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The long road of exile

by Reza, Rachel Deghati

" Love, liberty and justice. It is to these three words that I dedicate my life."

One spring day in my little Parisian house of exile, my six year old son Delazad, whose name means “Free Spirit”, awakened me from my reverie: “Dad, tell me about Iran.” Iran? How do you tell someone about your roots? My roots? His roots? For a long time, I sat there, immobile.

He probably understood that I was making an internal journey to the past. He said nothing, like a child waiting for his bedtime story. I started to tell him about the Iran of my childhood. “For as long as I can remember, my father, who came back from the office in the afternoon, went to a room reserved especially for him. The room was adorned with Persian carpets, comfortable cushions, and books. There was a teapot on top of a samovar. On the tray, tea glasses and cakes awaited visitors. My brother, my sisters and I were not allowed to enter this mysterious place. We had to walk by it in silence so as not to disturb my father’s rest, his reading or his discussions with friends. When I was six, he told me that I was allowed to come and spend time with him there. I had grown up. I was very proud of this recognition. And I discovered a world that I had never imagined before. Most of the visitors who came to see my father were intellectuals, thinkers, poets. Over tea, they spent hours discussing and reading poetry. As the afternoon wore on, I heard the poems of Hafez, who sings of loved ones and intoxication, the Rose Garden by Saadi, the wise voyager who venerates love and peace, which are to be found in every petal of a flower, in a smile, in a smell; the allegorical stories of Ferdowsi; life lessons by Rumi, the dervish. My entrance into this lair enabled me to develop my thought, to grasp the complex history of Iran, its rich, sophisticated culture, the unsuspected freedom in regard to its present. I understood that, in each of us, there is a little flame that makes it possible to resist all forms of invasion. The years spent listening to those men speaking gave me a taste for three words: love, liberty and justice. It is to these three words that I dedicate my life.”

Delazad listened to me with the kind of concentration that I had exerted when I was straining to understand what my father and his friends were saying. With the straightforwardness characteristic of children, he looked around and said: “Basically, with us, it’s a bit like Iran.” Then he went off to play. Leaving me with my thoughts.
He was right. After years of wandering, I had finally started a family, a kind of entanglement of bridges connecting the world’s cultures. Delazad and his sister, Djanan, with their twin ties to Iran (which they are still unable to visit) and France, have been brought up with the essential notion of universal citizenship.

It was on 7.35am on March 25, 1981, when I left my country with my bag of cameras after being condemned for my reportages, that I first set out on the long road of exile. My internal journey is the wandering of a nomad across a forbidden land. My first years of exile were without doubt marked by the shocking disparity between the dream image of a free West and the reality of democracies as arrogant as they were disappointing. One dark and rainy November day we visited the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, the last resting place of the thinker and writer, Sa’edi. We tasted the bitterness of death in exile and imagined his flesh mixed with earth that was not his. Some time later, the poet, Shamlou, considering that image, wrote the line: “Even the stone weeps and whimpers on the day of separation from the loved one.”


Later, Rachel, French and universal, my companion in travel, life and creativity, wrote the text below while thinking of the migrants that in some sense we all are, and who have, since the mists of time, written the history of humanity. Geographical, economic, climatic, political migrants.

Memories of exile
In the beginning came the attack on Mankind’s freedom.

Oppression, repression, torture, war, massacres for the crime of difference, colour, political position, religious conviction: everything serves as a pretext to enslave the other. Yes, in the beginning, there was the State, unwilling or unable to guarantee the freedom of the citizen. Sometimes its passivity renders it silently complicit. Then, the only road to survival is exodus.
At the end of this sometimes difficult road, which often involving risking one’s life, risking exile, leading to those welcoming lands of sanctuary, there is a refuge where everyone tries to survive, to rebuild their lives. In oneself, the memory of the lost country and the disappointment of the promised land. Beyond the joy of being free, in oneself, the physical and intellectual fracture of mourning for one’s own land. A smell, a taste, a landscape, the melody of one’s language, the rhythm of one’s country: the joys of the exile’s present are full of the memories of the past. In the elsewhere to be constructed, the exile advances along the intimate frontier between his internal war and peace.

Rachel Deghati

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