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When did I become so detached?
I’m sick of trying to sift through what is offered in the name of ancient tradition in order to find a fragment of my culture


September 13, 2005

You don’t notice the gradual changes of your own image. Then all you need is a mirror and the shock is sometimes unbearable. Ever since mother has arrived, it’s as if I’m standing in front of a mirror and, I have to admit, it’s not a pretty reflection.

Mother puts on her chador in preparation for the evening prayers.  I watch her go through the familiar motions -- although no longer with the same fascination as when I was a child. Rather, I feel sorry that she needs this ritual in order to speak to God. It’s humiliating to admit, but my faith is shaken. No. It goes deeper than that. It’s gone and, except for believing in the divine, I have no religion.

I could think of a million excuses. I could blame the fundamental changes in my homeland and the new force-fed religion. I could blame my family for not enforcing faith strongly enough. Or, I could put the blame on recent terrorist activities and what has become of the world. But deep down, I know this is a byproduct of too much happening in a short segment of life. There’s no justification for what the world has gone through in the past three decades. I feel as if a barrier of respect has fallen, I can’t rebuild it; I just wish it hadn’t happened.

My father used to say, “When you hear a conversation that’s way over your head, just listen and nod.” Now when people discuss religion, I nod wisely as if to agree. That’s being polite. Deep down I don’t agree with most of what I hear. I’m just being careful not to offend anybody. I do the same when it comes to tradition, there too, I may not like most of what I see, but mindful of other’s feelings, I smile and nod.

It’s hard to admit these facts. It’s much more acceptable to talk about the grandeur of our old traditions, how we need to be the keepers of what used to be so that we can pass it on to the next generation.  As for religion, people still respect you more if you are a believer and agree that all mankind needs religion. Also, they want you to say you’re all for keeping tradition, but what tradition are we talking about?

Recently I saw some dolls for sale that were supposed to be Persian: Pretty little plump and fair things with, not olive skin, but a complexion straight from Ireland. All dressed in glittery outfits with ribbons and tassels, wrapping the same garbage around their heads to make it look like some place’s national costume. What nation is that?  Persian? Where in Iran does anyone dress in drapery trims and satin shoes?

I’m sick of trying to sift through what is offered in the name of ancient tradition in order to find a fragment of my culture. Our No-rooz is now a banquet, our Aghd a festival of flowers on a platform and we have become a bleached nation who won’t admit where we come from unless we absolutely have to. Even our music has changed, rock bands come out of the woodworks and I no longer know which part of the Middle East that pure Persian tune comes from.

The other day, I was having my nails done at a Vietnamese salon. They played a tape of Miss Vietnam ceremonies. Did you know that the Vietnamese have singers who can do great Michael Jackson acts and dancers who do break-dance? Some of them did it better than our own Iranians do. Please forgive me for not mentioning names because what may be just a name to you and I could be an idol to someone else.

Did you know the Vietnamese sometimes wear the same glitter that resembles the so called Persian costume? As do Indians and the Greek Belly dancers. Stuck somewhere between the chador and the bikini era -- and now back into the chador era -- I don’t know what is Persian any more. All I know is that we are located somewhere between Afghanistan and Bollywood.

I watch mother as she finishes her prayer. She has used the same cotton chador during every visit in the past thirty years. In fact, she leaves it here for the next trip. Maybe she feels so peaceful because her religion, her rituals, her opinions and her traditions have stayed the same over the years. They are too pure, too strong, to change. As for me, I’m a whole different beast. It’s a good thing most people of my era don’t pray. I have a feeling if we did, we’d want glittery chadors, too.

Each time mother comes back, she says our Persian has changed a little more. I try not to mix my two languages, but she says we have an accent. I don’t have an accent. I told her I speak better than they do on L.A.'s radio 670 AM. She laughed and said she thought the language on that channel was English.

I pick up a copy of Tavoos art magazine she has brought me and marvel at the rejuvenation of Persian art. It’s all happening on the other side of the world. As for us immigrants, I think I’ll buy one of those Irish dolls and pass it on to my kids.

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). Visit her site

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