Friday, August 10, 2012

The Third Installment of Ava Homa's Article for Literary Review of Canada


ECHOES FROM EXILE: BEHIND THE GLASS

By Ava Homa
By 2006, my bashful partner had turned violent because of my sexual disinterest. It did not occur to either of us that he might be simply unattractive; I was either asexual or some sort of pervert. The intelligence service of the university I taught at would harass me regularly, never short of excuses: why did I teach Animal Farm? Why did I dress “inappropriately” or talk too long with a male student? Why didn’t I go to prayers or stop my teaching to send my students to group prayers? Why this, and why that? Eventually, I was warned, I better watch my non-Islamic behaviour or else…
Back in Kurdistan, my father became clinically depressed and disowned me for being the same bad girl I had always been. My brothers were saved from such cruel treatment. But I was a girl. I was a girl, and I was close to a nervous breakdown. I had no family, career or partner to rely on. I wanted to get out of the country that I called a pigsty, but applying for refugee status meant an illegal escape, meant years of waiting for the United Nations to decide whether to accept a case that did not include physical torture and, if accepted, another indeterminate amount of time to wait for a country to admit me, meant being on my own as a vulnerable girl who viewed men as predators. My education, linguistic fluency, work experience and age qualified me to apply to Canada as a “skilled worker,” but for Iranians this was a five-year process.
But Canada was known to be the friendliest to immigrants. Surfing Canadian university websites, I applied to study creative writing in Windsor and Calgary. What did I know about Canada and the difference between the two cities? What did I care? I only wanted some soil, regardless of where it was located and what was waiting for me. Since my writing, ethnicity, gender and family background had made me a nuisance to IRI, I worried that I could have been listed asmamno’l-khorooj—people whom IRI would not allow to leave the country (IRI, as in any authoritarian regime, has such a list and rationalizes it). I let only a few people know of my plans.
With slow, filtered, dial-up internet, I searched and searched for ways to get into Canada, grateful that my English allowed me to rummage around freely. I worked arduously and secretly for two years to find a university, prepare and raise the money for the required documents, translate and mail them, gain admission, win a scholarship and, most difficult of all, obtain a student visa. I took a deep breath, one deep breath. I would run anywhere that was not “here.”
That is how, in 2007, I packed my life into two suitcases, left all my dear books, journals and photo albums behind, and flew away to a land I did not know anything about and in which I did not know a single person. I did not shed a single tear and did not let anyone else do so either. But as soon as my passport was stamped and I touched my boarding pass, as soon as I was behind the glass where nobody could reach me anymore, with perspiration covering my face, my heart palpitating and throat constricted—worn out, dying and reviving at the same time—I looked up at the high ceiling of the airport, sighed and said out loud, “It’s over!”
A tear dripped down the side of my face.

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