Home = not-home

View from my window, Shiraz

I have just returned from visiting my parents in Iran.  Spending these weeks in Shiraz where I grew up, is a complex experience for me.  The country is now commemorating 40 years since the revolution that ousted the Shah and millennia of monarchy.  This means I am also commemorating 40 years since leaving Iran.  Many things have changed in these 4 decades, and others remain the same.  Walking up Eram Avenue, I recall some of the sidewalk tiles — without any conscious effort on my part. My body suddenly vibrates, I look down and am flooded with the memory of the design of these tiles!  Looking at the mountains outside the window gives me a sense of peace and belonging.  This is home, in a way.

And yet, I only lived in Iran for 10 years.  I speak Farsi haltingly, I can hear how I sound like a child.  Even though my face is about as Iranian as you can get, people think I am foreign. Is it my white hair, unlike the dyed hair of Iranian women?  Is it my body language?  A young woman rushes towards me outside the Bazar and asks with a smile “photo? photo?” only to have the smile disappear with embarrassment when I respond “sure!” in Farsi  (mental note: next time just go with it and answer in English).   Walking down the streets, parks and markets is a constant source of surprise and joy, as well as confusion and recognition. This is home and yet not home.  I have the great good luck to explore new neighborhoods in Shiraz with friends who are starting exciting new ventures like food and market tours, street art and neighborhood revitalization efforts in ancient parts of the city.  My enthusiasm helps nurture them, I hope, as their efforts help nurture my own feeling of hope for this country where I was not born but where my genealogical roots run deep.

It takes almost two days to return to Mexico City, also my home yet not-home.  I have lived in Mexico for 27 years, longer than anywhere else.  It is home, with my now-adult son and extended tribe of friends and family, with the life we have built together.  And yet I am still unable to greet a roomful of people with the ease and fluidity of a Mexican.  I am still unsure, do I go across the room and shake each person’s hand individually, or just greet the crowd across the room with a smile and nod of the head? It still is a clumsy moment for me.  I miss the mountains of Shiraz, my mother’s cooking, the sayings and turns of a phrase unique to the Farsi language (jaye shoma khali!).  But when I am in Iran, I miss the irreverent joy for life that is part of everyday life in Mexico.  I miss the spicy salsa, tacos in the street, the respect for the other’s space and privacy that makes me feel free here, in a way that I never felt in all my years in the US or Iran.

And so I celebrate these bonds with my homes/not-homes. I am grateful to be able to go back and forth between each place, grateful to have the opportunity to live this life and to share it with you!

Related links:

Persian Culinary Tours has a page on Facebook and Instagram, where Ava shares recipes and information about Iranian food.

Follow the work of artist Adel Yazdi on Instagram. He is the artist in the featured image in this blog post, and an integral part of the artistic and architectural revitalization efforts in the Narenjestan Ghavam neighborhood of Shiraz.