 100 times a day.
Being a foreigner means that even if I go back to my own country, I will still be a foreigner because I would not feel the fears and concerns of those living in Iran today. I would not laugh at their jokes. I would not cry at their endless funerals. I would not pray to their shameless god. I would not follow their rules. I would not listen to their void. I would not lie to pretend to be something that I am not. I would not look like them. And still I would have to answer this question: “Where do you come from?” 100 times a day.
Being a foreigner means I can't really understand my own children's words. It means I am a mother who is never going to be there, fully, for them, never sharing their deepest feelings, their deepest fears, never able to heal their wounds.
Living as a foreigner is like playing a guessing game. Most of us lose this game. Some of us, after years of trying, finally succeed in dragging ourselves to the top where ordinary life quietly flows.
I thought I was there, at the top.
Until one day I heard that the USA might start a war with Iran.
I really don't know what I am supposed to feel. What am I allowed to say? Am I living in a free country as I always thought I was?
I left Iran without any regrets. And still I think of my leaving as an accomplishment. Still I think I am living right now in “heaven on earth” or the “happiest place in the universe.”
So why don't I feel happy? Why doesn't this place feel like the promised heaven? The prospect of a war with Iran has broken the illusion of happiness. It is heating up my heaven.
What if I am not really happy?
I am not sure what I will feel if US bombs destroy my childhood house, the house that I hated, if those bombs kill my childhood friends who weren't really my friends, if they hurt my aunts, my cousins, my nephews whose names I have never learned.
And I am just so tired of the mountain of hatred in my nightmares.
Being a foreigner means accepting hatred. It means forgetting whatever is left from this vast distance in time connecting me to the past, a place I have no right to own, to remember, to love. Because I left. In the act of leaving those memories, I have sworn not to remember them, ever.
What if US bombs like a faraway smell, like a sweet taste, like a familiar image, bring back those anguished, lonely moments I have escaped?
What if with the sound of each explosion, I wake up at the bottom, where I have always remained.
Being a foreigner means speaking without being understood.