Women, Life, Freedom

Sometimes I think about the ways I want my daughter to remember me. As in, what sorts of memories she’ll have of her childhood and her mother and growing up. Among walks to the park and a love for reading, one of the things I hope she looks back on is cooking together in the kitchen. Since she could stand, I have always tried to incorporate her into whatever I’m doing at the counter.

She is a master at cracking eggs now. She can chop vegetables. Mix the batter. I’m excited to see her cooking skills progress and her passion for working in the kitchen grow if that’s what she wants. I hope she has good memories of cooking alongside me and the smells of rice sizzling from the stove and banana bread baking from the oven—a mixture of both her worlds.

We stand next to each other, her stool pulled up to the counter. “Help?” she’ll always ask no matter what’s happening on the countertop, and if I’ve got the bandwidth, I try to find ways she can be involved.

She cuts up cucumbers with her plastic toddler knife, chopping with such intense focus. So serious is this vegetable-cutting business. I grate the rest of the cucumber into a bowl of yogurt. We are making mast-o khiar, a minty Persian yogurt dip to go with the chicken roasting in the oven and the rice steaming on the stovetop.

When I married into a Persian family five years ago, I was quickly introduced to a new world—one filled with the flavors of saffron, watermelon, pistachios, and cardamom-flavored tea. It was a world full of gracious hospitality, one where a guest is welcomed into the home like a long-lost family member and left with a part of the host’s heart—and never an empty stomach.

It was also a world that distanced itself from its government. A world that carried a complicated history and trauma from the forty-year veil of oppression the government had forced over its people, stamping out any joy and freedom that threatened to swell.

Two weeks ago, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Jina Amini, was visiting family in Iran’s capital city, when the police violently arrested her for improperly wearing her headscarf. While in police custody, Mahsa went into an a coma and soon died. Her death became the catalyst for a wave of protests throughout Iran, people taking to the streets in raw rage against the regime.

Young women and girls have been spearheading the uprising these last few weeks. Viral videos show the terrifying courage of women tearing off their headscarves and burning them in fires. Women cut their hair, shave their heads, dance, and sing in the streets, all defiant acts done in front of advancing lines of police.

I watch a video of a woman tying her uncovered hair back into a ponytail—an act so mundane for me but sheer bravery for her—before she runs to join a group of protesters. Just days after the video of her went viral, news spreads that she was shot dead by security forces. She was 20 years old.

An image makes the rounds of a teenager standing defiantly at the newly dug grave of her mother, also murdered by the police. The grieving girl grasps in her hand strands of her hair that were once attached to her now-shaved head. Her headscarf is wrapped around her neck and black combat boots on her feet. Her eyes hold a chilling look of fierce determination.

I learn to write “zan, zendegi, azadi” in Farsi, my handwriting shaky and unsure in the unfamiliar script. Women, Life, Freedom has become the unofficial slogan chanted by millions around the world, standing in solidarity with Iranians. We play Shervin Hajipour’s song of resistance in our home, his voice and lyrics have become the anthem to the uprising, carrying on even after his arrest and disappearance.

What else can you do when your husband’s homeland is burning?

My daughter turns to me after a moment, breaking her attention away from the cutting board, and raises her knife in the air. “Cheers!” she cries out—a new thing she does whenever she notices us doing the same activity, wearing the same color, or holding the same item. I stop chopping walnuts, and we clink together the utensils. “Cheers,” I respond. She smiles broadly, so proud of herself, and resumes her concentration on the cucumbers.

I look at my half-Iranian daughter, her olive skin, her long eyelashes, her full eyebrows that all but meet in the middle, and her chestnut hair curled in ringlets around her face—hair made to blow freely in the wind.

And while I hope she looks back fondly at the memories of cooking with her mom, learning how to make banana bread and tater-tot hotdish, and singing Baa, Baa, Black Sheep and Itsy Bitsy Spider, so much more do I want her to connect with the land of her father’s childhood.

I hope she’ll come to love shaking the tree branches for senjed, reciting Lili Lili Hozak on her outspread hands, dancing to the golden hits of Hayedeh, eating chicken straight off the bone, staining her fingertips yellow from turmeric, making crispy tahdig, and brewing the perfect cup of chai.

I hope she will one day know the Iran that lives in her babayee’s heart and memories.

My husband didn’t just bring into our family kebabs and khoreshghorme sabzi and gheymehlavash and lavashak. His heritage shows our daughter how to fiercely love her family, to always be up for a party, to be the one pulling others out onto the dance floor, to always welcome and accept, and most importantly, to be brave and speak out even when the ugliness of injustice and oppression roars back.

I hold my hand over hers as we gingerly dip the teaspoon into the dried mint to shake over the yogurt. I reach for the jar of dried rose petals and have her smell the sweet perfume-y scent before placing a few petals on top of the yogurt.

But what I hope for most of all is that she will be proud of all the brave Iranian women who have come before her. Because a part of her is in these woman. These shir zans. These lion women. May she and the rest of the world see their courage, know their strength, and hear their voice.

Image by Ozan Guzelce via Getty Images