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From a distance
Award-winning letter to home

March 24, 2005

This piece was one of the 2005 Grand Prize winners in the California Council for the Humanities / New California Media Letter Home Contest annouced yesterday. Another winner of the $1,000 prize was feature writer, Kathy Katayoon Hadizdeh. NCM is a nationwide association of over 700 ethnic media organizations representing the development of a more inclusive journalism.

Dear Nanjoon:

Hope you’re in good health and that the arthritis medicine I sent has helped. We’re fine. Gary enjoys his work, Cyrus has new friends and I’m happy as long as there’s sunshine.

Our movers were unbelievable. A team of four men packed; bubble wrapped and jammed thirty years of junk into the back of their truck in one day. Three days later, they delivered, unpacked and transformed this house into our home. You’d probably say with what we paid them we could have bought another house in Iran but, with nine thousand rials to the dollar, I stopped converting to rials a long time ago.

Have we really put Chicago behind? My friends thought I’d miss the changes of seasons. Cyrus’s teacher shook his head and said, Wrong place to raise a teenager. And you cautioned me against the LA Iranians even when I told you we’d live two hours away.

Nonetheless, our frozen bones won.

We live on a private street near the ocean. The weather is perfect -- except for the morning fog which makes it seem as if the sun rises at noon. I no longer need mittens, boots or ear muffs and a fireplace is more useful outdoors at night than indoors!

My only concern is Cyrus’s school. Most of his teachers moonlight as a sports coach and are hard to reach. Cyrus seems to have adapted. Last night, he called his friend in Chicago. “There’s no lunch room. It’s like a picnic every day!” he said.

There’s also no school bus in our area and classes end at 2:00 p.m. Have we deprived him of a better school system?

From a distance, California lifestyle seemed anything but impressive: Artificial glamour, happy-go-lucky people and loose family ties. But now I don’t see a significant difference. While there are drug and alcohol problems at school and some students show a poor record, there are also many who could set an example for young people everywhere.

The single parents I’ve met prove that a higher divorce rate doesn’t mean the end of family. Fathers may walk around in T-shirts and shorts, but their values aren’t different from any guy in a three piece suit. Moms may dress younger than their daughters, but they bake, carpool and volunteer at school, too. People take time to know their neighbors. There are pumpkins on Halloween doorsteps, turkeys on thanksgiving tables and -- despite the June weather -- Christmas trees get trimmed on time.

After thirty years, it’s a thrill to overhear someone speak Persian. The presence of so many Iranians in California has paved the way for us newcomers. I no longer have to explain my identity. The LA Iranians aren’t all bad either, though some of them seem to be still in denial. In their little simulated Tehran, they feel at home. I find that sad, but understandable. I hang my head in shame for not having taught Persian to my kids and know that the Iranian community -- especially those in denial -- isn’t about to forgive me for that.

No-Rooz in California has more of an authentic flavor. There’s a guaranteed spring, it is easier to find the pastries and oh, what a thrill it is to hear the media’s Happy New Year message!

Living in a free society seems to have intensified the Iranian character traits. While there may be a few who try to give everyone a bad name, the success stories of many others make me proud. Everywhere I turn, be it television, universities or major industries, there’s always a respected -- though mispronounced -- Iranian name.

The West Coast has a long, interesting history. When I attend writer’s meetings, go to the library or roam around art galleries, I realize that people aren’t shallow at all.

Hard to believe that the farmer’s market, the lemons on our little tree and the red begonvilias will survive the winter. Roses won’t freeze and flowerbeds are no longer a salad bar for the deer. Above all, the warmth I feel comes from the heart. I haven’t felt this way since I left home decades ago. As for the seasons, the subtle changes aren’t enough to make me resent winter. If there’s a utopia, I think I’ve found mine.

Have there been any disappointments? Of course! I yet have to bump into a movie star.

Dearest Nanjoon, please come and let me show you California as I’ve discovered it. You’ll be proud of my garden and I bet you’ve never tasted Persian cucumbers as good as the ones I grow from seeds.

Love and many kisses,


Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is "Sharik-e Gham" (see excerpt).

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