Her name is Ghazal Kashi (not to be confused with our second interviewee, Ghazaleh Kashi, whose name looks quite similar to hers—and who, incidentally, shares the same parents!) Ghazal and her husband Saeed live in the tiny Iranian town known as Nimvar—a place famous for its history with Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion preceding Islam.
Like the three interviewees who preceded her (see posts from 6/16, 8/16, and 9/14), Ghazal talks about one aspect of contemporary Iranian culture, as well as about her current life, interests, memories, and aspirations. My interview with Ghazal (21 minutes) took place a month or so before the start of Iran’s upheaval, peopled by many of her generation (i.e., ages 30 and under).
You will learn from Ghazal that she is an aficionada of all kinds of art: both abstract and natural/realistic. For today’s interview, she has chosen a favorite abstract painting of her own to share with us (See below) and explain its significance. The title of the piece, “Miss P’s Life Like Sisyphus,” is inspired by the character Sisyphus from Greek mythology, who for his trickery and defiance was doomed by the gods to roll a huge boulder up a hill, let it roll back down, and repeat the cycle forever and ever.
Before listening to her commentary on her abstract painting, you may want to take a minute to study it below. (She will refer to 3 female figures. Can you find any of them?)
After commenting on her art piece, Ghazal will talk about one of my favorite things in Iranian culture: Persian food! (Mmmm …!) If her recommendations pique your interests, just follow the links in the final paragraph to find the recipe(s) of your choice.
Words to the song, translated: “Now, take my hand, let’s move on up …”
Ghazal expresses her thanks for your attention and interest! If after the interview you have any questions or comments for her, please feel free to enter them in the “Comments” section that follows the video. Afterwards, why not try making *celery stew or **rice with tahdig when you have a free afternoon?*
*Traditionally, this stew is made with lamb stew meat rather than beef stew
meat, so take your pick! Also, lemon juice (i.e., juice squeezed from half a
lemon) can be used in place of the Persian dried limes listed in the recipe.
**This rice recipe can be made successfully with or without the saffron, with or
without the yogurt.
Ghazal, we also thank you [Kheilee mamnoon] for being the fourth person to take part in this video interview series! You will also find Ghazal’s video interview on YouTube!
(Please invite others to view as well)
Special thanks also go to Ms. Mary Landrum for her editing talents!
Dear Friend: Both Newcomers and Returning Readers:
If you read my blogpost from September 14, you may recall I was planning in this subsequent post to share the transcript of an interview a fellow author conducted last month where I (author of Road Between Two Hearts: A Black American Bride Discovers Iran) am featured.
Considering the current strife that the country of Iran is facing, however, it feels more urgent, respectful, and appropriate to express heartfelt wishes for the safety and well-being of the Iranian people at this sensitive time.
So, under the circumstances, I will postpone the posting of the interview of me to next month instead.
Thank you . . . and heartfelt wishes to all, especially the people of Iran.
(and our first male guest)
His name is Meysam Ahmadi, and he lives in Tehran, Iran with his wife Ghazaleh and little Jesse—do those last two names ring familiar to you? They just might--if you were able to watch last month’s video interview (13 minutes), when Ghazaleh and Jesse the chihuahua were featured! And Meysam, a video designer and editor by profession, is the one who edited that video for us! But now he’s our special interviewee for this blogpost--and was kind enough to edit his own videoclip as well!
So, in Meysam’s interview segment below (21 minutes), Meysam will also share a few details and thoughts about him, his family, his culture, his growing up years, and his current life in Iran.
Meysam expresses his thanks for your attention and interest! If after the interview you have any questions or comments for him, please feel free to enter them here or in the “Comments” section that follows the video.
Meysam, we also thank you [Kheilee mamnoon] for being the third person to take part in this interview series! You will also find Meysam’s video interview on YouTube! (Please invite others to view as well!)
P.S. A final detail: In my next blogpost (in the next week or so), I will have the honor of introducing you to a fellow author (Elizabeth, from England!) who has made it her business to interview ME and post the writeup on her website! A clever writer of cozy mysteries (and who doesn’t like a cozy mystery?), she playfully claims she “tells lies for a living.” Hope you’ll pay a visit then!
Her name is Ghazaleh Kashi, and she lives in Tehran, the capital of Iran. Her first name is the Persian word for a beautiful animal; can you guess what animal that might be? In the following 13-minute videotaped interview, Ghazaleh herself will pronounce and explain her name for us. She will also share a few details and thoughts about herself, her family, her culture, her growing up years, and her current life in Iran.
Ghazaleh thanks you for your attention and interest! If after the interview you have any questions or comments for her, please feel free to enter them in the “Comments” section that follows the video.
Ghazaleh, we thank you [Kheilee mamnoon] for being the second person
to take part in this interview series!
P.S. A final detail: Ghazaleh’s husband, Meysam Ahmadi, is both a video editor and creator by profession and has added his signature touches to this videotaped interview of his wife! We thank Meysam for the significant contributions of his love and time to make sharing this interview with us possible. We look forward to next month’s interview, when Meysam himself will be our guest!
(or, “What’s in a Name?”)
In my last blogpost, I introduced you to Rokhsareh Yassi, my niece (daughter of my husband’s sister in the photo) who lives in Saveh, Iran. During my video-taped interview with her (in English), she said, “I like to call Iranian people ‘Persian people’—the old name of us.” So, for those of us who may still wonder what the difference is between “Iranian people” and “Persian people,” what does her statement mean?
Answer: Both “Iranian” and “Persian” are legitimate terms, and both terms are related—but not everyone considers them interchangeable. The term “Iranians,” quite simply, refers to all people who are native to Iran.
That said, there are many different ethnic or tribal groups within the country. The largest and probably best-known group is the Persian Iranians. Their heritage can be traced back to the original inhabitants of the ancient Persian empire (of which modern-day Iran occupies a central portion. For this reason, some Iranians refer to Iran as “Persia,” and prefer to be called “Persians,” like Rokhsareh.) But there are also Azeri Iranians, Golaki Iranians, Kurdish Iranians, and several other Iranian groups in the country. So, in terms of ethnicity, not all Iranians can be said to be Persian. But again, when Rokhsareh said she prefers to call the people of Iran “Persian people,” she is referring to her country’s historical and geographical ties to Persia, and to the inhabitants of Iran by extension.
At the same time, it is very important to note that there are many people who identify as Persian who are from other central Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and the Persian Gulf States.
But, returning our focus to the people of Iran and what to call them, it can also be said that because of the longtime political tensions between Iran and America, some Iranians are tempted to identify themselves as “Persian” rather than “Iranian” to their non-Iranian contacts. They do so just to avoid dealing with the negative press often associated with “Iranians.” Popular Iranian American comedian Maz Jobrani explains it in his own words in the following comic routine: https://youtube.com/clip/Ugkxm8WVKtdSAyr2XCWHAYw11a-VEkp3AqEE
Another point of confusion that comes up frequently is the question, What is Iran’s national language—the language most Iranians speak, that is. Do they speak “Farsi,” do they speak “Persian,” do they speak “Iranian” perhaps, or do they speak something else?
Bottom line: When speaking in their native language, most Iranians will say they speak Farsi. When speaking in English, however, people should say that Iranians speak “Persian.” To say, “People from Iran speak Farsi” (rather than “Persian”) can be compared to saying, “People from Spain speak español” (rather than “Spanish.”) That is why Rokhsareh referred to her language as “Persian” while communicating in English.
The above points are “fun facts” for language nerds like me! At the same time, perhaps the information will come in handy at some point. But for now, the terminology lesson is over!
And if I may, allow me to remind you to keep an eye out for this month’s new videotaped interview, which I will send you via email. Thank you!
Her name is Rokhsareh Yassi. If you’re not sure how to pronounce it, don’t worry: she will pronounce it herself in the video below! Her location? At her home in Saveh, Iran: a city about 50 miles southwest of Tehran, and known in Iran for its big, red, juicy pomegranates.
What does she talk about in the video? She responds to a few basic questions I ask so she can shed more light on herself as a person, as well as on her life in Iran. Some of her answers were surprises to me, even though we’ve known each other for almost thirty years!
Rokhsareh thanks you for your attention and interest! If after the interview you have any comments for her, please enter them in the “Comments” section that follow the video.
Rokhsareh, we thank you [Kheilee mamnoon] for being the first one
to take part in these interviews!!
By profession, I teach languages and communicating across cultures. By nature, I’m a student of the same. From the age of six or seven, I’ve reached out to people from countries, cultural identities, and/or cultural traditions different from mine, eager to learn what they were willing to share. Over the years it has led to many fertile conversations in public spaces like airports/airplanes, libraries, workplace areas, reception areas, or on bumpy bus rides. But not always.
One day I welcomed a woman into my office, where I developed training in the human services. She was about 27 years old and wearing an elegant patterned blue scarf. She had been born and raised in Algeria, although I didn’t know it at the time. Someone had referred her to me as an expert on the Muslim faith who might be willing to co-train a workshop with me for social workers on working with families who are Muslim.
I noticed the exquisite details on her scarf and the beauty with which she pronounced her greeting in English. She smiled at me brightly and I invited her to take a seat. Thirty seconds into the conversation I asked her warmly where she was from.
She paused, her eyes flashed, and she sat up straight in her seat.
“I don’t see why you should ask me such a question,” she answered. “Why do you assume I am not American? In fact, I and all my family are American citizens. So, now, what is your next question, please?”
Ouch. All my life I had been asking people where they were from, and no one had responded like this. What had happened this time that made the question offensive? What had gone wrong?
Among other possibilities, I believe September 11, 2001 (which had taken place nine months earlier) may have been what had happened. It was another time when an entire population of Muslims across the world were subject to being treated with suspicion or hostility due to the reprehensible acts of a few people—a few who had chosen to call themselves “Muslim.” So, perhaps my question felt like a “fishing expedition” to her—to check whether where she was from was “okay” in my eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling my face get hot and my throat tighten up, then repeating “I’m sorry,” a few seconds later. “I can understand why you might feel that way.”
Well, the truth was that I did and I didn’t. Isn’t she the one now making assumptions about me? I asked myself defensively. Still, I noticed she softened, and twenty minutes later she told me she’d be glad to do the training with me. But at the end of the day, I secretly wondered why she had recoiled from my well-meaning question.
But then, four months later…
…I walked into my bank to deposit a check (that’s how we deposited back in the day). The teller, whom I recognized from previous visits but whose name I still didn’t know, smiled warmly, took the check, and took a quick glance at it. When she looked up again, I saw her eyebrows knit with concern.
“Hello, Mrs. Ahmadi… Are you from an Iranian family?”
My face grew hot and I felt my throat tighten again, but for very different reasons from the time before. Suddenly, the tables were turned--with an uncomfortable spotlight shining on ME.
“Well, yes; my husband is Iranian” I said, after several heartbeats. At least I wouldn’t have long to wait for her answer.
“Oh!” she responded, almost immediately, “I hope all of you are feeling safe!”
I thanked her in that profound moment of relief. And as I left, I glanced at her nametag and remembered ever after that her name was “Lisa.” I also thought of my good colleague Layla (the woman who I had the privilege of co-training with), and suddenly her reaction to my asking her national origin all made perfect sense to me. As for the teller who had asked if I was from an Iranian family, I understood her intention and was truly grateful for it, but it gave me pause to consider how to reach out to people “from a different culture (country, faith, tradition,” etc.) ever since.
So I took it upon myself to ask several people from either side of discussions like these, to draw from my profession and lived experiences, and to create a guide for anyone who would like some suggested strategies on How to Break the Ice with “Someone from a Different Culture.” To get the free download of the guide, just click on the link.
All the best in your future interactions!
Ten years ago, almost to the day, my sister-in-law Zahra in Iran sent me a digital copy of a painting she’d been working on for almost a year. It was her own replica of Leonardo DaVinci’s famous masterpiece The Last Supper--broadly sweeping the wall above the mantelpiece in her home.
I was touched and surprised by this painting from Zahra, my husband’s tender sister of the Muslim faith. Yet for me, even more profound was learning that I wasn’t the reason she wanted to paint it. What was the explanation she gave me? “I’ve always loved Jesus," was her straightforward answer ('though actually she called him "Hazrat Isa," meaning Jesus, Great Presence), “because he himself was so full of love.”
What better message could another share with me at the coming of Easter?
They call it “Norooz” (or “Norouz,” or “Nowruz” or “Noruz”), literally meaning “New Day” in Farsi, and which some say is the most important day on the Iranian calendar.
This year the first day of the Iranian New Year it falls on Sunday, March 20. And in keeping with the vernal equinox, it marks the onset of Spring!
It’s not hard to see how Spring, the season of new life and renewal, would be a fitting setting for each new year’s arrival. And in keeping with long held Iranian tradition, at least seven special items (all beginning with the “s” sound) should grace a household table with their symbolic, invoking presence:
There’s a whole array of additional options that could make for an even fancier table: the Qur’an (the Islamic holy book) or a book of poetry by the beloved Persian poet Hafez, a polished mirror, shiny coins, brightly colored eggs like you might see at Easter, a single goldfish swimming in a bowl.
For a more personalized explanation, watch this three-minute recording of daughter Parisa and her cousin Marjan, from a Norooz past!
Would you like to try to impress an Iranian? Just say “No-rooz Mobarak!” (“A Happy New Year!”), and see their eyes grow wide!
A Happy New Year (Norooz Mobarak!) to all our Iranian family and friends!
My Dear Readers:
Below is a poem I wrote for my daughter Parisa when she was just starting college (at age 17) and returning from a summer trip to Iran.
Of course, she’s the daughter of her Iranian dad too,
Which has something to do with my writing this poem.
Sprung from the womb of an “African American”
And the loins and lungs of one called “Iranian,”
She draws from each side
Deeply, without measuring--
And stakes her claims
On her own terms.
She’s the pint-sized one
With the curvy hips,
the curvy lips,
and the jubilant hair,
Tremendous and voluminous--
Like the words that come spilling
Out of her spirit.
I was there when she took
Those shears to the bathroom,
Snipping the long, loose locks
Of her girlhood,
Facing the woman looking back from the mirror,
Felt them cascading softly
To a pile on the floor.
She’s the one who embraces a world full of colors.
If it starts with the glossy brown of her skin,
It spreads and spirals into thousands of timbres,
Filling up crevices in both East and West.
It has wrapped her in the pinks and greens and corals
Of the skirts that hug and the boots that sass.
And has draped her with the golden softness of scarves
Or a smart black trench coat on the streets of Tehran.
It has brushed her ankles with flaming red poppies
And the ripened color of billowing wheat.
It has bathed her shoulders in yellow sunlight
And cloaked her in an azure blanket of sky.
She sits quietly under a feverish moon
that she sings to in Farsi on a hill in the village.
The stars sing back and she feels contented
Till the yearning for another homeland calls her.
Don’t ask her to choose between one or the other--
She is Black.
She is Persian.
She is Both.
And you’d better know
She is far more than that.
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.