December 21, 2003
Arabic destroyed Persian
We were riding in a minibus with many of K's nieces and nephews talking about the Persian language, singing, and discussing conversion.
"If I convert," K's nephew told me, "I could be killed. In Iran, it would be okay for any Muslim to kill me for converting. They would not be prosecuted." (is that true?)
I told him that we valued freedom of religion in America. "You still might be killed," I said, "but at least we would prosecute your killer."
"Girls can convert until they are nine and boys can convert until they are 15," K's niece explained.
"That's too early to make a decision."
Later, they were telling me how the Arabic destroyed the Persian language. "We had such a beautiful language before the Arabs invaded," I was told. "Now it's so terrible…so many Arabic words."
(Earlier, a lawyer we met told us that after the revolution Iranians had to use Arabic names for their children. "Imagine, you could not use a good Persian name like 'Sudabeh,' you have to choose an Arabic name instead.")
I pointed out that their own family had been among the Arab invaders. They laughed. "Oh, but on the other side we are descended from an escaped Roman prisoner. What do you think, do we look Italian?"
"Most Iranians could pass for Italian," I answered.
Lately I have noticed that many, many of our friends have last names that betray Arabic ancestry, but all of them feel Iranian. Most of them complain about the Arabic invasion of Persia (A good long time ago!) and feel no connection with other people in this region. Of course, my own name is best pronounced by Germans, but I feel no connection to them either…
Iranians think of themselves as diverse. "You don't see it," K tells me. "But we are made up of so many tribes and ethnic groups. It's amazing." He is right, I don't see it. Although, I have noticed that many Lors have big drooping noses and many people from K's home town have huge, dark eyes and full lips. Almost everyone seems to have one eyebrow. The women here just make sure to trim theirs. Which brings me to my next point…
I never really paid much attention to my eyebrows before, but now they jump out at me every time I look in the mirror. They look terribly wild and ungroomed. Iranian women take such good care of their eyebrows. The older women have pencil thin brows and the younger women have gorgeous, thick, but incredibly shaped brows. Many girls sport a unibrow. I keep wondering when the grooming ritual begins? Is it a kind of rite of passage, kind of like a Bat Mitzvah?
Sometimes I envy the way that grooming habits are so openly discussed here. When I was a teenager, I was horribly embarrassed by my body. I thought that my arms were incredibly hairy (they were not): I hated my pimples; all that typical stuff. Here, flaws are embraced. Maybe the teenagers are mortified here too, but they seem pretty calm to me.
Who knows, maybe I will go get my eyebrows shaped.