A month ago, I had never had a boos. I was just a Berkeley guy, an English teacher of all things, who didn’t know a single Persian word, who was missing out on a huge Persian world. Those days are shadowy to me now, almost as though I was a different person, an outsider. In the few weeks since I have joined the staff at Golestan (www.GolestanKids.com), in Berkeley, California, I have listened to the sounds of the school — the students, Yalda joun, the teachers — and, I think I have learned something. Now, I think I’m part of the family.
I have worked closely with Yalda joun in the past few weeks, learning what is essential to keep the school running. She is an amazing person, somehow keeping the philosophy and vision of Golestan in sharp focus while executing the administrative necessities of the school, and occasionally even replacing the toilet seats. But this is not a day at the office. While I’m updating registration forms, a euphony of small voices hums up the stairwell, layered by the mixture of classes engaged in different activities on different floors but all reaching me as a polyphonic chorus. While I’m filing receipts, the sound of a Persian lullaby ascends through the floorboards. But I don’t understand a word. I feel like I’m at the opera, listening compassionately to human interaction, not knowing what is really going on, but comprehending the tones of joy and sadness.
Lately when I venture downstairs in search of a screwdriver or to give Mina joun copies of road signs to help the children learn to drive, I have lingered longer to try out the Persian I have learned on the kids. Salaam! I will say proudly. Khoobee? I smile, but the children just stare. I think I must be saying it wrong. One lovely child did respond with finger pointed at me, Amou. I took that to mean “go” and went back upstairs to get some work done in my office, but not before trying the final word in my repertoire, Khodohaafez!
There are moments in education when you have a breakthrough, a flick of a switch after which everything makes sense. It happens at Golestan every day. I can light my office with the photons emitted from the children’s minds when that switch goes off. This occurrence is slowing down for me, but just yesterday I went downstairs to hang a sign on the Science Room door, and was struck by a realization. A little doll of a girl shuffled by, and I said Salaam! same as always, but maybe my accent is improving. The little girl waved and came over to me, showing off her handbag. It was as big as a suitcase to her, but I told her it was lovely, and she said Amou! Thinking that was my cue to leave, I told her Khodohaafez! She responded Boos! which could only mean “hurry up and go!” right? I looked up and Garineh joun was smiling at me and pointing to the little girl. Boos, she said. “It means kiss. And amou is uncle. She wants a kiss from her uncle Aaron.” So I picked my melted little heart up off the floor, and I kissed her head. Happily, she resumed her shuffling. I realized then that the kids had been calling me amou because they had become familiar with me. And all those times they stared at me, it was only because they didn’t know who I was. To the teachers at Golestan, thank you. You have guided me into this wonderful slice of Iranian culture, and without you, I would still leave the room whenever someone called me amou.
I am becoming a part of the family here at Golestan. Somehow, I fit right in. I come in to do my job, as a professional, but there is something distinctly human about Golestan that permits an expression of the compassion and affection that we all need to flourish. Iranian culture is as complex as the layers of sound that waft into my office, but I think as long as I keep listening, I will learn something new every day.