As a Persian-Khaleeji who has grown up in the Gulf, I have been accustomed to blending different cultures in my day-to-day life. This has meant talking in dialect Persian with my grandparents, greeting and conversing with guests in Arabic, chatting away with friends in English and discussing matters with our help in Hindi. When guests come for a visit, we would serve a selection of beverages, from gahwa to karak to red tea with a side of sugar cubes, or ghand, and Persian saffron infused rock candy, or nabat. On the longest night of the year, we would gather on the cold marble floored talar of my grandparents’ place and cut open a fresh watermelon, signaling the start of spring. Nothing beats indulging in some kashk on a warm afternoon, pretending it’s a jawbreaker like the ones from my favorite cartoon network show, “Ed, Edd n Eddy.” And don’t get me started on our Ramadan spreads, which were nothing short of flavor. From lugaimat to crispy pakora and velvety abgoosht stew, every culture gets a respectable nod during our nightly feasts. I also remember listening to Moein in the car on my way to school every morning, and practicing Farsi sentences in the evening to improve my pronunciation. There is something about the delicateness of the language as it rolls off the tongue.
During the Indian Ocean Tsunami incident of 2004, I happened to pass by the living room one evening where all the adults were gathered around the television watching the news, which was reporting the effects of the tsunami on the neighboring country of Oman. As a child I was horrified and restless at the thought of having a country so close to us experience such an incident. That night, my mother and grandmother gathered us in our room to put us to sleep, since we had school the next day. My mother, realizing my nervousness that night, decided to recite an age-old bedtime story for my brother and me. My mother sat on the right edge of my bed, while my grandmother sat on the left side, both taking turns to retell verses of the famous Zangor Mangor folktale. It had been years since I had last heard that story, and I remember grinning from ear to ear as my mother sang the famous lines of the tale. It follows the story of a mother goat and her two children, Zangor and Mangor. As she leaves her children at home to grab food from the market, the sly wolf makes his way to her residence, knocks the door and fools the children into believing he is their mother. The children, naive and innocent, open the door and end up being devoured by the wolf. When the mother goat returns home to the tragic incident, she moves from one house to the next asking the neighbors about her children. When she finds out about the wolf’s doings, she sharpens her horn and challenges the wolf to a battle. He, in return, sharpens his teeth and charges towards her. Her motherly strength takes over and she pierces the wolf right in the stomach, opening it up and freeing her children.
It sounds gruesome, I know, but the beautiful words accompanied by the comical songs made the story all the more enjoyable. Passed down from grandmother, to mother, to daughter, to grandchild, I lay there listening to the stories that shaped the moments of my youth.It was right then and there that I realized that I had been given the opportunity to live in two very different worlds simultaneously, and bringing them together has been an exceptional journey of self-discovery and growth. Living in a part of the world that houses a diverse society, being a Persian-Khaleeji has been a rich and endearing experience. And by sharing bits of our world with each other, we create an additional welcoming space at the dinner table.
Aleya is a civil engineer and artist from the city of Abu Dhabi who is currently based in Australia.
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