Tiyam Kardan & Golrokh Kavakebi
Tiyam Kardan and Golrokh Kavakebi are childhood friends growing up in Iran alongside the Karoon River. They go to the same schools, work out at the same gym, and procrastinate studying together. But even though they love many things about Iran, especially their big extended families, they feel frustrated with some aspects of their lives. When they are very young, they agree that they will go somewhere else and follow their dreams when they grow up. Together. But with adulthood, diverging lives, residencies and studies in other countries, and all the uncertainties that come with immigration, what are the odds that they will end up together again in one country, in Canada?
Goli: It’s September 2018, Tiyam and I are walking along the Bow River. She is carrying her daughter, and I’m holding her son’s hand. We both wear our new sneakers. Mine are pink. Hers are black. They are like those we wore 15 years ago in our gym in Ahvaz. Ahvaz is a city in southern Iran that is humid and hot as hell. With its oil and gas reserves, it’s a rich city under the ground but a poor one above it.
Sometimes, when I think of Ahvaz, I picture the palm gardens and eucalyptus trees around the city. Some of the palm trees are burnt; scars left from the war. Others are dying because of the drought and salinization of Karoon, the biggest river in Iran.
Tiyam: Now, I am oceans away, walking along the Bow River, which sails my soul to sweet memories of canoeing on the Karoon, the river which was the spirit of my hometown. Calgary treats us very well; people are friendly and kind. Still, we sometimes get nostalgic for our old home. We grew up playing hide and seek among date palms. There are no date palms here. But we can buy any kind of dates. We can enjoy western life and still taste the Middle East.
I was also born in Ahvaz and started school in 1991 when I was six years old. The school was surrounded by tall walls with graffiti. I could read some of those words on the wall. They were all about hate and wishing death for enemies I didn’t even know.
We entered through a gigantic gate which was closed and locked by the janitor after all the girls got in. There were 50 students in our class. Four of us sat like birds on each bench. I wondered why there was not enough room for all of us. I wondered that frequently, in many different situations, during the years I lived in Iran.
Goli: In the 1990s, after eight years of war with Iraq, there wasn’t enough of anything in our city, and classrooms weren’t an exception. Our classroom had no windows, and it was dark, all covered with blue tiles up to the ceiling because it used to be a washroom.
My sister and I always walked to the school. Sometimes in winter, the city drainage system was insufficient to handle the intense rain and the rising river. The streets would flood and make walking difficult, but also kind of exciting for kids. One time, a meter of water flooded our house and ruined everything. I grieved over my destroyed stuff, but then I found some marbles that must have come from other houses.
On the first day of middle school, I stepped into a class. I sat on a bench, turned and saw Tiyam with her big black eyes, smiling at me.
Tiyam: I started my first day of middle school in 1998. It was hot enough to wear sandals. I knew I had to wear socks with my sandals for school to cover my polished toenails. So, I put on socks. At school, one of the teachers asked if I usually put those sandals on without socks, and I replied innocently yes! Then she said she wanted to talk to me in the office.
After school, I asked my dad what fornication meant. Doing something inappropriate, he replied. I broke into tears. I said the teacher told me that because I sometimes wore my sandals without socks, God will punish me as a fornicator! Men could see my bare feet, and this was as bad as fornication! My dad stared at me for a while without saying a word. He was sad. He said, “You are a good girl, and God will never punish you for that.”
Goli: Yes! “Brainwashing.” That’s what people called the three years of middle school.
The last year of high school was hard because there is only one entrance exam once a year to be accepted into a university. So Tiyam and I were supposed to study, but we sneakily read novels and watched a TV show called Oxygen instead. One time, they interviewed a girl who cycled around Europe. That inspired us, so we made a plan to travel the world. We dreamed of moving to Canada.
Tiyam: In the fall of 2003, when I was 19, Goli and I were accepted into university. We had some free time so we met at the gym, put our runners on and worked out. Behind the gym, there was a playground. After exercising, we sat on the swings and flew into the air, back and forth with stretched legs. I was filled with joy. We forgot about the time, and I arrived home late. My mom was standing in the doorway, distressed and mad. In the previous few months, several girls had been kidnapped and raped in the city. My parents didn’t let me go to the gym ever again.
Goli: Two years later, I was at Tiyam’s engagement party, grumpy because we were supposed to travel together and now we wouldn’t.
Tiyam left for another city because of her husband’s job, and I moved to a northern city, near the Caspian Sea, to continue my studies and eventually, I met the man I would marry. Tiyam, her husband and their son left for Malaysia, where Tiyam’s husband got a scholarship to study for his Ph.D. in petroleum engineering.
In September 2013, Tiyam texted me from Malaysia.
My dear Goli,
…I’m thinking about our years together. About how close our houses used to be, we could see each other whenever we wanted. A nice movie, a funny or sad story could have been an excuse to get together and chat for hours… …I wish our homes were still that close. I hope we will live in the same city one day, a beautiful city, a better place.
In May 2016, I moved again, this time, to Austria to experience living in Europe and studying there.
Tiyam: I came to Calgary in 2016. One of the most difficult parts of immigration is saying goodbye! I wish I could have brought all my family and friends, our home and neighbourhood, all the streets and places I liked, especially my grandma’s backyard with its mint and tomato bushes and fig and pomegranate trees.
Goli: I miss family gatherings and friends in Iran. I was the happiest person in the world when my aunts, uncles, and cousins were all singing and dancing together, joking and playing Daberna (which is bingo.) At night, our living room was carpeted with mattresses. Everyone slept until the middle of the night when someone made a joke, and our laughter broke the silence. I arrived in Calgary in 2018, on April 8th, Tiyam’s birthday. I am glad to have one old friend here, and it is such a miracle that we live again in the same city.
Tiyam: It is a beautiful day in September. We have our sneakers on, and we walk along the Bow River and talk about the days we were far from each other. And also, the days ahead.
TIYAM KARDAN is a teacher from Iran. In 2016, she moved with her husband and son to Calgary, where her second child was born. An avid bookworm and a university graduate with a degree in social sciences and the humanities, she has always wanted to become a writer. She plans to return to school so she can qualify to be a teacher in Canada.
GOLROKH KAVAKEBI was born and raised in Ahvaz, a city in southern Iran. After graduating with a degree in Computer Software from Tabari University in Iran, she moved to the capital Tehran and worked as a Website developer. In 2016, she moved to Vienna to study. Since April 2018, she has lived with her husband in Calgary as a permanent resident of Canada. She enjoys reading novels, travelling, and the arts.