Friday, March 20, 2009

I wish you a wonderful norooz filled with abundance, joy, and treasured moments. May 1388 be your best year yet!

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The goldfish, the new year and the American dream

As guest columnist Ladan Yalzadeh's family prepares for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, she has found that her American dream has revived.
By Ladan Yalzadeh

AS children in Iran in the 1970s, my sister and I bickered over many things, including a name for the goldfish in its bowl on the New Year table.
My sister preferred contemporary American names like Brooke Shields or John Stamos, while I leaned toward older celebrities like Captain Kirk or JFK.
"It's Nowruz, for God's sake," my mother would plead, reminding us of the important Iranian holiday that falls on the vernal equinox. "Now-ruz, New Day. A new chance to act like sisters instead of enemies."
But we fought on. The closest we came to agreeing was in 1980, when the American movie "Grease" arrived in Iran. Like other young Iranians, we idolized Danny, Sandy and Rizzo and memorized every line, every song. In a sense, we too went to Rydell High School and dreamed the American dream, instead of living in our own war-torn, oppressive and hopeless country.
As spring drew near and preparations for the New Year began, my sister and I agreed to name the new fish in honor of our favorite character in "Grease." Hurray! The chaos outside our home was going to be replaced by the newfound peace between my sister and me. But when the time came, we ended up right back on the kitchen floor, because my sister wanted to name the fish Sandy and I wanted to call it Rizzo.
When we finally arrived in America in June of 1986, my family moved into my aunt's basement in the small Navy town of Everett and we enrolled in Everett High School, where my cousin was the prom king. With his help, we prepared for our own experience of "Grease." Of course, my sister went with the Sandy look, while I copied Rizzo, or as close to it as my mother would allow.
Finally, the first day of school arrived and we took the bus to school. I felt a rush of excitement as Everett High became visible through the bus windows. Beautiful, carefree teenagers hung around in groups, talking and laughing and just generally being American.
I couldn't wait to join them. A new day had begun and, with it, the hope for a better life. At least until second period, when a classmate turned to me in front of the whole class and asked: "Hey. Where did you tie your camel this morning?"I had never even seen a camel in my life.
That spring, we didn't have a goldfish at our modest Haft Seen table. My father was back in Iran, trying to salvage his life's earnings, while my mother couldn't get the day off from her nurse's aid job, because her boss had never heard of Nowruz. My sister and I shared a room in our tiny apartment, and we were fighting again.
The next year, my father was home again, so the goldfish returned for Nowruz. But neither my sister nor I had any desire to name the fish again. Our American idols seemed less and less real, and so did our American dreams.
My father died several years ago, and the goldfish tradition died with him. Each year, my family gathers around the Haft Seen table at some ungodly hour to celebrate the spring equinox and greet the new year. We exchange gifts, say a prayer for each other's health and for all the ones who have left us and get on the phone with all our relatives in Iran and around the world to wish them a happy new year.
When my sister's kids ask why we don't have a goldfish, we hide our pain by explaining to them that it's just not necessary to buy a living creature that inevitably will end up in the toilet bowl.
Last week, my very excited 8-year-old nephew called to say his mother had bought him a goldfish for Nowruz, which is today. "Really?" I was amazed. "And have you picked a name for it?" "Well, my mom and I picked it together, but we want to know what you'd name it?"
I thought about it for a while."Obama." I said. "Us, too." He answered gleefully. "Us, too."

Obama's Norouz Message to Iran