Thursday, April 30, 2009

Photo-Journal: A Day in the Life

Today, I decided to document anything in my quotidien routine that was distinctly Iranian or identified me as Iranian. Here is what I noticed:

The dress I wore today (with pockets for easy camera access) was hanging in my closet next to the pink sheepskin leather coat my aunt sent me after a trip to Mashad, a city in Iran famous for its leather products. I've only worn it once, to a visual arts club meeting at the College of Charleston; even there it seeed like too bold a statement.

Although not everyone can tell I'm Middle Eastern when they first see me, I decided to include appearance because other Iranians can generally recognize my background this way (probably my big nose).

The final touch on my outfit: an antique ring borrowed from my mother. When I was younger, I used to spend rainy afternoons in my mother's closet, secretly sifting through my her gold (collected as an investment by many Iranian women) and trying everything on piece by piece. I'm proud and surprised that my mother actually lets me wear her jewelry now.

I found this old photograph of my dad's relatives in the family orchard while cleaning my room yesterday, and left it on my dresser until I could figure out which album to return it to. My father's mother, in the center with her arms folded, is the namesake for my middle name and the source of my curly hair. She could neither read nor write, as with my grandfather.

Also while cleaning my room yesterday, I left the headscarf worn in my profile picture and my past two Iranian passport pictures near a pile of clothes to be donated.

What I saw when I finally headed down for breakfast: the beautiful Persian rugs we have all over the house. Here are the three you can see from the front door. They were a great hassle to bring, but worth the high price and mild illegality.

A samavar for making tea--it never leaves our stove. Iranians drink tea with breakfast, during the afternoon break, after dinner, and basically any gathering or meeting in between. If you travel to Iran, be prepared to be offered tea (with sugar cubes) everywhere you go. If you don't want the tea, be prepared to say "No, thanks," at least three times before your host will let you skip it. This repeated offering is a part of the traditional tarof (also tarouf), a systematic over-politeness.

Here is my Iranian mommy, Parvaneh (Pary) Mousavi Arjomand. I had to drop something off for her while she was at work, and we spoke Farsi so the patients wouldn't be able to eavesdrop. I think she was a bit embarassed to have her picture taken, but she was a good sport. Like most Iranian women, my mom is beautiful.

I was trying to sneak a picture of my file at the eye doctor's but instead got the names of the rest of my family. Ali, Parvaneh, and Kayvon (my little brother's name) are common Iranian names; Sevda (my little sister's name) is Turkish for love.

Aha! My file was left unattended just long enough for me to sneak a proper picture. They pronounced my name "Sinaaz" both at the eye doctor's and the Verizon store (not pictured).

Back in the car, I found an Iranian tape. The woman pictured is drawn in traditional style, with the unibrow that in some cases continues to be considered a beauty norm.

When I was done with my errands, I went back home, making sure to take my shoes off before entering.

Next, I went down to the basement to continue my drawn-out unpacking after D.C. I found my dad's sitar book in Farsi on the couch. His sitar is in the black case in the background. His twanging really upsets my mother, explaining why he has been banished underground to practice.

Dinner time! Lobiyah polo (rice with green beans) is typical of Iranian cooking, which usually features one meat, one vegetable, and rice (although the more common khoresht features the meat and vegetable cooked separately from the rice). This is probably as close as Iranian cooking gets to being seasoned. To top it off, an extra briny Sadaf-brand pickle.

After dinner, my family and I went into the living room. These high shelves feature several Iranian artifacts, including the books and vase on the bottom right and the "genie lamp" on the tallest right-hand shelf. My mother used to have an old hookah (or ghalyoon in Farsi) up there, but after enough people asked what a bong was doing in our living room she moved it.

There were a few more pictures, but it's generally more of the same. All of this picture-taking was cumbersome and unnatural--it's not normal for me to consider my heritage at every moment. Although my routine is affected by my parents' being from Iran (appearance, dwelling, hygeine habits and diet), it's not totally consumed by it. I don't keep the traditional unibrow, we live in a pretty normal metro-Atlanta home, and I had leftover spaghetti for lunch. What's more, here in Johns Creek at least, it doesn't feel so weird to keep parts of being Iranian as a first- or second-generation immigrant. My mother works for a Chinese doctor, and my name was after a Hispanic name on the sign-in sheet that I'm sure also got mispronounced by the eye doctor's receptionist; other peole are doing it too in American melting-pot style. Being Iranian is generally an enhancement--I benefit from elements of a beautiful ancient culture--and only occaisionally a mild inconvenience. More importantly, being Iranian-American gives me a wide enough world view that I can notice and appreciate my inheritance.


  1. good blog!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Sanaz, I loved this. Now I want to do something similar, but I am not nearly as connected to my heritage as you are. I wish I was.

    I want to see you! and I wish I could go to Iran and be as cool as you.

    I liked the photos, all of them.

  3. Hey Sanaz, this was awesome! You captured the humor in the truth: "...but after enough people asked what a bong was doing in our living room she moved it," and, "I've only worn it once, to a visual arts club meeting a the College of Charleston; even there it seemed like too bold a statement."

    Now that I'm a follower of your blog I cannot wait for updates!

  4. I echo the sentiments of those above. My heritage is not bold and prevalent. It is French Canadian - something lost amidst this sea of American sameness that we call "culture." Mindless drones content to idle by.

    It's encouraging that you have this culture to hold on to and help define a part of you. If I looked around, I don't know how I'd tell you what is French Canadian in my living room or my dining room.

    I'm jealous. I wish I was Greek or something exotic - from a rainforest tribe in the Amazon.