When I was growing up in a small city on Canada’s East Coast, many of my classmates had no idea where Pakistan was located. It was the mid-eighties and I was unable to convince them I was NOT Indian just because both my parents were born in India. I decided to do an extensive geography project on my home country. I used pictures from my own travels and maps my father collected, and added a lot of details. I carefully drew flags, brought in mithai (Pakistani sweetmeats) and Nazia Hussain tapes, and dressed up in my shalwar kameez from Eid as I presented. I offered a few words to those who wanted to hear what “hello” and “I love you” sounded like in Urdu and Pashtu – only two of the dozens of dialects spoken in the country.
No one was interested. They all wanted to know about Iran. I was the only child in the class whose ancestry did not trace back to England, Ireland or Germany and so it was decided I could provide an insight into every exotic location on earth. Also, my name was Persian, something they already knew, and it was odd enough I was Pakistani with a Persian name of parents born in India. Obviously I could explain places like Iran and Cyprus.
The questions about “Eye-ran” came bombarding at me. My lovely fourth-grade teacher tried to direct the conversation back to Pakistan. “Iran is a completely different country” she firmly yet kindly explained to the wide-eyed class.They respectfully ignored her.
Their queries ranged from “Why did Iranian crazy people go and take American hostages?” and “My Dad says they eat dead lambs! *girls in the class gasp* That’s mean! Is that true?” to my favourite “Why do the women have to wear black blankets all the time? Your mother doesn’t wear a black one. She wears colours!” and so on and so forth.
Instead of ignoring the questions, I decided to defend Iran. [Read more...]