Like the turtle,
I walk everywhere
with my home on my back
In Pittsburgh, in 2015, I went on a tour of houses that had been turned into works of art by asylum seekers. Artists painted on the walls, writers wrote words on the doors, and musicians greeted visitors with their songs. But what fascinated me the most was the garden, not only because the residents had planted their favorite varieties, but people passing by had written down their dreams on pieces of paper that were clipped to the fence. The following day, I thought of those dreams that hung like laundry on the line as I contemplated the photos of the “She Who Tells a Story” exhibition, which included works by women from Iran and the Arab world. Today’s Life and War was a photo of an Iranian couple hanging their laundry on barbed wire — their pieces of clothing looked like white flags in a time of war, or like delayed dreams.
For eight years, we were busy killing them, and they were busy killing us. That was enough time for the dreams, theirs and ours, to dry on the ropes.
Another picture I paused in front of was Aerial I, from Shadow Sites II. It reminded me of the 1991 Gulf War, when the satellites took pictures of us from above, and we appeared merely as dots moving in various directions — you couldn’t see the fear that was the cause of our random movement. Being unable to go to the bathroom, for example, because we were walking in the open air — like everyone else who’d escaped the war — was not something shown in the images taken from above.
The satellite images depicted us as rows of ants leaving their hills, leaving behind everything they had worked at for their entire lives. Every passage was an exodus for them. Our houses looked like dark holes, sometimes lit by the explosions.
My home was in that little spot right there. Can you see it?
From above, it isn’t possible to see inside the houses, to recognize the lives of the inhabitants, their struggles over the little things and the big things, their movements getting slower and slower all the time. From above, the burnt fields and bewildered animals look more like an abstraction.