By : Mina Khanlarzadeh
On 16 September 2022, the religious (also known as morality) police in Tehran arrested Jina (Mahsa) Amini on the basis that her clothes did not conform to Iranian state’s religious regulations of women’s appearance. Jina was Kurdish, from the western city of Saghez. At the time of her arrest, she and her brother were visiting the capitol, and she apparently told the state’s officers, “I am a stranger here” (in Persian: Man gharibam injaa). That, however, did not inspire mercy from the officers. As a result of the police brutality she experienced in custody, she was hospitalized and later died from her injuries. Outraged by the injustice Jina had faced, Iranians—across generations, ethnicities, social classes, and locations—have poured into the streets. She has become the symbol of the liberation struggle of Iranians from patriarchy and the state’s violence.
Suddenly, out of empathy with Jina’s being gharib, her supporters began feeling like strangers too, out-of-place in their own “homes,” home being women’s bodies, the streets, the schools, or more broadly, Iran as a nation with its existing social order. Throughout Iranian society, characterized by ethnic segregation in recent years, this is the moment in which people of different groups are recognizing that, despite the distinct historical specificities of their experiences, their destinies are interconnected. Every one of the protestors has undergone a change in perspective, observing the world through Jina Amini’s eyes and feeling the gharib-ness she experienced as a Kurdish woman in the last few, tragic days of her life. This transformation has given them new insight, and the result has been the discovery of overlapping histories of subjugation: in other words, the ways in which many Iranians have been forced into exile in their own country. This sense of gharib-ness, albeit in different ways for different groups, has ruptured the flow of ordinary life.
The experience of exile in one’s home engenders new perspectives and vision even as the exiled person strives to overcome the pain of loss and estrangement. At the center of Iran’s current struggle, then, there seems to be an attempt to overcome forced estrangements from all that is home and to open the way, through political action and solidarity practices, to a more inclusive envisioning of home.
Despite the potential that this movement has to bring about an inclusive home, it has come with tragic human suffering and losses. I am watching these protests from afar, from a small apartment in the US. With the Internet shut down in Iran, I have limited access to my family and close friends, and I think about the ways in which these events, and their allusions to one’s estrangement within one’s own home, are re-shaping my perception of home and belonging. This short introductory note is not an interpretation of the poem that follows, as attempting to interpret one’s own work is like trying to attend one’s own funeral. It is rather an opening to several questions posed by this moment of upheaval, such as: how do we perceive home when our spirit is engaged with a tragedy happening there, but our body is in another place that we also, in some ways, consider home? How can one give voice to that experience of living with a distorted sense of time and space during that tragedy? How does one relate to “home” at a time when everyone in the streets—of a place they consider home—is fighting against being deprived of the feeling of “being at home”? This poem expresses the feelings these questions provoked for this writer.
Home: “Man Gharibam Injaa.”/ I Am a Stranger Here
Home is the pain you carry in the tips of your fingers,
a dream that ages too fast, before you wake to sort it out.
Home is images from here and now
Laid atop the strangeness of your people’s voice fading out,
eight thousand miles of grief,
familiar, yet mysterious and long.
Home is the sound of typing texts being met with a single gray tick.
It’s not “the lights of connection” that are “shut down,” as the poet described.
It’s the silenced screams of internet blackout.
It’s my mother’s story of the young boy in an internet-cafe,
who showed her how to use VPNs to contact her daughter,
at her night, my morning; and at her morning, my night.
I worry my mother’s radio is turned up too loud,
She says the birds on her balcony no longer talk.
Mothers become screenshots holding the images of their children,
Their sunglasses not enough to block the too-much brightness of light.
Home is the innocence of an exiled man
who still awaits a call from his imprisoned father,
while, at almost the same time, the TV announces,
It’s been several days: his father, Ramin Fatehi, is gone.
Home is the account of a Twitter user
whose last name means ‘the home of healing’,
and whose first references the month of the Revolution, Bahman.
I inherited: a British-American coup,
an Islamic Revolution, and an Iran-Iraq war.
My father, himself, was gharib in his own history.
His love sounding like Banan’s voice, over Mahjuboi’s piano tone.
In dastgah-e shoor, his people always sang:
“Shab sahar shod”: the early morning is replacing the night,
“Mehr az ofogh jelvegar shod”: sun emerges from the horizon.
There was no medicine in their land.
I only recited a poem for my father’s love for Alvand.
Grief brings people face to face with their empty hands.
Home is multiple videos playing at once.
Time is a cycle of escaping one
And longing to be homed in the other.
When you die in one, your ghost forever sings,
“Inna Lillah-e wa inna ilayh-e raji’un,”
in the other.
Home is a screenshot.
The caption reads, “Alieh Motalebzadeh moved from the clinic
to her cell with a needle in her vein…
Her cellmates saw her stumbling around.”
“Jail becomes a prisoner’s ‘home,’” a tweet reads,
“Exiling Kaveh and Yashar from Evin to Raja’i Shahr prison will destroy their souls.”
They said to their mother,
“Through a small window in Ward 8
we heard the sounds of guns,
and saw prisoners of Ward 7 falling down.”
My Instagram home murmurs:
“She was kidnapped, no news of her whereabouts yet,”
a too-common refrain to a song borne of brutality.
I refresh my Facebook home:
A friend’s note says,
“It’s time to get lost in the jungles
That hide all over the world,
Safe from images coming from home
— at least for a little while yet.”
Home is the wounds that remain of the most ephemeral memories,
those buried under cold gray stones, casting spells on your dreams.
“Nika was walking in this world until 33 days ago …
She could stare at you with her bitter, charming, curious eyes.”
Home is the numbness that those eyes will inflict.
It’s the note that you glance at just before lunch: “I live on Revolution Street,
close to where she was arrested, and now I just cannot bear to live in her home,
yetlandlords, fearing my loss, refuse me another home,” says Atash, her mourning aunt.
She feels betrayed by the zone that saw her niece’s last stroll.
The image of Nika’s gray sneakers still hangs on the wall,
And their desire to run is shaking their home.
“So long, the cruel Revolution district,”
Reads the note that Nika’s aunt leaves:
Leaves on an empty table, alongside Nika’s half-eaten bag of chips,
when finally she finds another place to live:
“I no longer wish to walk your streets.”
Her mother gives a speech.
I hear her words against a Kamancheh’s sound of a Lori Daya Daya song:
O’ Nasrin the mother, “wear your black dress, they are taking your lioness to the burial-ground.”
I have a palimpsestic imagination of the rhythm of time.
Home is the last words Jina Amini said to the police: “Man Gharibam Injaa.”
Home is fitting scattered pieces of broken sounds of “Jin, Jiyan, Azadî,”
to the pixelated images of Marivan.
Like cypress trees, women standing straight with fistfuls of their own hair.
I search for her name, Isra (or Asra),
apparently the name of a surah in Quran, Al-Isra
— in which God proclaims he is merciful, “… innahu kaana bikum Rahima…”
In Semnani language it means tears, ashk,
and also refers to the meeting of the Prophet with God, meraj.
It means walking in the darkness of night, tariki.
It means prisoners of war, darbands.
And her last name alludes to refuge, shelter, or home, Panahi.
Isra now means refusing to sing “Salaam Dictator.”
She died in Ardabil’s Imam Khomeini Hospital, on the 21st of Mehr (kindness).
She escaped her father’s rage at home years ago,
Just to be beaten in the yard of her school.
I wish home was only the air you embrace
with a song your mother would whisper:
— an exotic, yet familiar, sensation that always stays—
“Too shahri ke to nisti khiabun shodeh khali…”: In the city you no longer live, streets are empty.
Mysteriously, the song is tied to Yaghoot, a red-dressed street wanderer at Ferdowsi Square in Tehran.
“They say you are waiting for someone,” the interviewer says.
“They lie,” Yaghoot responds.
The track samples Akhavan-Sales’ voice in my mind:
“O Dandelion, leave me alone, me the gharib in my own vatan (home).”
Home is the phantoms of notifications:
Sounds that you know will never come.
When you close your eyes,
They still wrap around your mind.
Home is a ghost. Wise men deny its existence.
But, if not haunted, why do the wooden floors of this apartment creak at night?
The songs mentioned above:
- Banan, Gholamhossein. “Azarbayjan.” Shakheh Gol-e 11, 1326/ 1947. (https://soundcloud.com/doostmusic/azarbayjan-banan-rahi-and)
- Saqaie, Reza. “Daya Daya.” (https://soundcloud.com/farshid-farokh-nia/e7q0mrkctwz5)
- Fereshteh. “Shahr-e Khali.” Nam Nam-e Baroon, 1348/ 1969. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8lOqRhBtH4)
The names and stories of several protesters mentioned in the poem are as follows:
- Ramin Fatehi was a Kurdish detainee who was killed in October 2022 while imprisoned: His son Ramtin Fatehi was unaware during an interview that his father was killed.
- Yashar and Kaveh Darolshafa, currently imprisoned, shared their observations of the Evin Prison Fire Incident through their mother, Toran Kabiri.
- Alieh Motalebzadeh, an imprisoned photographer and women’s rights activist, recently attempted suicide in protest against the death threats she received from a prison guard.
- Nika Shahkarami was a young female protestor who was arrested in Tehran and killed. Her aunt, Atash Shahkarami, and her mother, Nasrin Shahkarami, have been outspoken about her death.
- Asra Panahi was a student beaten to death by security forces at her school, due to her refusal to sing the propaganda song “Hello Commander.”
Acknowledgment: I am thankful to Behnam M. Fomeshi for reading this text and for his helpful insights.