I Hope Not!

“So, my answer to the question Can an African ever learn English well enough to be able to use it effectively in creative writing? is certainly yes. If on the other hand you ask: Can he ever learn to use it like a native speaker? I should say, I hope not. It is neither necessary nor desirable for him to be able to do so… The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning an English which is at once universal & able to carry his peculiar experience… I feel that the English language will be able to carry the weight of my African experience. But it will have to be a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home, but altered to suit its new African surroundings.”

Chinua Achebe (“English and the African Writer”, 1965)

h/t Dr. Amir Ali Nojoumian, Iranian scholar of English Literature & Critical Theory

AIELOC & WOC in ELT Free Online Conference

The AIELOC and Women of Color in ELT Conference aims to provide high quality professional development for international educators and leaders focused on representation, social justice, and equity studies.

14 -15 November 2020

Free Online Conference

The Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC) is devoted to amplifying the work of international educators and leaders of color with a focus on advocacy, learning, and research.

Women of Color in ELT (WOC in ELT) is a safe, courageous, and supportive space for English language teachers who identify as Women of Color.

Please check this link for more information: http://aieloc.org/conference/

If you would like to present at the conference, please send an email to: aieloc2019@gmail.com

And this is me a lonely woman

I shall build a boat

I shall cast it in the water

I shall sail away from this strange land

Where no one awakens heroes

Asleep in the grove of love.

— from “Beyond the Seas”
by Sohrab Sepehri, Iranian poet & painter (1928-1980)
Tran. by Kazim Ali & Mohammad Jafar Mahallati (with adaptations

I listened to Sohrab.

I built a boat and sailed away

From oppression

From censorship

From sanctions.

I feel safe enough to write about the latter. The sanctions. One day when I feel ready, I will write about all those moments of fear and the painful sense of humiliation that I constantly experienced in the academia in Iran.

I am a Tehraner, and I was born right in the middle of Iran-Iraq war in 1363 (1984). We dahe-ye shastiha—the 1360s (1980s) generation—call ourselves nasl-e soukhte, meaning the burnt generation. The impact of political unrest and social upheaval has been truly profound on our lives. Plus the fact that we have always lived under the shadow of sanctions and the future has always been uncertain.

Sanctions never became normalized in my life especially because my mom has been fighting cancer for years and she has always had difficulty finding her medicine. I also remember I decided not to submit my papers out of my Master’s thesis to ISI journals because Iranian affiliations received desk rejections. I remember some of my friends who studied abroad at the time kindly shared some articles with me because Iranian universities could not subscribe to some journals due to scientific sanctions. I remember I could not join some English Language Teaching associations outside Iran because I could not pay the membership fee due to bank sanctions. I remember I wanted to use some tech tools in my classes and they were not available in my country because of sanctions. I also remember ETS (Educational Testing Service) canceled its tests and thousands of Iranian applicants who had to report their TOEFL, IELTS, or GRE scores to universities outside Iran had to go to nearby countries like Turkey or Armenia to take their tests. In my case, I took the local English proficiency test designed by Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology (MSRT) and submitted the score to my department where I had started my PhD. I have more sanctions stories to share. They are family stories and I cannot share them in public especially due to the complex concept of aberoo in Iranian culture. I shared them here: Our Sanctions Stories.

The shadow of the sanctions grew heavier and heavier in my life. I quit my PhD back home, and I cast my boat in the water, and sailed away. I left my heart right there.

Photo credit: Ukrainian Girl in Iran, click here

I sailed on, singing what Sohrab wrote:

Sail away, as far as you can …

From the land

Where women are not as brimful as a cluster of grapes

And I landed in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Full of hope

Full of sparkle

Full of life

Full of passion

Full of dreams

Full of future

Full of innocence

“I’m from Iran,” I passionately said to a conference attendee, an educator.

“Oh, you are a terrorist,” he replied.

A hard slap on my face to wake me up!

They said,

“That was an American joke.”

“You are too sensitive.”

“Let it go.”

“Do I look like a terrorist?” I asked, sobbing.

“Oh, you are a terrorist” was carved in my soul.

It made me

Full of pain

Full of angst

Full of dismay

Full of despair

Full of wounds

Full of agony

Full of understanding

And this is me

a lonely woman

on the threshold of a cold season

on the verge of understanding …

— from “Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season”
by Forough Farrokhzad, Iranian Poet & film director (1934-1967)
Trans. by Hasan Javadi & Susan Sallée (with adaptations)

I was trying to forgive and forget, but “Oh, you are a terrorist” was beyond an individual racist act. It was structural. I was constantly reminded of it:

When President Trump said, “Iran a terrorist nation like few others”.

When Executive Order 13769 (known as Executive Disorder and Muslim Ban), titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”, was signed again and again and again.

When I decided to wear a hat instead of a headscarf to look less like a “terrorist” to be able to breathe.

When my UK visa to present at a conference was denied three times for some Kafkaesque reasons.

When my Canadian Study Permit for a Social Justice and Equity Studies program was refused twice.

Spot the differences in these two rejection letters.

Now, spot the differences between the lists of supporting documents (Client Information and Proof of Means of Financial Support) I submitted for my first Study Permit application and for my Study Permit re-application:

My first Study Permit
application documents
My Study Permit
re-application documents
Client Information
1. Letter of Explanation
2. CV
3. Transcripts & Degree Certificates
3.1. PhD Transcripts
& PhD Degree Certificate
3.2. MA Transcripts
& MA Degree Certificate
3.3. BA Transcripts
& BA Degree Certificate
4. TOEFL iBT Score Report
5. Current Employment Contracts
5.1. Kobe City University of Foreign Studies
5.2. The University of Hyogo
5.3. Princeford College
6. Residence Card in Japan
7. Birth Certificate
8. National ID Card
9. Marriage Certificate
10. Proof of Accommodation Arrangements
Proof of Means of Financial Support
My documents:
11. Japan Post Bank’s
Bankbook Covering
the Past Six Months
12. Japan Post Bank’s
Certification of the
Balance of Deposit
(22,023.08 CAD)
13. Brock University’s the Funding Package First Year
(25,876.00 CAD)
My financial supporter’s (Soraya Ramezanshirazi, my mother) documents:
14. Official Letter from
My Mother Supporting
Me Financially
15. Birth Certificate
16. National ID Card
17. Maskan Bank, Balance Statement, Bank Certificate of Financial Ability
18. Tejarat Bank, Balance Statement, Bank Certificate of Financial Ability
19. Pensioner’s Salary Statement
20. Retirement, Saving, and Welfare Funds
21. Leases
22. Proof of Properties
Client Information
1. Letter of Explanation
2. Letter of Support from
Dr. XXX, Graduate Program
Director of MA in
Social Justice &
Equity Studies at Brock University
3. Letter of Support from
Dr. XXX, Associate Professor
at Kobe City University of
Foreign Studies
4. Letter of Support from
Dr. XXX, Professor at Osaka University
5. CV
6. Transcripts & Degree Certificates
6.1. PhD Transcripts
& PhD Degree Certificate
6.2.MA Transcripts
& MA Degree Certificate
6.3. BA Transcripts
& BA Degree Certificate
7. TOEFL iBT Score Report
8. Residence Card in Japan
9. Birth Certificate
10. National ID Card
11. Marriage Certificate
12. My Husband’s Passport
13. Certificates of My Husband’s
Tourism & Travel Agency
Company in Iran
14. My Husband’s Insurance
Booklet in Iran
Proof of Means of Financial Support
My documents:
15. Japan Post Bank’s
Bankbook Covering
the Past Six Months
16. Japan Post Bank’s
Certification of the
Balance of Deposit
(20,802.17 CAD)
17. My Own Apartment’s
Deed & its Lease
Contract in Iran
18. Brock University’s
the Funding Package
First Year
(34,076.00 CAD)
My financial supporter’s (Soraya Ramezanshirazi, my mother) documents:
19. Official Letter from
My Mother Supporting
Me Financially
20. Retirement, Saving,
& Welfare Funds
21. Pensioner’s Salary Statement
22. My Mother’s
Apartments’ Deeds in Iran
Certificate of the Immovable
Compromised Deeds
(dated 2 July 2013 conducted between my mother
as grantor and me as grantee)
23. Birth Certificate
24. National ID Card
Canadian Study Permit supporting documents

It took me about six months to collect the documents for my first Study Permit application, and about a year to collect the documents for my Study Permit re-application. The second time took more time because the whole county was on hold due to Iran Protests in November 2019, Iran-US tensions in January 2020, and finally COVID-19. I applied for my husband’s visa in my first application. Then, he decided to move back to Iran in May 2019 to establish a tourism and travel agency company there. In my second application, I did not apply for his visa and explained in my letter of explanation that he is focused on his newly formed company, and as a result is unable to join me during my studies in Canada. I am wondering why in the second rejection letter the officer is not satisfied that I will leave Canada at the end of my stay based on my family ties in Canada and in my country of residence (which means Iran not Japan according to Brock University’s immigration consultant).

I strongly believe that I have the right to study. I would like to change my discipline from English Language Teaching (ELT) to Social Justice and Equity Studies. White supremacy is at the heart of ELT and this industry functions as a racist propaganda machine. I am constantly pushed to the sidelines and my existence is constantly questioned.

“Why are you here?”

“Are you sure you are going to teach English at this university?”

“Do you teach Farsi here?” 

I got these questions from white “native” English speakers at conferences and teachers’ rooms. The unsafest spaces I have ever been to. And sometimes it is just a look or a tone that makes me feel unwelcome and I have no visual or auditory proof of those moments.

“Oh, I want to learn English from Tom [a white “native” English speaker teacher]!”

“I don’t want to learn English from a refugee.”

“I’m scared of you because I don’t know about the Middle East and your country, Iraq [she meant Iran]. I just watch the news and it is scary.”

These are some comments I received from my students at the language institute where I first started teaching English in Japan.

And now I still listen to Sohrab.

I shall continue sailing.

I shall continue sailing.

With my Anti-Passport in ocean blue from Passport Project founded by Antoine Cassar. I ordered it while I was writing this blogpost.

Antoine immediately wrote back to me,

I will send a passport (English, blue) to the address you gave me. You can donate to a refugee rights ngo in Osaka if you know any. Just let me know when the booklet reaches you, to put my mind at rest (sometimes the passports seem to be intercepted…)

I am so excited to receive a Passport:

for all peoples,

with a rainbow flag, and the emblem of the migratory

goose encircling the globe

in all the languages you want, official or dialect,

in ocean blue, or dried red blood, or coal black ready

for burning, the choice is yours …

from the English version of Passport, adapted by Albert Gatt & Antoine Cassar
Photo credit: Passport Project, click here

Here are my final words:

Visa rejections hurt

Visa rejections burn your soul

Visa rejections become one of those

sores which slowly erodes the soul in solitude like a kind of canker.

— from “The Blind Owl”
by Sadegh Hedayat, Iranian writer (1903- 1951)
Trans. by D. P. Costello (with adaptations)

And apparently visa rejection letters are the hardly deniable “visual” proofs of one of the forms of oppression I am experiencing. Something that I wanted to sailed away from, and now I actively fight against it every single day by daring to share my visa stories, by daring to write about them, by daring to tweet about Muslim Ban which is quietly being emulated by other countries, and by daring to persist and re-apply for visas despite the financial and emotional tax.  

I shall continue sailing.

I shall continue sailing.

Special thanks to Sherri Spelic for nominating me to write for the 2nd Annual #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge. I would also like to thank Tricia Ebarvia and Dr. Kim Parker for giving me the opportunity to write about my sores right after a fresh visa rejection. I am grateful to my comrade, Behnaz Amani, for encouraging me to write this blogpost. Her insistence reminded me of this quote attributed to Malcolm X:

If not now, then when?

If not me, then who?

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Janelle W. Henderson (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).


Dr. Parisa Mehran

Born and raised in Tehran, Parisa Mehran holds a BA in English Language and Literature, an MA in TEFL, both from Alzahra University, Tehran, Iran, and a PhD in CALL from Osaka University, Japan. She currently teaches part-time at several universities in Japan. Her passion for social justice has led her to engage in different ELT movements for change and is now a racial equity advocate in ELT.


We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.

The Excruciating Arena of Mental Illness

Angst … is a word not to imagine but to let it wrap you unconditionally body and soul in itself. People are in the habit of calling their heartbreak as depression and their stress as anxiety yet almost nobody wants to open their eyes to the bitter uncoated truth of angst, major depression, bipolar disorder, paranoia, schizophrenia, and even paranoid schizophrenia, PTSD, borderline disorder, and a lot more! Every morning you wear a mask and you do your best to either choose a merry one or at least an apparently normal one based on society’s expectations. However, the question has always remained: does it help you or it just fools others to consider you normal and react shockingly while seeing your meltdown? You might have heard substantially about people with mental disorders but in reality, how many of you can honestly understand the situation and try to help? On the scale of zero to ten, I don’t assume it can possibly exceed half a percent, far from satisfactory but sadly it is the case.   

When you cannot even make it out of bed, cannot eat or drink anything, cannot take a shower, or even climb or go down the stairs, cannot remember the date, time, and place; or even worse, on many occasions you are looking into the mirror and to your sheer horror, yet cannot recognise yourself at all, I should stress literally at all! Notwithstanding, you are obliged to pretend to be normal, go to work, wear a smile, hide your tears, angst, anger, etc. just forasmuch as you can never ever be open about the reality of yourself among people without being labelled as: lazy, preposterous, weak, insane, liar, etc. I know, walking in our shoes is not manageable or may not be probable at all, yet please try not to label us erroneously and do a little tiny effort to read and do research about people akin to us who are killing themselves and taking piles and piles of pills to be able to live up to that ‘normality expected’ while shattering inside.

I take a trip down my memory lane reading an anonymous quote: “People who die from suicide don’t want to end their lives. They want to end their pain.” I’ve seen a considerable number of people along with myself who suffer from various kinds of mental illnesses; numerous friends of mine gave up their jobs, and so many other things in their lives due to these problems. One of them is a dermatologist and a great university professor who prefers not to work at all because she thinks with depression, she is not going to be adequate; the other one was crying like hell for the reason that she was lost in date and time and missed her class as a professor! I myself likewise was crying in between my classes like a baby who lost her mom without even knowing why!!!! And let’s not talk about self-harm that is beyond the bounds of your imagination.

People like us usually struggle to achieve capabilities as much as possible and be as multi-tasked as possible yet when others congratulate us, there is absolutely no sense of pleasure or accomplishment!! Weird? Yes, it is, true. Anhedonia is a word to express that inability to feel pleasure in commonly pleasurable situations, and this is a psychiatric condition.

There are various scientific justifications for the roots of these harrowing hells; the most critical one is our genes. These illnesses have been imprinted on our DNA by chance by our ancestors since millions of years ago or merely by our parents, in conjunction with, environmental factors. 

Imagine this: you are part of a huge society, you are a teacher, a woman who has not The Passport and who has to fight for both her rights as a Woman of Colour in ELT and keep her mask in front of her students, be as patient as a prophet to teach and answer all their questions – now with this COVID-19, even from her bed early in the morning or late at night – yet get labelled as ruthless, get rejected by The Government after applying for an Interdisciplinary MA Social Justice and Equity Studies program while having received the acknowledgement and acceptance of the university of the interest as the best applicant. How does it make you feel? Let me make it easy for you: an outcast! Yes, an outcast in the middle of nowhere towards never-land! That’s how confused and devastated it makes you feel. 

Behnaz Amani
Photographer: Amir Hossein Soroush

Resilience

Look at you.

Still standing

after being

knocked down

and thrown out.

Look at you.

Still growing

after being

picked and plucked

and prodded out

of your home.

Look at you.

Still dancing

and singing

after being

defeated and

disassembled.

Look at you.

Still here and hopeful

After it all.

Alexandra Elle [1]


[1] Alexandra Elle is a full-time freelance writer, published author, poet, and small business owner. Her career focuses heavily on writing and holistic healing from the inside out. Elle’s written work is an embodiment of her passion for self-love and advocacy of self-care.


Behnaz Amani

A Ph.D. candidate in English literature, who had studied interior architecture and design as well. A fine art photography model, poet, and writer who believes in kindness and understanding. Tries her best to be supportive of those in need and hates lies and infidelity.


We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.