Funny in Farsi and me


First, a few lines about this funny and beautiful memoir by Firoozeh Dumas, Funny in Farsi: A memoir of growing up Iranian in America.

Firoozeh’s father Kazem, an engineer with the National Iranian Oil Company, got assigned to consult for an American firm for about two years and moved to Whittier, California with his wife Nazireh, 7-year-old daughter Firoozeh and 14-year-old son Farsheed in 1972. Farid, their oldest son was already in US completing his high school education. Firoozeh Dumas begins her memoir, by documenting her experience at Leffingwell Elementary school where she sat in the classroom with her non-English-speaking mother as her elementary school teacher tried to make them feel welcome by talking about Iran and inviting her mother to point out Iran on a world map in front of the class. Firoozeh’s mother had no idea. With brilliant humor and wit, Dumas writes her experiences in this memoir of growing up as an Iranian immigrant in America, pre and post Iranian revolution. At the beginning of her memoir, Dumas is touched by the kindness that Americans show towards her immigrant family. She feels people are truly interested in knowing their culture and making them feel welcome. She is also perplexed in equal measure at the ignorance of folks about cultural life in Iran, asking her if she went to school in a camel and if so, where they kept their camel. And how many Persian cats she had. She went to school in her father’s Cadillac, but she resorted to answering the camel question by saying they kept the camel in their garage.  She also writes about her experiences as an Iranian in America after the American hostage crisis in Iran and how American perspective about her family changes overnight. However, she does not harp on the cruelty she faced as an Iranian immigrant. Instead she focuses on her crazy yet fun extended family, their love and support for each other, their ambition to see their children succeed and their unmistakable love for their adopted country. In this memoir Dumas introduces us to her sweet and endearing dad, who fully immerses himself into the new culture that America offers which involves fast food, seeking to be rich via Bowling for Dollars, and every opportunity to save money, her elegant mother who never really learned English, her several aunts and uncles whose eccentricities and kindness make the readers smile.  Just when her family thought they finally got over the culture shock of being in America, Dumas falls in love with a French man and subjects her family to yet another novelty that they must experience and learn. At the end though, love wins.

Quite a few of her experiences as an immigrant reflect mine. Like her, I have been asked if I went to school on an elephant (not camel) and if I were an Indian princess. I have experienced what I now label as microaggression and have learnt to respond with humor and hopefully, without malice or anger. There were two aspects in this book, however, that really spoke to me. The first one is food!! Oh, how I want the Iranian food that she writes about! And the second was family. Dumas writes about her close knit extended family who emigrated from Iran and chose to live near each other in USA. They congregated, feasted, celebrated, loved and supported. That is every immigrant’s dream. I must say this made me envious. I remember little Sahana desperately wishing that her family from both sides lived in our neighborhood next to each other. “Wouldn’t it be so fun mama if didiya, dadai, mashimoni, mashun, moni, mamai, shi dadai, shi didiya (her Indian family) lived on one side of the road and Grammy, uncles and aunts (her American family) lived on the other side?”  Many immigrant children as well as children whose parents move to different states feel the absence of their grand parents, aunts and uncles in their lives as they grow. No one present on Grandparent’s day at school, no one to cheer from the sidelines in sports events or school events, graduation ceremonies or festivals. This is a big void. Immigrants form close relationships with other immigrants in a new land and they, over time, become family. But I can say from personal experience, that the faces that loom large when there is a major life event to share are those of the ones we left behind back home.

I was thrilled that Firoozeh Dumas grew up surrounded not only by her mom, dad and brothers but also by her loving aunts, uncles and cousins. I was also jealous. But ignore my base instinct, pay heed to my suggestion instead. If you want to read something heartwarming during these difficult times, pick up Funny in Farsi. I guarantee you will have a smile on your face.

I gave thanks..


I spent Thanksgiving Day alone this year. It was by choice. I wanted a little separation so I could fully look at what I have. Being entwined always does not allow me to fully ‘see’ and value my treasures. I also needed to unclench the muscles at the back of my shoulder and put my feet up while I wrote this.

My family drove up to Sean’s hometown to give thanks for the wonderful people who nurtured him, loved me and then the little ones who came to us later. And I stayed behind to spend Thanksgiving day alone. Sean made it happen!

Everytime I thought of Thanksgiving day this year, between chores, I filled up with a sense of happy anticipation. I felt a little smile creep up on my face at the prospect of being alone. I asked friends what they would do if they were given a day to spend however they wished. The responses were delightful. How would I want to spend it, I wondered. I thought about what I would do on the day. I thought a lot. And finally came to a decision. I would own the day, I would take off my watch which generally dictates my life – for a day. I woke up on Thanksgiving Day and left my watch on my bureau.

Sage and I went for a long walk and talked of squirrels and dog pee along the way.
I wrote an actual email to a friend instead of quick messaging.
I Skyped with my parents and tried to solve an issue.
I folded a basket of laundry, not because I had to, but because that is what I wanted to do.
I actually sat on the couch and LISTENED to my favorite songs, focusing on the lyrics as the tune rained gently on my soul.
I played with Sage in the backyard. He thought mama had gone crazy.
I read on the couch under my brilliant red blanket.
I watched a movie.
I did a home facial and took care of myself.
I sat in the backyard with Sage for a while and luxuriated in the quietness surrounding me and my aloneness.
I drove over to an Indian take out to get both Chicken and Mutton biryani for lunch AND dinner.
I felt the love of a friend as I broke my fast with delicious soda bread that her husband had baked.
I wrote.
And I let my body and soul dictate me.
And I kept thoughts of next day FOR next day.

I gave thanks too for this gift of a day. The day became a gift only because I knew my family was happy and enjoying the company of loved ones. The day became a gift because I knew my aloneness was temporary and my family will be back soon bringing with it, all it’s chaos, confusion, need for me, and love. And because I had this gift of a day by myself, I would be better prepared to deal with that chaos, confusion and routine.

I thought about my husband and my two children with an overwhelming sense of love and sent up a prayer to the universe to keep them healthy and happy. I prayed for my parents and the work they are doing for the community. I thought about my sisters and brothers I found by marrying Sean and prayed for them and their family. I had the day to truly thank, wish and pray.

Sometimes one just needs to step away and love oneself. I did just that. As I try to keep up with the fast paced life we led, I put myself way below the totem pole. On Thanksgiving day, I realized I needed to love myself more. While saying thanks for others, I thanked the universe for myself too, for my life, my love, my opportunities and for who I am.