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.

6 thoughts on “And this is me a lonely woman

  1. edifiedlistener May 28, 2020 / 7:25 am

    Parisa, your post leaves me in a puddle of feelings. One of those feelings is gratitude for telling a crucial part of your story which provides context for deeper understanding. Another feeling is bewilderment at my own ignorance of the impact of sanctions, the incalculable degree of harm perpetrated against an entire nation for decades. There’s also a kind of hushed reverence for the way your have written about your journey – the cold bureaucratic speak of the visa requirements and rejection letters juxtaposed against the rich and haunting poetry. Thank you, my friend for giving of yourself so generously. Now that we understand a little more, I’m wondering what I will do to pursue change – in my classroom, in my home, in the faculty lounge. Because I see so much work we can do on ourselves and in our communities to address those awful stereotypes you shared. Grateful for the reminder: If not now, then when?

    If not me, then who?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Parisa Mehran May 28, 2020 / 1:49 pm

      Sherri, thank you for giving me the opportunity to write about something that is not easy to write about.

      I am anti-sanctions because I lived them; because they affected every aspect of my life; because they are still with me.

      Sanctions do not liberate. Sanctions impede. Sanctions confine. Sanctions oppress.

      I am anti-passport because five visa rejections so far have had a mental toll on me.

      I am anti-war because I am a child of war, and I visited Iraq after the recent war and I did not see freedom there,

      I am working on some lesson plans on sanctions, war and art, Muslim Ban, and passport privilege, & I can’t agree more. We can do a lot.

      I am so honored to be a part of your community and I keep learning from y’all and I keep disrupting the status quo.

      Here I would like to share some lines from Saadi, Iranian poet (1210-1291):

      Going down the path of desert is better than sitting idly

      For if I cannot accomplish my ultimate goal, I will try as hard as I can

      Like

  2. Behnaz Amani May 29, 2020 / 8:44 am

    My dearest Parisa,
    you know how much I’m proud of you not just for sharing this agony of yours but for all the efforts that you are making to fight this injustice, this racism in the world. I know how difficult it has been to face all these shocks, angst, disappointment, yet you stand up to all this. And I want you to know how much thousands of women appreciate these efforts of yours. Remember that you are the most powerful, intelligent woman that I know personally, and I am so grateful to have you by my side dear sister – not by blood but by mindset. One day which is not that far away, you will become one of the great leaders of social justice and antiracist movements; I can guarantee that.

    Behnaz

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Denise Krebs May 29, 2020 / 10:24 am

    My dear Dr. Parisa, thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. You sailed away from oppression, censorship and sanctions to prejudice, racism, and fears. My God, I’m in tears with your words. I hope you will study social justice and equity studies. We need more of that in this world, especially in the U.S. God forgive us. Thank you for teaching us today.
    ~Denise

    Like

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