If you are an American citizen who grew up overseas in the 1960s and 1970s, you were told by your parents and by the American community—the official and unofficial community, and by the US military and the civilian community–that you would be judged in so-called foreign countries as a representative of the United States.
The typical instruction was: you are an ambassador of North America.
As kids, we took the admonition to heart.
We were interlopers, and we lived in countries that had traditions and mores and religions that are markedly different from our own.
I lived in London, the Hague and Teheran.
And I’ve visited Egypt, Hong Kong, France, India, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Thailand, Italy, Scotland, Jordan, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, Mexico, China, the United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Wales, Canada, Portugal, Iceland, Germany, Switzerland and Morocco.
We were instructed to tread lightly, and to avoid bringing attention to our Yankee-ness.
So when I boarded a city bus in British Columbia recently, and heard a passenger ask the bus driver for help finding a stop, my ears detected an accent.
The Persian accent is discernable—even if you don’t speak much Persian—there is something quite unique.
The passenger asked the bus driver about a stop, and, when she looked for a seat, I asked in my best Persian if she spoke Farsi.
The woman was shocked: had someone really asked her a question in her own language?
In my childlike Persian, I invited her to sit with me.
Turns out she was visiting family in British Columbia and was trying to navigate the bus routes.
So we chatted on the bus for about 30 minutes before I needed to jump from the vehicle and march home.
We talked about being a stranger in a strange land, about the Iranian community in Canada, and about my time living in Iran.
My guest was kind, and, in her solid English, she explained that her son and daughter attended university in British Columbia, and that she would return home, to Iran, soon.
I wish I had time to tell her how much I enjoyed the delicious Persian food, the artististic calligraphy, the beauty of Shiraz, and the generous and gentle folk of Teheran.
Today, when I hear a journalist covering the news in Iran, I learn that the citizens treat her with kindness and respect.
That’s been my experience, too.
Photo credit: From Peter Carapetian’s collection, Iran: Soul of an Ancient Land, downloaded from Pinterest
15 January 2020
With gratitude to the Snuneynmuxw First Nation, keepers of the land where I took the bus-ride.
Thank you to the students, staff and faculty at Vancouver Island University for hosting my fellowship at their remarkable place of learning.