©Andrena Zawinski, 2012

 

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to travel … the excitement of going to new places, having new adventures, getting perspective … and the joy of getting my passport stamped, marking a rite of passage, an entry into another world.  But I find my feelings about crossing borders have drastically changed as they no longer simply symbolize the freedom to explore, to discover new territories.  In fact, I have come to abhor borders and what they represent, as they separate us, divide us into categories, create detachments and place us all in hierarchies that cease to look at our commonalities and our shared humanity.  Borders allowing us to look at other human beings as ‘other’, to dehumanize, to consider inferior.  Borders allowing us to ignore that we are all the same … we all love, we all feel, we all yearn, we all bleed, we all mourn the losses of our loved ones.  Borders attempting to justify brutalities of the worst order and atrocities committed against people who are seemingly different and yet in many ways just like us….people who simply want to live a happy life in the safety of their homes, surrounded by their loved ones …  people who merely hope to watch their children and grandchildren grow and prosper.

My case was no different.  I was a child with loving, supportive parents who sacrificed too much to ensure that I had access to everything I needed.  But after the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the ensuing political upheaval and war with Iraq, we [and I] were suddenly faced with many changes which fall outside the realm of the normal.  After a stable childhood, I went to 4 different high schools in 3 different countries.  When I look back, I see that at that time, I was mostly on auto-pilot, not fully analytical of what was happening.  After all, the changes in my life were far less destructive than the changes in the lives of many of those around me.  I had watched my dear aunt, Ammeh Touran, fall to pieces as her son, our beloved Hamid, was brutally murdered at the age of 18.  I had seen another aunt and uncle, Auntie Manijeh and Da’i Saeid, live like nomads through war in the western part of Iran.  I had witnessed as another cousin, Masoud, went to the war and was the only one out of a platoon of 20 to return fully intact – physically, at least.  I had seen my childhood friend, Farzin, forced to join the army just 2 days before the war ended, captured and imprisoned in Iraq for 4 years.  I had heard of his father’s unending pleas to the United Nations to help him find his son.  I had no right to feel anything but blessed.

A few years later, in my late teens, I started to more consciously struggle with the notion of a home or a homeland.  For years, I was in a constant search for a place where I could feel that strong attachment – the connection I was sure most ‘normal’ people feel towards their countries.  I envied those who were sure they knew where they would live for the rest of their lives as if it were a given.  I considered myself an Iranian but because of much loss and pain connected to Iran, my relationship with my country was no longer a simple one.

Two things helped me find peace with this struggle – traveling and reading.  For about the first 10 years of my adult life, I was a frantic traveler – obsessed with going to new places, always looking at each place as if with an eye to buying in, measuring each up as a potential future homeland.  Reading started much earlier, in my early teens, and allowed me to escape my immediate surroundings and enter other worlds filled with people who didn’t incessantly try to categorize and judge me.  Both traveling and reading ultimately served to open my mind and make me feel part of a much bigger world and a bigger community, one that had no boundaries.

It has been years since I felt that restlessness, that unending search for a home.  I no longer feel the need to belong to a piece of land.  But I find it interesting that my nationality, something that in my case was wholly arbitrary, has played such a big part in shaping my life.  I am an Iranian and yet I have a British passport.  Why is that?  Simply because it happened that at the time I was born, my parents lived in England where my father was working on his doctoral thesis.  And it happened that when I turned one, he was done, and so we left to go back to Iran.  It seems so arbitrary, so random, and so surreal that this concurrence of events should so profoundly mark my life; yet it has nothing to do with me.  I own a piece of document which has allowed me to live a completely different life than any other Iranian girl.  I have often questioned the notion of ‘becoming’ British in immigration lines and how absurdly meaningless that is.   Why is it that whether or not I am allowed to cross a border, live in a safe environment, or be a fulfilled human being is so absolutely dependent on which of my passports I am holding up?  Am I not the same person whether I call myself British or Iranian?  I am not defined by that piece of document; yet, it has carried so much weight.  Had I not had that passport in my possession, I wouldn’t have been able to come to the U.S. to study.  I wouldn’t have been able to accept a position in Japan and traveled to many amazing places in Asia.  I wouldn’t have been able to fulfill my dream of going to cooking school and living and working in Paris for 2 years.  I wouldn’t have been able to explore so many remote countries and learn so much from others.  I wouldn’t be able to live a stable life without excessive daily worries about my safety, my life, my future.

And in that case who would I have become?

©Nooshi Borhan, 2012

Nooshi Borhan joined the ranks of BAWP in 2010.

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