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Miles away and so close
My love for Persian culture grows -- in Canada

By David Goodman
August 12, 2003
The Iranian

Ottawa, Canada -- The fares can be excruciatingly expensive, the visas and red tape, phenomenal and the family barriers and disapproval of friends can put off the heartiest traveler from making it to Iran. However, when it is affordable and within ones means it can be done. Such an adventure will stay in your memory forever.

Since my trip, I often think of things in my home country in how it relates to Iran and the Middle East. While Iran is not the only place I've spent considerable time in, it is the one that I refer to the most. However living hours away in a completely opposite paradigm (the very cold, very wet and very Western Canada), I have never had problems finding an outlet to Iranian culture and hospitality. If anything, one does not have to leave Canada to experience Iran.

For instance, while at University in a more remote area of my country in a Maritime town, I met a handful of young men and women from Iran. For myself, it was difficult to come from living in worldly cities and traveling around bustling places like Tehran, to a small and very white town far away from what many of us would call civilization in eastern Canada. However it was my Persian friends in this small, small place and their food, music and stories which made it easier to have a link to the times I had. Most Canadians don't want to hear stories of the desert or what they consider to be non-exotic places. Most Maritimes don't relate to being thrown far away from home in a completely foreign situation, their trek to a University is big enough for them.

It was my friendships with my Iranian friends and being immersed in their own problems living so far from home that helped me realize how trivial my issues where. They helped me see the benefits of a small town (even in the excruciating cold) and helped me cope with the awful slop the locals would pass for food. More importantly, I had a chance to see the real Iran in my own country, for what Iran can really be. And finaly through them, I had come to fall in love with the Maritimes, for what it was.

One friend, a young man from Tehran, was jolly and insatiable in his energy and creative insults. I remember trying to find him a cheap flight home, as there are many creative routings, and with the commitment to overland a little, endure stopovers and by tickets in different places in advance, sometimes heading to Iran can actually cost thousands less. Only, in trying so hard to help him, did I realize that only a Canadian/Brit could travel in such a way. His passport was a deterrent from heading through America, he felt reluctant to buy so may tickets and his family could not bear waiting an extra few days to see him. Through him I had come to recognize how lucky I was as a Westerner to have total freedom of movement.

Another friend of mine, who had more time to adapt to Canadian culture, endured far more problems than I could possibly imagine. The decisions she had made within her final years at school had placed her in a world that I would never have been able to cope with. Family, rejecting her choices, friends unable to understand the situation and people resisting her attempts to live a more Canadian style life, were moments for which I could only stand back and watch. I had no way to relate and nothing to say. These were cultural differences which I could not understand. Ones which I had never seen while in Iran.

Flying across the ocean, miles away from home, an aspiring student holding the hopes of his family studies in the footsteps of his father to be an engineer. However so far from his friends and family, he did not hold the same gleaming joy for life in the West as his parents did. Life in Canada isn't always the wonderland immigrants believe it will be.

Living in the lap of luxury can be both empty and sometimes lonely. It's a forum to question oneself and their spirituality. While it is an amazing opportunity and usually fun and rewarding for many, it is certainly not for everyone. However, how does one explain to their parents that they are not happy in this new so called country of opportunity when they know their parents would have done anything to be there themselves? How can you tell your parents you are ungrateful?

In my time, I grew to love what the Maritimes could offer. I enjoyed the surrounding countryside; the slow pace of life, the inexpensive entertainment and even the weather all became enjoyable. However I would not have been able to come out of my own silly box of self-pity if it wasn't for my friends. Realizing that I did not endure the racist policies of the Canadian and American governments, did not have to live up to my parents dream nor ask for their approval in my life's decisions helped me look past my situation and enjoy school.

More importantly this was a window into Iranian culture. These issues and problems were not ones I could see while traveling in Iran. In a short period of time one doesn't get to see how intimate families are nor how important ones parents opinions can be in the course of their lives. When only breezing through Persian cities, one doesn't immediately see the exceptional love and hope they put in their children. While being the sole Westerner in a Persian town being pampered with friendship and hospitality, it is hard to imagine that Iranians could be treated so coldly by officials and administration in small town Canada.

However, I will never forget drinking Persian tea, eating Persian food and smoking ghalioun during the warm summers miles from Iran. It is difficult to explain how much my understanding of Iran changed while I was in my home country. It certainly is not a detriment to my love for Persian culture.

I know I will never truly understand the Iranian way, as hard as I try. Throughout my friends troubles, all I could do was sit back and listen, there is little help a Westerner can offer. However, my love for Persian culture grows and I yearn to see more of it, only next time, on Persian soil. Maybe then, while visiting my Persian university friends in their home town, will they get a chance to understand my way of life as well.

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By David Goodman

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