“Lullaby” by Ava Homa- a review of the short story tribute to Farzad Kamangar

Lullaby is a short story written by Ava Homa and published by Novel Rights (literature re: human rights).

“Lullaby” is a moving account of Farzad Kamangar’s last days spent in Iranian prison. The influential Kurdish teacher and writer was executed 4 years ago. I found this story to appear deceptively simple, when, in fact, it is full of portent information- the state of political prisoners in Iran, the impotent judge and the human guard, the passing of the days and the exchange of goods with visitors.

Although the situation is certainly an overwhelming one, Ava Homa manages to share the emotion and the prisoners’ tactics for managing the impossible place they are in, without crushing her readers with pain.

This is mature writing that admits things are never black and white, and attempts to balance the characters, who are human enough to be complicated. Lovely prose too, that draws parallels with counting and delights us with chocolate. Absolutely a fascinating account and eminently readable. Homa has paid tribute to a stubbornly brave man who moved many with his integrity and words. May he never be forgotten.

With Homa’s permission, the story begins like this:

“The call rings out. I tell myself the students are still learning, in secret, the history of the Kurds. The call for prayer echoes through Evin Prison. It turns me cold with fear.

Footsteps! I know the sound of those heavy boots. I know them well. My pen falls down from my bed and I curl into a ball, shrinking with fear. The pain in my head and face, legs and back, stomach and ribs becomes much sharper. Clutching at the pillow does not stop me from shaking. The footsteps stop before they reach my ward. “Hands up,” I think, and almost say it out loud.

“Hands up,” the old guard says.

I know what they are doing in the other cell. The blindfold, the click of the handcuffs, and the guards take Ali out, pushing and kicking him.

I toss and turn and follow them in my head as Ali is taken downstairs, dragged nineteen steps to the right, down nineteen stairs and delivered to the interrogators. Under his blindfold, Ali will count the pairs of shoes in the room: four, six, eight . . . black, formal shoes that are thick with blood, polished by blood. The whipping will start soon after the curses. If the man they call “Mongrel” is there, the interrogation will last longer and be much more painful. Every Kurd knows that man’s strange voice, an unusual mixture of high and low. In his vocabulary, “fucking murdering savages” means “Kurds.” It is rumoured that Mongrel’s brother had been killed in Kurdistan thirty years ago during one of the uprisings. Five, six whiplashes and Ali will think about concentration camps, pyramids, the Great Wall of China, but he will not feel the whipping anymore. I hope.

The number of cracks on the wall is three hundred and five today. I sneak a pen out from under my mattress and take some paper, folded four times, out from my underwear. “My dear students,” I write, lying on my left on a stinking army blanket. “All I have been able to do for you is to secretly teach you our Kurdish alphabet, our literature and our history. Please, children, remember your heritage and pass it on. Dear little ones, never allow this knowledge to steal from you the joy of childhood. May you keep the joy of youth in your minds forever. It may be the one and only investment you can use later when the agony of earning the ‘bread and butter’ dominates you, my sons, and the sin of being ‘the second sex’ overpowers you, my daughters. When you are picking flowers in the valleys to make crowns for your children, tell them about the purity and happiness of childhood. Remember not to turn your backs on your dreams, loves, music, poetry and Kurdistan’s magical nature. Get together, sing the songs and recite the poetry as we used to do.”

***      want to read more? 

                                      1 COPY only €1.99

By Buying “Lullaby” Novel Rights ePUB Short Story written by Ava Homa, You will help us to create more HRL (Human Rights Literature) short stories and produce many more events around the globe promoting literature that supports human rights values.

Multicultural Fashion Show

At a school celebration, students posed proudly in their traditional clothing.

Morocco

Morocco

 

Cambodia

Cambodia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salwar kameez- India

Salwar kameez- India

 

 

 

Sari- India

Sari- India

 

 

 

Habesha dress- Ethiopia

Habesha dress- Ethiopia

 

Habesha dress- Ethiopia

Habesha dress- Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mother and daughter- Cameroon

mother and daughter- Cameroon

 

 

Guntiino dress- Somalia

Guntiino dress- Somalia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Men wearing the futa- Somalia

Men wearing the futa- Somalia

 

 

 

 

 

 

modern Myanmar

modern Myanmar

 

Iraq. Arab-style head covering- kaffiyeb or gutra

Iraq.  Arab-style head covering- kaffiyeb or gutra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kuwaiti men's dishdasha

Kuwaiti men’s dishdasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

They told me this is a young man’s style and an old man’s style in traditional Iraq.

Tibetan style

Tibetan style

 

Tamang dress- Nepal

Tamang dress- Nepal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nepali man playing a madal

Nepali man playing a madal

dolma- vegetables stuffed with rice- Iraq

dolma- vegetables stuffed with rice- Iraq

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can’t resist one shot of the food- what a feast we had!

 

 

 

 

Reading in Vancouver for Kurdish House.

There are days in my life that I’d be willing to live over and over without changing a moment- May 18 was one of those. I woke up in Shwan and Yvonne’s place in Coquitlam to a fantastic breakfast, was chauffeured to Douglas College with a detour on the way to see the beautiful Maillardville and then I ran into my old friend Jeff on his way to the event. “The Event” as it’s been called for 2 months, was planned by Kurdish House, mainly Shwan Chawshin, with ferocity. He invited MPs, put out flyers, advertised on Kurdtv, emailed, facebooked, telephoned…Shwan filled that auditorium.

Vancouver reading May 2014

Vancouver reading May 2014

What a thrill for me to read to a Kurdish audience! I felt my life had come full circle. After all these years, I was embraced again by a Kurdish community. Eighteen years ago I promised a group of Kurdish refugees that I would tell their story to the world and here I was reading from it to a group of Kurds, many of whom were refugees.

I’ve been haunted by the refugees I met in North Kurdistan in March 1996. I’ve wondered, tearfully, many times what happened to them, if any survived…I remember especially the barefoot boy who fell in the cold mud and his poor mother who didn’t have water to wash him or heat to warm him.

 

chatting at the end

chatting at the end

I read that part of the book to the Vancouver community. When I finished, a number of people came to talk.

“I lived in one of those tents for 4 years.”

“My father was killed, my brothers died in jail…I am the only one left.”

“I was Peshmerga, 8 years.”

chatting at the end “I was tortured every day for 45 days.”

They are miserable words, but to me, to see so many people who had survived, who had made it to Canada…well for me, it was an affirmation of life. I hadn’t been able to imagine how ANYone could IMAG0676 survive the desolate situation I witnessed.

I also read about the wedding- a foreigner finding her way through 3 days of rituals and celebrations- and the audience laughed out loud at her efforts and observations.

A few people told me they had both laughed and cried in the 30-minute reading. What a joy for a writer to see the impact her words have made! And I was reminded again of the emotional openness and honesty of this community- men who can come up to me with tears in their eyes and say what they are thinking or remembering. I have said it before: The Kurds are stunningly courageous people in so many ways.

I remember sometimes resenting that my evenings, weekends, holidays were spent in isolation, indoors, working on a manuscript. I didn’t know if it would ever be read by anyone but me. I wondered sometimes if I was wasting years of my life. Other times, there was nothing more important than keeping my promise, nothing more beautiful than the polished words that I touched and touched and touched again. I did dare to dream it would be appreciated…and this past weekend that dream came true.

Ava's reading

Ava’s reading

Ava Homa read from her fascinating collection of short stories Echoes from the Other Land, Avan Ali read poetry in Kurdish and the host Nassir gave a stirring speech. We ended the afternoon with singing by Nadia- a Kurdish singer. After the strain of travelling and the tension of speaking, that music was a release. Nadia’s voice roused the joy in us all and as we clapped along I watched for who would dance first.  It was a group of men at the back. They formed a chain and snapped the handkerchief. I attached myself to the chain and danced with pure exaltation.

With all of my heart- thank you Shwan and Yvonne, Ava and Shaima, Aras and Sewar, Taban (who gave me flowers before I even read and who had never met me before), Jeff and all of the beautiful people who shared their Sunday with me.

Thank you to Kurdish House for the plane ticket and the roof over my head!

Shwan, Laurie, Yvonne

Shwan, Laurie, Yvonne

First taste of green in Ontario/Quebec- fiddleheads

How to pick & cook fiddleheads:

picking fiddleheads

picking fiddleheads

 

If it looks like a fiddlehead- it is. Fern leaves first emerge curled tightly into buttons called fiddleheads. Pluck them before they unfurl into giant fronds (or pick them up now at the farmers’ market, most grocers…) Store in cold water.

 

Pluck the fiddlehead as it first emerges.

Pluck the fiddlehead as it first emerges.

 

place in cold water, boil, drain, repeat twice more

place in cold water, boil, drain, repeat twice more

Fiddleheads are mild-tasting. They’re full of EPA omega-3 fatty acids & high concentrations of antioxidants. Also vitamins A & C, potassium, iron & calcium.

No need to clean them- just cover with cold water in a pot and bring to a boil. As soon as the boil is reached, drain the water.

Repeat 2 more times: cold-boil-drain.

Fiddleheads will be perfectly cooked & cleaned. The water from the first 2 drains will be brown but the third time it will be green.

serve with lemon &/or butter

serve with lemon &/or butter

Season with lemon (I’m out of fresh) or butter and pepper or tamari.

Side with boiled eggs, fish, chicken or ham. Good in fried rice; cold salads with lemon, diced peppers & pickled red onion.

So good…a distinctive taste of spring in my area of the world.

Swartz’s Deli just a walk from Old Montreal.

Notre Dame Basilica

Notre Dame Basilica

I dawdled through the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal. I knew better than to enter the pricey tourist shops or restaurants, but I spent an hour in Notre Dame Basilica where I was stilled by beauty and peace.

 

 

 

scavenging coins from the fountain outside Notre Dame.

scavenging coins from the fountain outside Notre Dame.

I emerged thirsty and walked a few blocks into Chinatown for a coconut bubble tea (which contained no tea or bubbles and was not hot). I turned onto St. Laurent and picked up my pace. After weeks of anticipation I was on my way to Swartz’s. It was a bit of a trek on a hot day, but I stuck to the shady of the street.

I love the streets of Montreal for their character and characters both. Pretty houses with outside staircases and fancy stonework, small businesses without the guidance of head offices. The people: fashionistas, hipsters, druggies, families with dogs, men with that French swagger… I could walk all day just people- watching.

St. Laurent shopping

St. Laurent

counter stool at Swartz's

counter stool at Swartz’s

I joined the line-up outside Swartz’s Deli; we were mostly tourists. The locals go across the street, where the smoked meat sandwiches are reportedly even better, but a visit to the historical delicatessen is about more than a great sandwich. Opened by a Jewish immigrant form Romania, Reuban Shwartz, the iconic eatery is listed in every Montreal guidebook. It has been visited by celebrities such as Celine Dion,

smoked meat on rye with a pickle at Swartz's deli

smoked meat on rye with a pickle at Swartz’s deli

Jerry Lewis, Tim Allen, The Rolling Stones and Angelina Jolie. I’ve heard of Shwartz’s sandwiches picked up by private jet. (Finally, a good reason to own a private jet.) Looking for more information about the tiny crowded money-maker? Read the book- Shwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story by Bill Brownstein.

It’s a smooth-running operation (guess they got it down after 80 years of practice). When the host called down the line for a “single”, I skipped to the front and was escorted to a stool at the long counter. I couldn’t get a knish- the menu is very streamlined- but I was satisfied with a sandwich and pickle.

It’s a dry crumbly smoked meat- tasty and tender, quite different from the slippery chewy smoked meat in Ottawa delis. I ate slowly, savouring the happy hectic atmosphere around me, the black and whites on the wall, the laughter in the air.

Outside, a kitchen worker smoked in a doorway out of the sun, and I stopped to chat. He goes to Ottawa for the green parks and space. “It is more clean,” he motioned to rubbish at his feet. I laughed. “I come to Montreal for the grit.” I motioned to a guitar player and his open case. “I come for the crowds, the action on the street.”

Indeed, as I walked a few blocks south, I came upon a protest against Monsanto, and a little further on, a street closed to cars but full of open patios cheering a World Cup game.

Monsanto protest, Montreal

Monsanto protest, Montreal