Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tehran: A city transformed by love and silenced by force.

Before my baby brother, Kasra ,was born, and before I fell in love with the English language, leafing through a small dark-blue Oxford English dictionary; and actually, long before my family moved to Norway and I became acclimated to a different climate and culture, I spent my days on my grandmother's kitchen floor in the Yousef Abad neighborhood of Tehran, waiting for a taste of her divine fereni simmered perfectly, and flavored with rose water and pistachios.

The radio was always on, as I remember it, perhaps to drown out the din of the streets outside.

My heart skipped a beat every time I heard the radio announce: "Inja Tehran Ast. Radio Iran" ("This is Tehran. Iranian Radio Broadcasting") as if that next hour would be the defining one in my tiny life. I remember that I loved Persian music very much. The little turntable- gramophone I carried around everywhere, along with a handful of singles, played my favorite tunes over and over, until it drove the whole household up the wall. I loved Haji Firooz who came around sometime around the Persian new year, Naw Ruz. The Muharram ceremonies were captivating to me, too, if they were allowed by the Pahlavi regime, and if I was allowed, by my parents, to go outside and watch them on the streets of Yousef Abad.

Tehran, the city of my childhood, is a city I cannot recognize from the cry of the roof-top poet who asks "Inja kojast?" ("Where is this place?"). Tehran is a transformed city. A city transformed by love and silenced by force.

As I listen to the fleeting cries of Allah-o-Akbar from the roofs and balconies of the city of my birth on YouTube, I am reminded, that this fleeting call, this ephemeral voice, though etched in tradition, has the power to transfom our consciousness and call us to action in a different way worldwide, in part because of the digital structure of a world that connects.

I learned the lesson of the transformative power of the digital and ephemeral from the arts and the tromp l'oel movement of light on a structure, captured in this video and posted to Facebook by one of my friends.

This week, in the aftermath of the Iranian 2009 elections, another fleeting image of young Iranian student protesters helping a beat officer to safety (at 2 mins into this
video)--a fleeting image captured on an ephemeral online video with an Italian voice-over-- changed the way I saw Tehran, forever. I realized in a flash and amidst a pool of tears, that these courageous men and women, whose phone-camera videos and pictures we continue to click and forward, whose cries we hear from the rooftops and the city-scapes of cities unknown to most of us; these courageous ones, are brothers and sisters --comrades --who shared the same bread and cheese, who were trained in the same schools, who studied the same books, who received their military training in the same army, who slept in the same barracks, who listened to the same music and who called to a power greater than themselves with the same sigh rising from the depths of a heart wanting to be free.

It was in this fleeting moment of comeraderie, a moment of love, steeped in the tethers of the old (that bread, those barracks, those school books) and the words Allah-o-Akbar, that I realized that one thing and one thing alone will bring about the freedom and change that the city of my birth is calling into being. And that one thing is love.

Another work of art, a
ceramic piece that my friend Leili Towfigh made, taught me an important lesson
about our efforts to create in the world. I learned from it and from her blog that what we want to see in the world has to match what we hold in our hearts and minds. The inside and the outside must match.

If we fail, no, if we fail at that, what we end up creating, Will. Crack.

In the world of ceramics, it's called "dunting". In the world that we are fabricating breath by breath from the weave of our lives, anything less than love, anything less than a conscious return to the loadestone of justice, respect, and collaboration is doomed for failure.

For there to be love --for there to be justice--for there to be peace--for there to be freedom in this, my world-- I declare myself into being as that love.

And so, for that vision, I sew these words into the fabric of my being:

"You should be the change that you want to see in the world." ~Mohandas K. Gandhi

"Human beings are members of a whole, In creation of one essence and soul, If one member is afflicted with pain, Other members uneasy will remain." ~Sa'adi

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall - think of it, always." ~Mohandas K. Gandhi

"Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

UPDATE: I just received this file. A video from Kerman, Iran. Protesters bringing flowers to the police. Such sweetness. Such love. Where is this place, Iran?

She returns on June 20th to wake God up: Listen Closely

(For captions click on the bottom right corner)