Apr 30, 2006

Farsi

There was a Persian restaurant on Roswell Road in Atlanta. Once a week we went there with five other families to eat koobideh kabob and saffron chicken and drink thick yogurt-water seasoned heavy with salt and mint. The only words I know in Farsi are the names of those foods. Joojeh kabob. Koobideh. Koresht baadenjaan. Ghormeh sabzi. Zereshk polow. We all sat, ten or twelve or fifteen of us, at the long, loud table, shouting orders at the waiter in our horrible American accents. He scribbled on his notepad anxiously, flustered and wondering how so many Americans knew the food of his country.

My grandfather always sat at the head of the table, wide-smiling at the young waiter. He calls him over, “Biya!” They speak enthusiastically, the waiter suddenly understanding our connection to Iran.

My mother never learned Farsi, and so neither did I and neither did my sister. Baba was a bad teacher, she said, teaching her unnecessary words like “monkey” (meymun), “apple” (sib) or “bird” (parandeh). “Vocabulary words,” she told us, “not a language.”

But now Baba is old. His smile is faint and he does not bubble with fast, beautiful Farsi. He talks slow, smiling faintly at the recognition of his native tongue. He is eager to speak Farsi now, aware that he will never return home.

I speak to Baba in English and he often stares blankly at me. I wonder if he is wishing for Persia. I wonder if the words would sound softer on his aging ears if they came in old Farsi. I wonder how it is to miss home, to die in Florida without ever returning to Tehran, to the Caspian Sea, to Iran.