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Now-Ruz, Persian New Year – Celebrating a New Day and New Beginnings

March 20th, 2019

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Seven years ago, I wrote a blog on the celebration of Now-Ruz (New Day) or the Persian New Year. At that time, the talk of war against Iran was the rhetoric of Washington.  Seven years later the rhetoric remains the same and the economic sanctions against Iran have been re-imposed. But threats of war and economic hardship have not dampened the spirits of Iranians in Iran when it comes to celebrating their long cherished festivities of Now-Ruz.

The celebration of Now-Ruz, takes effect at the exact astronomical beginning of Spring, known as the vernal equinox. Iranians in the diaspora and those living in Iran will celebrate the arrival of the Now-Ruz on March 20th at exactly 2:58:27 PM PDT.

Now-Ruz has been celebrated for nearly 3000 years. Its rituals and traditions date back to Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion that existed until 7th century A.D. before the Arab invasion and the enforcement of Islam. Today, besides Iran, Now-Ruz is celebrated by nearly 300 million people from several countries that share this holiday (Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan and of course, the Iranian diaspora living in all corners of the globe.

In 2009, Now-Ruz was recognized by the U.N. as a tradition of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which “promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighborliness.”

In preparation for Now-Ruz, Iranians embark on the spring-cleaning of their homes, even make or buy a new set of clothes, and bake pastries in anticipation of visiting guests when gifts are exchanged and feasts enjoyed. Bakeries, food stores, bazaars (even those here in Los Angeles) are abuzz with shoppers stocking up on sweets, pastries, and all the herbs and condiments needed for baking and preparing traditional Persian dishes.

I left Iran when I was 10 before the Islamic Revolution, and remember receiving crisp bank notes from my parents and relatives.  Banks would issue newly printed paper bills and gold coins which were offered as gifts known as eidi.

The rituals surrounding the celebration of Now-Ruz are rich with symbolism and ceremony. They begin on the last Wednesday of winter with Chahar-Shanbeh Soori (Eve of Wednesday), a fire-jumping festival, where people create small bonfires in their neighborhoods and jump over them as the sun sets.

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Parents join in with their children and jump over the flames inviting happiness and abundance while releasing and letting go of darkness and negativity by chanting: “Offer me your lovely red hue and take away my sickly pallor.” With fire signifying light (day), the symbol of all that is good, and dark (night), the unknown and all that is evil, celebrants partaking in the fire festival look forward to the arrival of spring bringing longer days and new beginnings.

As a child growing up in Iran, I remember the minstrels or troubadours, known as Haji Firuz, who sang and danced in the streets dressed in bright red and yellow satin poufy pants and shirts, spreading good cheer and bringing merriment to neighborhoods.

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Another tradition, somewhat resembling the trick-or-treat of Halloween, included young men who disguised themselves as women under chadors (long veils) and went from street to street banging on pots and pans, shaking tambourines and raising raucous, warding off evil or any dark negative spirits. All this was done in jest as seeing a boy or young man in such a disguise invited laughs and more laughs.

Now-Ruz celebrations last for 13 days. As a child, Now-Ruz for me meant a school holiday lasting for 13 days. In fact, most businesses throughout the country would shut down for the duration of Now-Ruz. Everyone was on holiday!

A major feature of Now-Ruz is the preparation of the “Haft-Seen,” (seven “S’s”); a special display of seven specific offerings each beginning with the letter “S” in Farsi.

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Typically, the “Haft-Seen” includes the following: “seeb” or apple (promotes beauty and good health), “seer” or garlic (wards off bad omen), “samanou” (a sweet pudding, symbolizing affluence), “sabze” or wheat-germ (representing rebirth) grown in a flat dish a few days before the New Year, “sek-keh” or coin, preferably gold (for wealth and abundance), “senjed” (dried fruit from lotus tree, symbolizing love), and “somagh” or sumac (color of sunrise). In addition, there will also be a mirror (symbol for the sky), a goldfish in a bowl (life force), lit candles symbolizing fire and promoting enlightenment, colored eggs (symbol of fertility corresponding to the mother earth), sweets to spread sweetness and a book of poems by Hafiz or Rumi.

The Now-Ruz festivities end on the 13th day known as “Sizdah Bedar” (out with the 13th), and it is celebrated outdoors. Staying indoors is seen as a bad omen and families spend the day outside in parks and in the countryside near streams, rivers, and lakes, enjoying a festive picnic.

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The “sabze” or plate of wheat-germ that was the centerpiece of the Haft-Seen is taken on this picnic so that young unmarried women wishing for a husband will tie a knot between the green shoots (symbolizing a marital bond) and toss it into running water.

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Despite the Islamic Regime’s attempts to do away with Now-Ruz, calling it un-Islamic and pagan, the ancient tradition of celebrating the arrival of Spring continues in Iran

Conquerors have come and gone, dynasties have risen and fallen, and the plans for war may have been penciled in, but Now-Ruz is in ink and etched into the cultural fabric of Iranians. Now-Ruz is a reminder that the darkness is fleeting and the day will soon be longer than the night.

Happy Now-Ruz!

Please refer to the links shared below, to learn more about Now-Ruz:

https://en.unesco.org/silkroad/content/nowruz-celebrating-new-year-silk-roads

https://nbpostgazette.com/happy-nowruz-all-you-need-to-know-about-iranian-persian-new-year/

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Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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3 Things to Consider While Dealing with Culture Shock

August 8th, 2013

Geography of Twitter @replies

Jet lag woke me up at precisely 4:50 a.m. this morning and the stifling heat kept me awake. Today’s’ forecast was 37 C, but I could see fluffy clouds blowing in from the south, from the Sahara actually. It is after all, the world’s hottest desert. It would have to be, for its winds to deliver such heat, all the way up here in Northern Germany.

At about 5:30 I walked out onto our small 2nd floor balcony to watch the sunrise and enjoy the rare warm breeze. It made me think of the hot Santa Ana winds back home in Los Angeles, which seasonally blow across the city from the Mohave Desert in late September. The Spanish colonizers originally called them the Satanas (a term referring to Satan). Known today as the “Devil’s Winds,” they are aptly named as they seem to provoke unsettling emotions in humans and animals alike.

Hmmm, perhaps these hot Saharan winds arouse similar feelings of distress, I thought as the unusual sound of a man and a woman arguing loudly in Arabic drifted across the street. I realized it must be one of the new Syrian refugee families just recently arrived and I knew that although exacerbated by the heat, it certainly was not the cause of their distress.

Across the wide grass divider of our busy street is a post WWII large 1950’s, god awful ugly apartment building, taking up about 1/3 a city block which is home to a mostly immigrant population from Africa, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, and Turkey. Directly next to it, the City of Bremen converted an empty office building into emergency immigrant housing for Syrian Refugees. Germany has recently taken in over 10,000 Syrians, and the numbers are growing.

I began to try and imagine the kind of collective emotional pain and stress that building must be experiencing, and started to think about what it really means to abruptly find yourself forced to adapt to a foreign land in the most difficult possible of circumstances.

Around the corner, a late-middle aged woman supports herself by renting rooms to foreign students. The Chinese, French, Spanish, American, Japanese, and Korean students living there must also share some of the same issues of assimilating (or not) into their new land. I compared myself more with them, but I wondered what we all possibly, may have in common.

Here are three things that address issues which foreign students may find beneficial to consider, while keeping in mind that they are, unlike asylum seekers and refugees, there by choice.

1. Am I Becoming One of Them?

Living in another country, with radically different social customs, cultural practices, foods, and strange foreign languages can be described as challenging at best. Adapting and adopting foreign ways slowly and often reluctantly, some people have a better time of it than others. At the end of the day, cultural identity is really a question of each individual’s personal journey.

While trying to define one across the boundaries of different countries and continents, it is important to understand and accept that although you may begin the process of ‘cultural assimilation’ your core values really do not change. As immigrants, if we can soften around this idea and acknowledge that we will always be Syrian, American, or Chinese first, we will have an easier time trying on our new culture, without the burden of feeling we have to become it, no matter how long we plan to stay.

That is an entirely different thing than finding what we like or really dislike in our new land. If you are open minded enough, you might come to understand that what you judge about your new culture is always filtered through your primary cultural identity. Unlike refugees, international students have chosen to place themselves in situations that demand that they acknowledge not only their “otherness” but a certain level of acceptance, less they bury themselves in an isolated study/work experience.

This self -acceptance can help make the entire experience more harmonious, less critical, and less judgmental of our hosts, and ourselves for that matter.

2. I Speak English Now.

Of course it is paramount to be able to communicate freely and without hesitation. It is always awkward and embarrassing at first, to do the simplest things, like going to the market, the pharmacy, and god forbid, speaking on the phone. I never thought about it, but it may be even more difficult and more frustrating for foreign students in comparison to the refugee population. The refugees, after all are usually in groups, affording somewhat of a buffer zone against the immediate need to talk in a foreign tongue. Usually a young student ––in the case of Syrians who possess a high literacy rate, will have one person who can help translate for families and groups of individuals, to help start things off.

Students however are expected to have achieved a certain mastery of the host country’s language. There is no doubt that studying a foreign language can reap huge personal and global benefits. It is an almost instantaneous way of opening up to the world and its people, and it has the proven, added benefit of improving thinking and personal communication skills. And, in today’s global economy, that can only be an asset.

However, say in learning English, it is important for students to realize that it takes much longer to acquire “academic language” proficiency rather than conversational language proficiency. Be patient, and don’t be afraid to ask for help, even though doing so may bump up against your own cultural comfort zone. Professors in most major universities are well aware of the “academic gaps” in the language learning curve.

Once you are over the shock of hearing a foreign tongue spoken 24/7, the best advice is to not take yourself so seriously, and not be afraid to make mistakes.

3. What About Money?

How will we survive this decade? How will we prosper, thrive, feed ourselves, and take care of our families in this increasingly interconnected pressure cooker of economic agendas and global resource challenges? It is almost impossible for university students to ignore this changing economic landscape when choosing a school or a topic of study.

Studying abroad is a wonderful way to open up to the world, and it prepares students to be open-minded, thriving individuals in our rapidly changing “borderless” world. And ultimately, offers them a competitive edge when engaging in international business or profiting from the mind expanding experience of being forced to look at the world through different eyes.

However, what happens if you find yourself living in a culture with different measures of success? Depending on the over-arching cultural and parental notions of success, whether in life or career many students today choose majors which they hope will bring practical and financial success.

In an interesting article on the Yale Daily News website, the staff reporter, Antonia Woodford discusses the concern the university has about the shift away from Humanities Majors towards Economics. Mostly, international students are not as familiar with “liberal arts” as the American students generally are. However, the concerns about finding a job after completing school, with a higher paying salary add to the pressure and seem to have become infectious in the student body as a whole. She quotes Moira Fradinger GRD ’03, director of undergraduate studies for the Comparative Literature Department, “…I can recall many conversations with students who say, ‘Shouldn’t I do economics, rather than literature? Their concern is mostly how they’ll be able to find a job after Yale, and whether they should follow the advice of their parents and major in economics… in an increasingly globalized world, knowing foreign languages and literatures is an “incredible asset” but that students often do not realize how widely they can apply these skills to jobs.”

Woodford also quotes Yale College Dean Mary Miller as saying that,”… taking just a few courses in a humanities field can significantly enrich students’ intellectual experience.”

http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2012/04/18/up-close-humanities-face-identity-crisis/

A Softer Landing

As the world grapples with ever increasing populations of immigrants; from international students to refugees of brutal civil wars, environmental disasters (man made or natural) or epidemics, many cities have found themselves dealing with the emotional strain on both the immigrants themselves and the societies they land in. Issues such as feelings of isolation and “otherness” of both students and refugees alike need to be on the radar in a big way.

As a footnote, I found a very inspiring news item the other day about the way the city of Augsburg, in the southwest of Bavaria, Germany has decided to tackle the rising issue of asylum seekers, which could potentially become a worldwide role model. The city of Augsburg has found a dignified way to address the social, personal, and cultural needs of its newest residents, by creating a grand experiment, aptly named the Grandhotel. It invited artists to create and live in one building alongside newly arrived refugees and help create a free-thinking, creative environment to help everyone deal with the culture shock, and find ways to lead a fulfilling life, while sharing the challenges of daily food and shelter. The result is a communal living experience, which is really worth checking out. Follow the link below and click on You can get it Here to read translations from German into English and Spanish. Perhaps it is the grain of sand in the oyster for all you Urban Planning students out there!

.http://grandhotelcosmopolis.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/seit-dem-24-10-gibt-es-das-konzept-in-einer-dreisprachigen-version/

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jeanniewn@gmail.com

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From Iran to Irangeles: A Tribute to Iranian-Americans

March 1, 2012

azadi tower in tehran, iran

At this year’s Academy Awards, the Oscar for the Best Foreign Film was given to the Iranian filmmaker Ashghar Farhadi for his film “Separation.” In his acceptance speech, he spoke of how in the midst of the chatter between politicians and heads of states, the world forgets to see and appreciate Iran’s rich culture and history. I was heartened to hear these words, as so few of us have the opportunity to experience Iran’s cultural contributions at first hand given its strained relations with the USA.

However, while the Academy recognized Mr. Farhadi’s film for an Oscar, the Bravo channel is introducing a reality show called the “Shahs of Sunset,” depicting an Iranian family living in Beverly Hills in all its gaudy in-your-face obnoxious splendor. Sadly, as it is expected of a cable channel that peddles reality shows where good taste and educational value are not its primary concern, we cannot expect an objective portrayal of the Iranian community living in the USA.

There are an estimated 1-1.5 million Iranian-Americans living in the U.S. with the largest concentration—about 700,000—living in Los Angeles. No wonder the city is commonly referred to by Iranian-Americans as “Tehrangeles” or “Irangeles.” But, you can be sure that not all 1.5 million Iranians in the USA live ostentatiously in Beverly Hills like the family depicted in Bravo’s reality show.

Here are three outstanding Iranian-Americans who have had an impact on my life on a personal level.

Hooshang Pak, MD

Dr. Hooshang Pak is a board certified neurosurgeon and practices in CA. Having received his medical degree at Tehran University he continued his postgraduate training in New York in 1975 where he completed his surgical internship at Saint Vincent Medical Center of Staten Island. He completed his neurosurgery residency at Henry Ford hospital in Michigan. He has an extensive and impressive bio which is just what you want when facing a life and death situation as I was when I was 25. A freak accident in a Tae Kwon Do class had triggered headaches that over a course of six months accelerated into such debilitating pain that neither a CAT Scan nor the physicians who had examined me were able to diagnose the problem. A friend of our family recommended that I visit her brother-in-law, Dr. Houshang Pak, a neurosurgeon, for another opinion. It was Dr. Pak’s insistence that I seek an MRI, a process which two decades ago was still considered new, that showed the source of the problem. I was diagnosed with subdural hematoma (collection of blood on the surface of the brain). “Given the significant amount of bleeding and swelling of your brain, it’s a miracle you’re not in a coma and alive. But the bad news is that we have to operate,” is how I recall Dr. Pak breaking the news to me and my father who had driven me to the MRI clinic. It was Dr. Pak who drove me to Long Beach Memorial Hospital where within minutes of our arrival I was prepped for surgery which lasted about eight hours. Needless to say, I am here today because of Dr. Pak’s expertise and his team at the Long Beach Memorial.

Atossa Soltani

Atossa is the founder and Executive Director of Amazon Watch http://www.amazonwatch.org , a non-profit organization founded in 1996 to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. I first met Atossa about seven years ago at a fundraiser for Amazon Watch and since then I have been a staunch supporter of her organization’s endeavors. But it is also her tenacious spirit and fearlessness as an advocate for indigenous rights and for standing up to the oil companies who have and continue to pollute and ravage the Amazon basin that have won my utmost respect and admiration. Her commitment to bringing awareness to the plight of the indigenous peoples in the Amazon means that she will attend an oil company’s shareholder’s meeting and not only speak to those in attendance but invite members of the indigenous tribes to do so as well. Two years ago, after attending a screening of the film Avatar hosted by NRDC on the Fox Studios Lot in Century City, my husband and I ran into Atossa and her husband and together we encouraged her (not that she needed it) to approach the director James Cameron for a brief interview. She wanted to tell Mr. Cameron that the real Na’vi are living in the Amazon basin and struggling for their survival against the polluting oil corporations. Atossa is petite and diminutive, but she pushed through the crowds with the three of us her wingmen and for the next twenty minutes she had Mr. Cameron’s undivided attention. Mr. Cameron was so moved that he gave her his business card to contact him, because this was exactly the kind of cause he wanted to be involved in. Two weeks later, there on the front page of the NY Times, was a photo of Mr. Cameron, his face sporting warrior paint treading carefully through a grassy field in the Amazon flanked on each side by tribal leaders! His journey to the Amazon to speak out against the building of the Belo Monte dam would not have occurred had it not been for Atossa. To follow Atossa and her organization’s on-going endeavors, please visit http://www.amazonwatch.org and even better, show your support with a tax-deductible contribution.

Nader Khalili

I never had the honor of meeting Mr. Khalili who passed away in 2008. I first learned of Mr. Khalili and his earth-friendly building designs at a green festival in Los Angeles about six or seven years ago. Born in Iran in 1936, Mr. Khalil was an architect, writer and humanitarian. He practiced architecture in the U.S. and around the world and was known for his innovation of the Geltaftan Earth-and-Fire System known as Ceramic Houses and the Earthbag Construction technique called super adobe. Click here to see some images of Mr. Khalili’s creations. Inspired by traditional arid house designs in his homeland Iran, he applied these concepts by developing his Super Adobe system in response to a call from NASA looking for designs that would accommodate human settlements on the Moon and Mars. Initially, the project was purely conceptual but he was soon able to actualize his designs by partnering with the United Nations Development Program and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees by helping build emergency shelters modeled after his designs. In 1991, he founded the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal-Earth) which continues to teach his Superadobe building techniques to students from around the world. Three years ago, on hearing that the Ojai Foundation was offering a week of hands-on training on building an earth-dome following Mr. Khalili’s techniques, my husband and I both jumped at the opportunity. The weekend happened to fall on Valentine’s Day and proved to be one of the most memorable ways of spending the day: outdoor in nature and playing in the dirt! Of course, one weekend wasn’t enough to complete the construction of the earth dome, but working together with ten other volunteers and learning the basics of Mr. Khalili’s philosophy and techniques has me convinced that earth-friendly designs are not only affordable, but sustainable and habitable.

For a list of some notable Iranian-Americans living in the USA, please visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Iranian_Americans. Share with us your personal experience with Iranian-Americans who have had a positive impact on your life.


Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI, Inc.
www.acei1.com

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