Breaking the Ocean: Race, Rebellion and Reconciliation is due to be published by House of Anansi in fall, 2019.
“you broke the ocean
in half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you.” – Nayyirah Waheed
This book is the opposite of Eat, Pray, Love. For a brown girl, it’s Race, Rebellion and Reconciliation.
In Breaking the Ocean, Diversity and Inclusion specialist Annahid Dashtgard addresses the politics of race and trauma by offering a vulnerable, deeply personal account of her life and work. Annahid is a conversation-leader on these topics and this memoir is a timely response to thousands of workshop participants and clients who have expressed hunger to see their stories reflected over the past three decades. In her travels speaking to large audiences and facilitating trainings, she regularly hears of experiences with racial exclusion. These conversations often happen in privacy over session breaks, in the confidentiality of on-line forums, or through messages and stories sent to her through every social media platform. Now, Annahid pulls back the curtain on what it takes to heal from wounds of being marginalized in society, and what price we pay as a society for continuing to exclude valuable members of our own communities.
Annahid’s words are a meditation on resilience, on the human need to belong, and the universal yearning to find somewhere to call home. In a time where intolerance, prejudice and discrimination are some of the biggest threats to western democracies, here is a wake-up call to courageously acknowledge our differences in order to truly reconcile them.
Eid was the cultural equivalent of Christmas in a society organized around the Islamic religion, but the Persian New year—Nowrooz—was the most elaborate. A pre-Islamic holiday rooted in Pagan traditions, taking place on the first day of spring, it was like all the best days at summer camp (how I imagine it, anyway) spread over a two-week period. I remember gleefully jumping over fires in the gathering darkness as part of the annual Chaharshambe festival that took place on the Wednesday before Nowrooz, a mass ritual signifying purification. Thirteen days later we’d communally picnic near a river as part of Sizdah Be-dar.1 The ritual of dumping our plate of sabzeh (sprouts) into the flowing water was the only calm spot in a day otherwise dominated by games, food and sleepy children’s bodies draped over adult shoulders by the end. My belly was always full: of sholeh zard (saffron rice pudding), beef kabobs, and that delicious sangak that I ran to stuff more of into my mouth at regular intervals, my chorus in the daylong song. My skin was left tingling from tickles, pinches and hugs. I never stopped moving, basking in the silent music that happens when family and friends gather. Taking for granted that implicit drumbeat of belonging.
We once visited the city of Shiraz where the bazaar full of sparkling clothes, fresh rainbow coloured spices, and woven carpets of all shapes and sizes competed for space and attention beside beggars like the so-brown-his-skin-almost-seemed-black man without legs who was propped up on a piece of newspaper, hands out for money. This is the Iran I remember: one of great extremes, often right beside each other. Colour and poverty. Tiny stone bakeries and rich mansions. Crowded streets and open hills. There are two photos of me taken during this trip dressed up in traditional Ghashghaei nomadic dress: one with my head tipped to one side as I coyly stare up at the camera lens; and the other of my six-year-old self circled in my father’s arms. I have this outfit folded in a drawer now, the only object I have left from that time. There is no coherent narrative of my formative years there, only these inchoate memories appearing like bright koi fish darting under the murky waters of memory. As an adult I am left waiting on the banks watching for flashes of gold, glimpses of the girl I once was in a land far away.
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