Sometimes, sitting in the audience at VanCore meetings, you can tell something big is taking shape.
What Niki has going on at the moment is more than a series of related stories.
In installments, Niki is telling a coming-of-age tale about her childhood in Iran. She is mining, to fantastic effect, the tension between East vs. West, and exploring a young girls’ deepening understanding of what freedom means. It’s personal AND political stuff, funny and terrifying. It keeps us all coming back eager for more, the way Dickens’s 19th century readers waited at the dock for the ship to arrive with the next chapter, so they could know what happened to Little Nell.
“Everything you needed to learn you already learned in kindergarten, eh?” Niki began one speech. “Consider yourself extremely lucky, then. Because I, along with many of my contemporaries who went to kindergarten in Iran in the 1980s, had a completely different experience. Many of us had to pay therapists to unlearn what we learned in kindergarten.”
Niki told of a climate in which even little kids were brainwashed with religious sloganeering. She recounted just how close she had come to bringing very heavy rain down on the family just because, she drew a picture of a figure skater, dress swirling. To her five-year-old self it was a symbol of art and freedom. To school administrators it was a forbidden glimpse of corrupt and hated Western life. (In a touching twist, the story revealed how her father kept that picture even after the family fled Iran and settled in Canada.) This was an emotionally tough speech to deliver, and Niki had trouble holding eye contact with the group – unusual for her.
The next week her story continued, but with welcome comic relief, as she told of being bewildered by the logic of Madonna lyrics.
What seems to be developing here is a book – or a one-woman play. Who is the audience? Perhaps schoolkids, who might gain new appreciation for how lucky they are to be growing up free to speak their mind. Or possibly it’s Persian immigrants who can look to her for as an example as someone who had, and has, the courage to speak her truth.