Archive for March, 2010

I can’t say that I’ve never been envious of Iranian Jews. They know who they are. I, on the other hand, while my parents grew up in Iran, am only sort of Persian.

The only time of year I actually dwell on this identity crisis is when it comes time for Passover. Persian Jews have defined traditions. Traditions they’ve been practicing for years.

I have never beaten anyone with a green onion. I’ve even witnessed a green onion fight.

Anyone who has ever heard of this custom has made a point of asking me about this. But I just sigh and pretend Iraqis have more interesting Seders.

It’s a lie. We don’t. We have very ordinary Seders.

Unless of course the “I just came out of Egypt” reenactment sparks your interest. When the children walk around the table with matzah tied in scarves around their shoulders, and the adults ask them where they came from and where they’re going.

Every time this goes on, I want to duck and hide out of sheer embarrassment. It’s just so silly.

Anyway, props to the Iranian Jews for their strength in numbers and traditions. I came across this article in the New York Times last week. It’s a lovely story of a Persian family (who happen to be distant relatives through marriage) celebrating Passover.


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As my uncle (who married into the family) likes to say, Iraqis have trouble with technology. If that’s true, I’m definitely the anomaly. The trouble many Iraqis do have is with that particularly elusive gadget we call the clock. This is an essay I wrote for one of my Communication classes last year, I’m choosing to share it because of the story it tells about my family.

With the Huskies losing out of the NCAA tournament last night, I’ll also mention that I let Venoy Overton read my essay to help him write his own. Not that I consider him a literary expert, but he liked it a lot.

A worldview, according to Bradford Hall, is an abstract notion about the way the world is. This view is based on personal experiences. It also helps construct our expectations for the future. Hall asks the question, “how does time function?” as a way of defining one aspect of one’s worldview. My worldview in relation to time falls on the polychronic side of the continuum.

My grandmother, family matriarch, and a woman very much unaware of her hilarious behavior, has no concept of the clock. She is notorious for her lateness. Her lateness is such a defining characteristic that even her good friends have learned to invite her an hour early in the hope that she will show up fashionably late instead of missing a party entirely. Her hairdresser knows that when she makes an appointment to blowout her hair at 3 p.m., she will only begin to wash her hair at 2:50. Her aversion to punctuality is so well known that others have learned to schedule around her continual schedule mishaps.

The famous story told about my grandmother is the one of my parents’ wedding. The wedding ceremony was to be held in my grandmother’s garden. The guests had arrived, the food was beginning to wane and the rabbi was keeping a close eye on the clock. Everyone had taken their seats and the ceremony was about to begin, when the mother of the bride was nowhere to be found. My grandmother was upstairs getting ready. She was late to her own daughter’s wedding – in her own house!

The wedding took place after all.

My grandmother is just one in a long line of women who constantly run behind schedule. Many other women in my family have learned to be similarly unaware of time, thankfully not to the same degree. I, however, have been scarred by this practice and continually overcompensate.

For fear of being late, I will give myself an extra two hours to get ready for anything I deem important. I don’t actually need this time so the result is often me, with my hair, makeup, and heels, changing a light bulb or rearranging furniture.

This fear is also manifest in my communication. If I am invited to a bridal shower I’ll ask a friend the day before about what time she is planning to leave. I’ll also ask her the morning of. And again at exactly the time she told me, just to make sure she is true to her word. I live in constant paranoia of arriving at the wrong time. I know that if I go on my own time I will be too early, but I also cannot stand being late. This uncomfortable balance leaves me in a constant struggle to arrive at the same time as everyone else.

When working on something like a group project in class I’m often eager to begin working right away. Even if there is plenty of time to complete the project, I will express to my group mates my fear of scrambling at the last second. I will usually create a timeline of when pieces of the project need to be done and am often looked at as too controlling.

It’s strange that the worldview that I grew up with, a family of polychronic women, has resulted in me constantly striving to be on time. I view the world as monochronic, with my polychronic family as an anomaly. I feel like lateness is something inherent in me as well. Therefore, I am constantly struggling to keep it under control. It is as if I have it written on my forehead and am self-consciously covering it up the best way I can.

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I returned home to Seattle from Israel about a month ago. There, I would cook in my nightmare-of-a-kitchen and dream lofty Julie & Julia fantasies. I even had grandiose ideas of cooking and blogging my way through an Iraqi cookbook when I got home.

My family, the Iraqi, and the Persian Jews have been through a lot. They have a rich history, a rich culture, and rich food. I figured the best way to know where I’m going is to find out where I’ve come from. I have never been to the motherlands, but loosely replicating a Hollywood plot was a practical substitution for me.

I wanted to take on this lofty task to better understand who I am. A child of immigrants; a first generation American. All my life I’ve been sort of Persian, sort of Iraqi, sort of Sephardic. I owed it to myself to find out what all of that means.

Other than the fact that I can shimmy when I hear Googoosh, there’s nothing really Persian about me. Likewise, my Arabic is mediocre enough to understand my family and Palestinians, but I’m not an Arab.

It’s too bad I’m on a diet that involves little rice, oil and red meat. So there won’t be any culinary soul searching in this blog. I will, however, still tell you about said cookbook.

Daisy Iny’s book, The Best of Baghdad Cooking, With Treats from Tehran is the first book I can recall from my childhood. As a young girl, one of my favorite activities was crafting snowflakes. I remember rummaging through my grandmother’s kitchen drawer looking for her orange scissors. The orange cover of Iny’s book often tricked me; it was always a disappointment.

I didn’t realize what this book was until later on. In fact, I had never even bothered to actually read the title. The cover has an Asian theme, which led me to assume it was some sort of cryptic astrological forecaster. About five years ago, I realized this was not the case. Daisy Iny’s book was probably the only cookbook my grandmother owned. And, the Iraqi cooking bible.

I’m not joking. On multiple occasions I have witnessed both my mother and my grandmother consult the book mid- khoresht, tebeet, or kibbeh. It still lives in the same drawer, but is no longer the only cookbook in my grandmother’s kitchen. It has a comrade that lives in the drawer to its right, a Mediterranean cookbook that is read like coffee table book; skimmed for beautiful pictures but is never taken seriously.

I haven’t seen her consult Daisy Iny in a while, but when I’m in my grandmother’s kitchen I take it out, scan the names of familiar foods, and smile.

The book went out of print several years ago. My mother doesn’t even own a proper copy, she had my grandmother’s photocopied and bound. The fake book now has traces of baklava on various pages.

Here is one of my favorite pictures of my grandmother and her sister-in-law making kibbeh b’semak early one morning. The entire process took about two days. I’ll be sharing my unique worldview with you here, so I’m hoping this blog will keep your attention for longer than two days. Thanks for reading. And, enjoy.

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