Monday, August 20, 2012

CLAIMING DIFFERENCE: The Fourth and Last Instalment of my Piece in LRC


By Ava Homa
Living in a condition of censorship and suffocation, trapped in an abusive relationship where I had no rights as a woman, being harassed socially, politically and emotionally, living with the inevitable horrors of arrest, torture and the perpetually threatened invasion by the United States which had already attacked our neighbours: Iraq and Afghanistan, I fled the country in which I was born and raised. It was August 2007, and during my 20-something-hour Aeroflot flight from Tehran to Toronto, with nine hours transit in a Moscow airport, I was robbed—a passenger had stolen my wallet from the overhead compartment—and my Iranian passport was taken away from me by the Russian pilot, to be returned when I arrived at the destination. None of this mattered much because I eventually landed in Canada, the land of my dreams, ostensibly to be a student but in reality only to seek asylum in a less stereotyped, quicker and safer way.
After two years, I defended my master’s thesis in English and Creative Writing from my beloved University of Windsor. Echoes from the Other Land, my collection of short stories on modern Iranian women—the generation born and raised after the 1979 Islamic Revolution—was published in 2010 by TSAR Publications. Echoes from the Other Land was nominated for the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and brought me joy and pride. Canada, my treasured country, generously allowed me to experience what it means to be terror-free, to breathe, to write freely, to laugh, to let my scalp feel the breeze … to live. In this country, I met the love of my life and I have been living with him now for three happy years.
I no longer needed to fight to prove that the treatment of women in Iran was unjust and humiliating; kind and gentle Canadians sympathized with the fictional females of Echoes from the Other Land who had to tackle patriarchy while treating the wounds of circumcision, cross-dressing, divorce, cancer, deception and seduction. But…
In May 2012, I read part of my new novel-in-progress, Love and Peace, at the Canadian Creative Writers and Writing conference. An audience member asked me if I do any research, if literary merit matters to me! It took me awhile to see that for mainstream readers I am a poor Iranian girl who is supposed to remind them not to take their freedom for granted, and for intellectuals I am the stereotypical exile who gains recognition for a life story without literary merit.
Writers-in-exile have compelling stories, but how valuable are these people in this competitive job market? I have left the supportive English department at the University of Windsor and now work as a part-time teacher in a few private high schools and colleges. I have learned not to let my bosses, colleagues or students know that I am a writer-in-exile, that I have escaped persecution and that Canada is my refuge. I have seen how it exposes my vulnerability, how it turns me into an easy target for bullying. A previous chair tried to get me involved in a pyramid scheme. Maybe it was not a scam, but it was definitely unethical to put such pressure on a contractor striving and struggling to become full-time. When I politely refused, she told me that I did not understand. A couple of months later, she yelled at me when a student complained about her grade. This chair, of course, does not treat other teachers like that. Her primarily pitiful looks changed to contemptuous treatment. I cannot explain how much stress she put me under. I no longer work for that school.
Is being a writer-in-exile an advantage after going through so much pain? Is claiming difference supposed to incite admiration or is it a source of humiliation? Or is being a writer-in-exile a strange combination of both?

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