Khanomjoon

Khanomjoon cradles me in the small of her arm. How old am I? A month, not even? She sits in the plush leather chair that still occupies the living room of our house. In her face, I see such caring, love, and of course, the reflection of my features. She holds me, tiny and vulnerable, and now, 27 years later, I hold the memory and weep.

* * *

I come home crying; I’ve skinned my knee – again. No matter how many times Maman tells me not to, I can’t seem to resist running down that cement hill – the road – and now, again, I’ve fallen. Khanomjoon swoops on me immediately, administers the proper care. Nazy, joonam. Geryeh nakoon. Don’t cry. She puts rubbing alcohol on the wound and I scream because it hurts, but after the tears, I feel much better.

* * *

Middle school, that evil mistress. I come home every day awkward, uncertain, and feeling outcast to a home that smells like polo with meeveh cut on the table. She’s always around, so how could I not take her for granted? I’m 13, then 15, then 18, and she’s always there, this constant, steady presence, this matriarch, this direct link to half of my heritage. She loves me no matter how much I roll my eyes or don’t listen to her advice or sulk in my room; she cleans up after me, comforts me, and gently watches over me. She’s always there.

* * *

I’m off at college, drinks and boys and studies, and the human centerpiece of our home begins to crumble. The first signs of it show up right before I leave – she pulling me into her room and asking, mibini? Do you see? But I don’t see the object she says is there and, frightened, I shut down. She chuckles, shakes her head. How can you not see it? Kasi een ra nemibined. Nobody sees it – and I leave her room, afraid.

* * *

Her room, the last on the right down the long hallway that is the ranch style of our house, becomes a more and more difficult place the sicker she gets. Every time I come home for a visit, she’s deteriorated further; every summer, it’s harder for her to walk, until she’s not walking at all. Then there’s the wheelchair, then Daejoon comes up to help with her care sometimes, then he’s moved in completely. When his wife of 30 years divorces him without any notice, I partially blame Khanomjoon. Surely her sickness – this dementia that has become the spoke around which our family wheel turns – had some effect on their relationship? Surely the strain got to Aunt Miriam? It’s certainly getting to me.

* * *

It’s gotten so much worse, and now she’s a shell of the woman I remember her being. No more insistent jakatedah bepoosh! before I leave the house or adas polo on the stove; now there’s conversations with people I can’t see and pills, lots of pills. I’m in my 20s; I’m gypsying about. I come home and of course I spend time with and see her, but I shove so much of my grief and sadness aside, filling that space with the insistent belief that I’ll feel relief when she dies, when she sheds the earthly frame that no longer serves her anyway.

Then I get the call from my father – ever the gentle diplomat – telling me that Khanomjoon has slipped into a coma, and suddenly I’m having a panic attack, right there in the campground where the bus full of hippies I’m planting trees at schools with is parked. I cry and cry and try and figure out how to best handle this. I’m on a solo cross-country road trip to finally move my nomadic self out to California for good, and I only have a couple of days left before I’m supposed to make it to my destination. I could abandon my things in LA and fly from there, but the coordination makes my head hurt, and I have a place in Oakland lined up to receive me. Khanomjoon would want me to keep going – and it’s unclear how long this seemingly final descent of hers will take– so we, my family and I, collectively decide that it’s for the best that I wrap up, then come home.

But I don’t make it. She dies as I’m flying across the skies to get to her, and when my father tells me amidst the cement and steel of the airport parking lot, I drop to my knees with a grief I’ve never felt before. I don’t care who’s around, I wail and wail and wail, for the grandmother I lost, the only grandparent I ever really knew, the stories I never heard, the culture I long for. I lie on the pavement and sob, and the bright sky overhead offers little relief.   

(I realize this is a very sad story!  But it is my story, and it means a lot to me.  Also, a bio: Nasimeh B is a half Persian writer, performer, and artist located in the Bay Area.  She is deeply interested in culture and the intersections between humans, and can be reached at nasimehb.tumblr.com - thank you. <3)

Shalom/Salaam! I’m Rebecca Goldschmidt, I grew up Jewish in Chicago to a first generation Filipina mother and German-Jewish father who was born in Haifa, Israel. Between them I was bestowed the blessings and curses of American and Israeli passports. I grew up with pansit, eggrolls, and shrimp, matzoh balls, hummus, kosher chocolates, kugel and falafel. I loved the Chicago Bulls. I loved singing songs by the Beach Boys and Elvis and Hebrew songs in choir. I danced Israeli folk dances, collected money to plant trees in Israel, and doodled doves w/olive branches. We mourned the assassination of Yizhak Rabin and tracked the developments of the Peace Process. Every Friday afternoon we welcomed Shabbat with family and friends, dipping our challah in salt and waving our hands over the candles flames. I still hum the prayers and melodies when I’m doing the dishes even though I never go to synagogue and don’t really belong to any sort of Jewish community…

I went to Israel this winter for the first time since I was 12 and I photographed the whole way, from the Israeli consulate in Chicago at the top of a financial building, to the northern border with Lebanon, the streets of Jerusalem, the seaside in Tel Aviv. I saw the development, the settlements, the wall, the checkpoints, the olive trees, the ocean, the ruins, the razed houses, the families, the markets, the schools. I talked with old people, soldiers, my cousins, shopkeepers, and kids, heard the myths and ancient histories from all sides. My aunt told me the story of how my grandmother got out of Germany: apparently, at the last minute, my great grandfather changed his and and decided to send the family to Palestine instead of Argentina. They crossed into Holland via a rural checkpoint and the next day the borders closed. The ship to Argentina sank. My grandparents met in Haifa and lives continued, babies were born, moves were made to the US…

This small group of photos is a glimpse into my personal experience of a tiny slice of the world. I have no idea what the “Middle Eastern Experience” could possibly mean, yet somehow, I am a part of it! And somehow, via a long series of decisions and coincidences, the universe has allowed me to be connected to the “Land of Milk & Honey,” has gifted me this identity, and has left me, like the rest of us, just praying for a future of Peace.

Photos and writing:

-Rebecca Goldschmidt

a few hairs by d. marvi
my relationship with my unibrow is tempestuous. some days i hide it away, plucking out each hair with hatred. others, i smooth it down lovingly with rosewater and feed it coconut oil at night to hasten it&#8217;s growth. these hairs are one of the many ways i&#8217;m navigating my own body while i navigate the liminal space of diaspora. my unibrow evokes both the racial privileged of the homeland and the racial alienation of the hostland. painting my unibrow gold can be seen as an act of beautification and self-acceptance. conversely, it can be seen as self-orientalization, or, making a prominent physical sign of my racial &#8220;otherness&#8221; even more so. or, simply, it could be an innocent whimsy. i choose to keep the meaning of this as ambiguous as possible, to mimic my own fluid, love-hate relationship with my unibrow.

a few hairs by d. marvi

my relationship with my unibrow is tempestuous. some days i hide it away, plucking out each hair with hatred. others, i smooth it down lovingly with rosewater and feed it coconut oil at night to hasten it’s growth. these hairs are one of the many ways i’m navigating my own body while i navigate the liminal space of diaspora. my unibrow evokes both the racial privileged of the homeland and the racial alienation of the hostland. painting my unibrow gold can be seen as an act of beautification and self-acceptance. conversely, it can be seen as self-orientalization, or, making a prominent physical sign of my racial “otherness” even more so. or, simply, it could be an innocent whimsy. i choose to keep the meaning of this as ambiguous as possible, to mimic my own fluid, love-hate relationship with my unibrow.

shot in 35mm in the backyard of my childhood home.
i was born sarah mohammadi alikhan.
i grew up in a pakistani household and was raised watching tennis championships, &#8216;i love lucy&#8217; and shah rukh khan movies. korma was the ultimate &#8220;khansolation&#8221; in my home, my first language was urdu and the Quran was the most loved literature in my family. i grew up attending islamic school until i got kicked out in the eighth grade because i was labeled as deviant and disruptive. throughout my life, i have always felt like a lone wolf without any true feel of community. too westernized for my muslim brothers and sisters, and too &#8220;other&#8221; for everybody else, 
much love to my fellow westernized &#8220;others&#8221; of society.
i know you&#8217;re all out there and all i want to do is hold hands and eat some saffron rosewater ice cream with ALL of you.

shot in 35mm in the backyard of my childhood home.

i was born sarah mohammadi alikhan.

i grew up in a pakistani household and was raised watching tennis championships, ‘i love lucy’ and shah rukh khan movies. korma was the ultimate “khansolation” in my home, my first language was urdu and the Quran was the most loved literature in my family. i grew up attending islamic school until i got kicked out in the eighth grade because i was labeled as deviant and disruptive. throughout my life, i have always felt like a lone wolf without any true feel of community. too westernized for my muslim brothers and sisters, and too “other” for everybody else, 

much love to my fellow westernized “others” of society.

i know you’re all out there and all i want to do is hold hands and eat some saffron rosewater ice cream with ALL of you.