Feb 5, 2018

Solacers by Arion Golmakani

Best Nonfiction Finalist
Stanford University Libraries
William Saroyan International Prize

"He was neither an orphan, nor a street kid. But life dealt him such a hand that now, those who hear the story of his childhood in Iran, consider him an Oliver Twist in the streets of Mashhad. His childhood could be summarized in two words: Hungry and Forlorn.” BBC

A Memoir
by Arion Golmakani
Solacers tells the touching story of a 5-year old child’s search for family life and safety following the divorce of his parents in Iran during the 1960’s. The first child of a heartless father and a discarded mother is left to fend for himself on the streets of Mashhad, seeking food and shelter wherever he can. His lonely early years are an unbelievable tale of cruelty and betrayal on the part of nearly everyone who might be expected to help, save for one aunt who does her best to keep him from starving.
But living a harsh and solitary existence has one advantage for this little boy: other than forcing him to be self-reliant, no one attempts to indoctrinate him on rural Iranian society's archaic cultural values and religious beliefs. And so he never accepts his wretched state as fate, choosing instead to dream big dreams about getting an education, having his own family, and starting a new life – possibly in the faraway land called #America. He makes a plan and by the age of 17 he boards a plane to the land of possibilities, where his dreams eventually also take flight.
Read the first chapter



Feb 1, 2018

New Shoes

New Shoes- photograph by Gerald Waller, 1946
Hope and purpose are wonderful antidotes and nourishment for a wilted soul.
With the submission of two black-and-white headshot photographs of me, my birth certificate, and a couple of toomans, Kia was able to get me enrolled at the local elementary school. I was now officially a student.
For the first time I began to notice an aspect of the city I’d been oblivious to up until then. A sudden surge of activities and excitement spurred up the neighborhood at the end of what seemed to be a lazy summer. Many people with school-age children were returning home from their summer vacations. Boys and girls, holding their mothers’ hands, were going in and out of various shops in a hurry in preparation for going back to school. Barbershops, tailor shops, and shoe-making shops were all very busy at that time.
I remember accompanying Momon Bozorg and taking a pair of used children’s shoes to an old shoe repairman on Sardodvar Avenue. The shoes were for me. After a bit of haggling, the old man agreed to make the little shoes as good as new, in his words, for one tooman. She paid the man in advance and went back home, leaving me behind to wait for the shoes. I sat on the sidewalk next to the old man—a sidewalk shoe-shiner who made his money mostly from polishing boots and shoes for the soldiers—and watched his brown prune-like hands replace the soles, nail new heels, color the shoes black, and replace the laces with some from a pair of worn army boots he had in his wooden box.
“Here you go, boy. Mobark bashe (blessings),” the old man said in his country accent as he handed me my new shoes.
I was amazed with the result. The shoes originally looked as if some wild animal had slowly chewed on them for a long while; they were colorless, worn, and had holes on their soles where someone’s toes once used to rest. I felt sorry for the original owner, whoever he was.

Jan 29, 2018

A drop of silence

The impish talkative little sparrows,
the ones that never stand still,
and nest just outside my window
in the dense branches of the tall tree.

The bullish immense river,
the one that never forgives
and rests just outside my window,
in the deep brink of history.

And my heart,
the one that never ceases
thumping in your name,
just outside your window,

all stood still
in anticipation,
as the gypsy wind,
ahead of your arrival
rushed your scent to the river’s edge.

Jan 14, 2018

An immigrant's memory

Arion Golmakani 

"The start of the Iranian Revolution in 1978 brought to an end the last chapter of my life as an Iranian citizen. Up until then, even though I was in the United States, I was still a member of the Iranian navy, living and attending school at various military bases around the country. During Christmas of 1978 I celebrated a new beginning as a civilian in the United States. A wonderful Midwestern middle class family took me in and treated me as if I were someone very special, an exotic prince of a sort. They proudly introduced me to everyone as their “Persian son.” Back then Iran was not a household name and most Americans referred to it as Persia. Through them I found my first job and transitioned into civilian life.
Without exaggerations, almost everyone I encountered here offered me an unconditional helping hand and opened a new door for me. It felt as if I were everyone’s long-lost son or brother who had finally returned home. I remember during the Iranian hostage crisis I was working as a bartender at a very popular night club in Cincinnati. One very late night as I was leaving work and walking to my car, I found three young men, seemingly drunk, waiting for me in the parking lot. I could tell from the look on their faces that they had no good intentions. One of them asked if I was an Iranian, to which I answered yes. The three of them exchanged gazes, and the one who was vocal began calling me names and making threats as he inched his way closer. “Why don’t you let our people go?” he asked angrily. I wish I could, I wanted to say to him, but he was drunk and not in the mood for reason. I suddenly found myself cornered with my back to my car at way past two in the morning. Suddenly two male customers I recognized from the club showed up and asked if I was all right, and before long I had a dozen young men and women standing by my side. The situation took a turn when a beautiful woman in a fashionable disco dress and high-heel shoes walked to the man who seemed to be the angriest and said, “I am an Iranian too, so what are you going to do about it?” And soon almost everyone around me was saying, “Me too. I am an Iranian.” It did not take long for the three outnumbered men to get in their car and drive away. The kind lady in the disco dress apologized to me as she placed a long and warm kiss on my lips while everyone cheered. As I drove home, touched by what transpired in that parking lot, I could not help but cry and feel very good about life and people.
What I immediately liked the most about this country was how fun-loving, positive and optimistic the majority of people were. Unlike my birthplace where national lamentation days—often for ancient and foreign events and entities—far exceeded the number of celebration days, here people used every occasion as an opportunity to celebrate life, even when the occasion was to commemorate death. Optimism is to fear as light is to darkness, I believe.
Of course I am not so naïve as to suggest this land is perfect —far from it. This land too has its share of dark and painful past. Here too there have been and still are unenlightened, zealous souls who are trapped inside dim and narrow tunnels of dogmas and tribalism, and feel compelled to keep the tribe, and subsequently the fear and the conflict, alive. Oftentimes out of greed and for their own personal gain. What else could those poor little souls do with all of their precious adverse energy, teeming inside of them?

Jan 9, 2018

King and country for one skewer of kebab.

The king and country for one skewer of kabab.

Eventually we made our way to Golkari Square, nicknamed for all the flowers the city planted in its round center. A narrow band of white smoke could be seen escaping the open grill of a small popular kebab café to our left. The aroma of charring ground-lamb kebab mixed with the smell of burning lump-coal, defeating my last effort to be a good boy and control my hunger as my mother had asked earlier. It had been a long time since she and I had anything but bread and drained yogurt to eat.
My mother paused in front of the café’s open window and stared with obvious envy at the skewers of mouthwatering meat and tomatoes charring, sizzling and hissing away over the grill. I asked to be lifted up so I could see better. A thin man stood behind the grill, rapidly fanning the charcoal with one hand and rotating the skewers with another. He wiped the perspiration from his forehead with his sleeve and greeted my mother.
Befarmaeed (please come in),” the man said as he pointed with his head to the open tables inside the place. At that hour, with the exception of a man seemingly waiting for a carryout order, the place was empty. My mother swallowed her saliva and shook her head no without opening her mouth or taking her eyes off of the kebabs. She was not the type that would give in to her body’s desires. I, on the other hand, was willing to trade king and country for one skewer of what was on display in front of me. Looking at the kebabs and the stack of fresh nan (flat bread) next to the grill brought on a huge growl from my stomach. In front of the café next to where we were standing there was a white metal cooler filled with ice and frosted bottles of soda. I had never had a soda before and had no idea what it tasted like. The orange ones sure looked good.
My mother put me down and we walked away.
“I am hungry, Mommy,” I said, as I pulled at her chador.
She sighed dejectedly and replied, “Me too, pesaram (my son), me too …”

We circled the square and sat on the bank of a shallow creek rushing down from Koohsangi— stone mountain, a park on the base of a massive rock relief a few kilometers up the road. My mother spread a handkerchief containing a little nan and drained yogurt flavored with rosemary flakes on the ground, and we ate. I kept looking at the café on the other side of the square with envy and following with my eyes the delicious white smoke escaping the grill, watching as it ascended and was devoured by the dense branches of the trees. 
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