I was born and raised in Shiraz, where ancient Persian history was always very palpable. The remains of Persepolis (the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire) were less than an hour drive away. Every time relatives came to visit, Bāgh-e Eram, Bāzār-e Vakil, Hāfezieh and Saadieh were must sees. My deepest memories are tied to these sites. Beyond being World Heritage sites, a Persian Garden, a magical Bāzār or historical mausoleums they form part of what it feels like to be Shirazi, to have been raised in the province of Fars.
I remember weekends each spring when laden with blankets, elaborate meals and plenty of Chai, sweets and ajeel (salted nuts and seeds), we’d spend the day with friends at Tang-e Bol Hayāt. Winter picnics included metal sini (trays) to sled down the snowy hills of Dasht-e Arjan.
Saffron ice cream, lime-drenched fāloudeh and sour qarequrut are the flavors of my childhood years. Pomegranates in autumn, angur yāghuti (tiny grapes) each spring and ālbālu (sour cherries) all summer long. From stories of the Shāhnāmeh to poetry readings in gatherings, Persian literature was also part of our lives. What was always distant though, was the history of the many other ethnicities who constitute Iran.
On our day trips leaving the city to picnic in the surroundings, we’d inevitably see Qashqai pastoral nomads, but their culture, their language, their history was beyond my reach – until as an adult I traveled back to take a deeper look. I started my journey collecting music and documenting folk dances. This led me to start learning about the history and culture of the ethnicities and linguistic groups that together make up Iran.