When I returned to the USA after four years in Iran with my Iranian husband, our five-year-old daughter, and a wide-eyed toddler son in ‘96, I was glad to be home but had lots of surprises:
Nearly no one asked me to share adventures of my life in Iran--although I’d have been willing to share every one of them. Maybe people were thinking they should let us just bury our memories, to help us forget our bad decision. Like maybe we were back because we’d been through some sort of trauma… otherwise we’d still be living there, right?
I discovered my body had somehow changed on me. Normally I wasn’t one for rituals, but after four solid years of having to cloak myself in public, I looked forward to ceremoniously shedding my overcoat in the streets of Boston. At that triumphant but short-lived moment, I discovered (to my horror) that my bare arms felt chilled just by being exposed to the open air--in August, I mean! Goosebumps in summer and a messed-up baseline thermostat: the rewards of my newfound freedom. What a rip-off.
Another rip-off: I couldn’t speak Spanish anymore—not as I had before moving to Iran. Not that an American woman should necessarily be expected to communicate in Spanish--unless, of course, she was a Spanish teacher by profession and had taught the language for years to university students in the States as I had. I knew I was in trouble when, after just being hired back to teach Spanish at a college that knew me, I couldn’t seem to get through a class without having to fight language interference. There’s nothing harder than trying to speak Spanish while Farsi is flooding your brain and mouth reflexes. This awkward condition lasted for a couple of weeks. I can still hear the perplexed voice of one student who heard me say Kheilee mamnoon (the Persian phrase for “Thank you”), then Merci (another expression of thanks that Iranians have borrowed) at the end of Spanish class one day. “But, Señora,” she said hesitantly from the back of the room, “Isn’t that French you’re speaking?
Yet with all those surprises being what they were, there were other pieces to the equation. True, my balance had been thrown off-kilter here and there. But just like what happens when a person loses ground in one ability—her sight, her hearing …her ability to speak Spanish—she makes up for it by developing sensibility in another. In my case, I’ve picked up a whole new language called Persian or Farsi—far from perfectly, mind you, but enough to be conversantly comfortable (or is it “comfortably conversant”? You see, even my natural sense of English has been meddled with.) And one of those gems I brought back from the Farsi is a little phrase I’d like to share with you: Del beh del rah dareh--roughly meaning “A road can always be found between two hearts.”
What does that mean to me? It means that even though I wasn’t thrilled with goose bumps in summer or losing ground in Spanish after knowing it for so many years, I discovered this: that there was still that
connection between my heart and my homeland America. The bond had stayed intact across the miles and years. What’s more, the people I’d had to leave behind in the States had really never been left behind at all. They had left their imprint on my heart, regardless of their physical absence.
But the joy of returning to my homeland, true as it was, is not what this blog is all about. This blog is about the road connecting my heart and another set of hearts—the ones I had to leave behind when I left Iran. It’s about the imprints that, almost without my realizing it, formed in my heart and mind and remain in my soul and behaviors once I traveled that road to Iran and back again. Have these imprints left me smarter, happier…more conflicted, more confused? The truth is that before I can answer that question, I have to revisit and discover where all the imprints are hidden...
I’m guessing it’s going to be fun looking. And I’m wondering how many of you have also traveled roads that changed you in ways you hadn’t expected.
Dr. Leslie Ahmadi discovered her intercultural calling in her parents’ home at age four--where between the jazz, the spirituals, and the rock ‘n roll music, she heard folk songs in languages from around the world. Thirty years later she had a doctorate in foreign language and culture education--and her folk song guitar never far away.