Holidays and the Paradox of Plenty
(my personal memos about Thanksgiving....)
All last three of my Thanksgiving celebrations have been spent with a Jewish family. The coincidence of thrice being amongst Jews is something that most Middle Easterners would likely interpret as cabal-esque. However, these gatherings make me believe in a more symbolic coincidence as well.
My Mom was not happy when I told her about my spending Thanksgiving with Jewish friends. She thinks just as soon as I blog about it, the Iranian government propaganda machine will say, "An alienated Iranian journalist has defected to International Zionism," and so forth. But at least if this mix doesn't look good politically back home, it works pretty well socially here, with my friends, classmates and professors. That being said, it has become a little complicated since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad allegedly called the Holocaust a myth and proposed the removal of Israel from the world map.
So, instead of embracing the joy of eating turkey, mashed potatoes and wine, I have to spend the day exploring why I think Iranians are not going to bomb Israel, and why I think Ahmadinejad isn't more insane than most politicians. Believe me, this is not an easy job.
On Thursday, from the three invitations I received, I chose to accept Lisa's invitation and spent the day with other classmates. But these days, my fellow UC Berkeley students are less curious about politics, and I probably would not have to talk about Ahmadinejad, mullahs, or nuclear bombs. What a relief! Most impressive was that despite being a vegetarian, Lisa managed to make a delicious turkey, stuffing and all. I couldn't help but wonder how she had managed to create such delicious flavors without intermediate taste tests.
I called my Mom on Thanksgiving morning, 9:00 p.m. Tehran time. Her first question -- per usual -- was whether I had any information about a U.S. attack against Iran. I told her that it wouldn't likely be on Thanksgiving Day. Americans make many sacrifices for national security, but not on Thanksgiving. Besides, there have been no military attacks or air strikes on Thanksgiving Day since World War II.
I don't know why my family thinks that I would know of an impending attack in advance: I tried to explain to them that if such a crazy thing were to happen, most people in the U.S. or even Washington, D.C. wouldn't know about it beforehand.
Since the first time I talked to her about this American tradition, my Mom has been interested in the shopping aspect of Thanksgiving weekend. She, like many others in that part of the world, pictures the U.S. as a country where you can find anything and everything: the land of the worst and the best. For example, even though the Iranian market is saturated with French, Korean, and Japanese cars, there is still a strong respect for American automobiles. This is a mindset that dates back to the American auto industry's flourishing era during the 1960s. To some extent, though, she is right and Thanksgiving is among the few occasions that remind us why size and quantity matter.
My parents have been married for almost 40 years, but I think if there were Target, Wal-Mart, Macy's and especially Costco stores in Iran, their marriage wouldn't have lasted so long. My father would have filed for a divorce to avoid going bankrupt. My Mom has all the makings of a shopaholic.
I couldn't describe her feeling until I got into poetry and romance myself. It was like the moment where Romeo finally embraced his Juliet: excitement in her eyes, hands shaking. She was always in her most relaxed state after shopping. I never understood what in her life was replaced by the joy and excitement of shopping.
The prosperity, wealth, happiness, and the shopping frenzy in a country at war are not tangible for my mother. She probably compares the notion of "a country at war" with the eight-year-war we experienced with Iraq between 1980 and 1988, when most of a family's basic staples from fuel to bread and meat were rationed, mixed with daily bad news from dead soldiers, air strikes, seeking shelter in basements, and the deadly anticipation of bombs which would hit the capital. Here, only politicians, oil or weapons industry operatives, and those who have a loved one in the armed forces seem to recognize that this country is engaged in a deadly war.
War does not appear to be a sufficient reason for people to stop having fun and enjoying life. The United States has been in some type of war somewhere in the world almost continuously since World War II.
TV channels showed American troops in Iraq, eating turkey and mashed potatoes in military camps, and I wondered what they were thankful for: they face IEDs daily, and are considered occupiers and infidels rather than liberators.
In retrospect, they have a great reason to be thankful -- being alive and keeping the hope alive that they will return home soon, enjoy watching football on their couch, while stuffing themselves with sandwiches made from leftover turkey.
Alas, the best part about Thanksgiving is and should remain the good food that is shared -- I call it an element of unity. This is where most religions and traditions agree to a large extent - except, of course the kosher and halal rules of Jews and Muslims -- a tradition that I have been blessed to share with my friends of all religions to date.
On Black Friday, while millions of Americans who line up before 4 a.m., for me it was a great day for me to catch up on my sleep, in peace. As someone from the Middle East who is skeptical of sales to begin with, and doesn't think a sale is a good deal unless it follows lengthy bargaining, I held on to my convictions and used it to overcome my temptation to go shopping.
Besides, I already have an iPhone anyway.