Layla Sabourian is a writer and entrepreneur. She’s best known for writing children’s books, corporate blogs, and short stories. She also writes non-fiction, on subjects ranging from parenthood, fashion and traveling to education. She is the founder of Chef Koochooloo, a content company focused on teaching children diversity and inclusion through cooking.
“You really shouldn’t have!” I murmur as my grandmother presents me with the brightly colored golden embroidered gown-- adorned with more beads and sequins than I care for. She opens the bottle of red wine on my kitchen table and pours herself a glass.
Seeing me look at her in shock, she explains, “My doctor suggested I try drinking one glass of red wine per day. He said it would be good for my nerves”. Already suffering from anxiety, my grandmother has not been feeling herself since her trip to Iran, where she has insisted on ‘educating’ a few bassijis on what the real Islam is all about, an ordeal so heavy that she announces this will have to be her last trip home. Tasting the liquid for the first time in her life, she swirls it curiously around her tongue and continues, “Did you know that wine was first discovered in Kurdistan?”
I do not. I pour myself a glass and sit next to her.
“My dear Kurdish friend, Keje came all the way to Tehran just to bring this dress for you. Look, it is a perfect fit. She said she made one for each of her own granddaughters as well. I figured it would be useful to you sometime”.
Perfect fit? Useful? “You should not have troubled yourself”. It is the year 2000, no one wears such traditional dresses anymore. “It is kind of large for me, don’t you think? And when will I ever actually have the occasion to wear a Kurdish dress? Your luggage was already full, and your arms hurt. I told you not to trouble yourself with gifts for me!”
Twenty-two years later, I am wearing that same now perfectly-fitting dress and march with 80,000 other protestors in Berlin–in solidarity for a beautiful Kurdish girl, as well as many other men and women who the brutal Iranian morality police murdered. Keji’s granddaughters are also wearing their dresses, marching for the same cause, in Saqqez. The police are confronting them with machine guns and batons, while we demonstrate freely.
My grandmother died in California–dreaming of Iran, and though she never saw me wear this dress, she continues to remain in my life in mysterious ways. Her handwriting on a halva recipe, tucked away inside a book I accidentally find right when I am craving the sweet dessert. The scent of cardamom and rosewater, mixed in the exact same combination she loved, in a new friend’s kitchen. The unworn wool sweater she had knit for me that my daughter finds tucked away when she feels especially cold. And now I feel her presence so strongly, I almost spot her in the crowd.
As we march in the largest demonstration against the Iranian regime to date, we chant for freedom, women, and minority rights. I no longer consider my voice my own; it has ceased to belong to me. I do not feel tired. Despite the long journey. Invisible forces are pushing me forward, moving my legs in simultaneously with all of the movements around the globe, floating on their own accord. When I hold up the signs with the names of the innocent teenagers murdered by the Iranian regime, I feel my grandmother’s hands, rising jerkily on strings.
The Kurdish protesters approach me with tearful eyes, and smiles, admiring my dress and thanking me for wearing it. They want to know where I bought it, who the seamstress is, where I live, how I got there. They share their own stories. I meet Zoran, who tells me his house is four blocks down from Mahsa’s. He tells me about her innocent smile, and how her family has always been quiet and peaceful, respected by their neighbors. I meet Zomeira, who tells me she had to leave Iran on foot, pregnant with just one bag in her hand and how it made her happy to see another woman wear a Kurdish dress, it reminded her of her own, left behind.
My stomach heaves when I read the headline of “Today’s Homeland”, the Iranian-run newspaper referring to the Berlin demonstrators as “The hooligans who shouted out their home landlessness louder than before”.
It hurts to breathe. I feel anger closing over my head.
Gorbat is one of the saddest words in the Persian language, signifying being painfully away from one’s country. I think of my father, grandfather, aunt, uncle, cousins, and so many others who died in gorbat. I remember their dreams and hopes of returning to a free Iran one day.
I hear a group of Baktairs singing Shervin Hajipour’s song , a group of tenneagers dancing, continuous invitations of Berlin based Iranians offering their homes to us, and I know, that we might have had to leave our homeland, but we did not leave Iran, we have taken Iran with us, in our hearts, in our spirits, in our actions, in our unity, in our solitary. Our traditions came with us and will live on in our children and their children. It is you Ayatollah Kameini, you and your regime, who do not have a homeland, because it is you who do not understand the meaning of Iran, it is you who kills our beautiful flowers, our poets, our writers, it is you who silences the beautiful sound of Persian music, it is you who forbids our minorities from wearing their clothes, speaking their languages, it is you who have betrayed Iran, not us.
Do I believe in the impossible? More than 150 cities around the world have risen, the voices of children, teens, and women have united, governments are finally taking a stand, making it possible for us to imagine that even our beautiful country, sizzling with the blood of innocent teenage girls will be transformed into a sancturary of freedom and justice, where women are treated equally, where children are not beaten to death, where minorities are encouraged to live their truths. I believe in a possible tomorrow, I will continue to march.