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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Guilt and History

"I hear," she said in a crispy, melodious accent, "that Romanian government is plan to kill all Shiite Muslim in Romania." She had stopped me in the parking lot after the drawing class that we're in together. She is Iranian, around sixty, wears beautiful cashmere sweaters and has a loud, infectious laugh. I stared at her with my heart suddenly pounding and my mouth dry.

She had heard this bit of information on an American news channel. I said, my voice unsure, that I didn't know anything about it, but that it seemed so absurd that I couldn't believe it. My parents have Romanian cable, I added, and I would ask them if they'd seen anything on the Romanian news. My mom is an avid watcher of Fox News, too, so I knew that she would have heard about this supposed extermination of Shiite Muslims in Romania.

The ten minutes it took me to drive home from the college and phone my mom and get on Google, were some of the scariest I've had in a long time. I thought: no matter how absurd it seems, it is possible for the Romanian goverment to have decided to kill Muslims. It is possible, because the Holocaust was possible, because slavery was possible, because the Darfur genocide was possible. I was overwhelmed by guilt for a deed that I had no control over but that I still felt responsible for because of my nationality, the accident of my place of birth and my first language. I understood for the first time what it must be like to be a non-Jewish German living with the memory of the Holocaust. History places unexpected burdens on people's shoulders and it's a hard lesson to learn how to carry them without being crushed.

There was no trace on Google of an attempt by the Romanian goverment's to exterminate Muslims. I had a moment of trepidation when I typed in the search box "Romania kills Muslims"; I imagined an FBI officer somewhere perking up at seeing such a search topic and descending hours later on our house to interrogate me. My parents got a little mad when I asked them if they'd heard anything about killing Muslims on Romanian television. My father especially gets extremely irritated when people here in America behave as if we've come from a country that hasn't developed past the Stone Age.

I'm loath to assume that my classmate's mistaken information about the Romanian government resulted from the difficulty she has with the English language. That she doesn't speak it perfectly doesn't mean that she doesn't understand it perfectly. But surely her blunder can be no more than a matter of some words or phrases that she misunderstood. I found out on Google that some Romanian hostages had been taken in Iraq, and that a Muslim organization in Romania had sent the captors an open letter to ask for the release of the hostages. By some strange alchemy of language, this story might have become in my Iranian classmate's mind a story about Romanians killing Muslims rather than of Romanians being threatened to be killed by Muslim insurgents.

The taste of guilt still lingers in my mouth, and though it is bitter I do not wish it to go away too fast. It has forced me to do some soul-searching about history and my place in it that sorely needed to be done.


Blogger Marigoldie said...

This is very moving. I don't have anything insightful to say, but I want you to know I always enjoy reading your posts.

May 09, 2006  
Blogger Never Enuf Thyme said...

ditto what marigoldie said. :)

May 09, 2006  

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