I am currently a visiting scholar from Isfahan, Iran, in Sydney, Australia. Therefore, I speak English most of the time. I use English with my colleagues at work although, interestingly, the majority of my colleagues speak a language other than English at home. For English practice, I am obviously in an ideal situation: total immersion, the holy grail of foreign language learning! However, I have found that total immersion has its downsides, too. Above all, the prevalence of a language other than the mother tongue is, at times, anything but pleasant. Now that I have not spoken in my mother tongue for a while, I have begun to hanker for it! The longer I am here, the more I find myself hoping to meet Persian speakers. While Persian may have sounded mundane and thus not worthy of attention back home, it has turned into a source of inspiration for me here in Australia.

The other day, I sat in my office reading a research article about narratives and the discursive construction of identity (Hayati & Maniati, 2010). The analysis is a familiar one in the Labovian vein, but it was the data that touched me. The examples made me miss my home country and its beggars (!) very much! This is an example I found particularly moving:

bæradæra! mæn geda nistæm! mæn æhle Y hæstæm ælan do hæftæs ke tu šæhretun hastæm hæmeye puli ke dæštæm hæmun ruzæye ævvæl tæmum šod ælanæm vaqeæn hiči nædaræm mæjburæm šæba tu park bexabæm bexætere hæmin qiafæm šekel motada šode bædæm miad mærdom be češme motad mæno negah konæn væli mæjburæm ye kæm pool mixam ke bærgærdæm šæhræm xoda pedæro madæretuno biamorze

Dear brothers! I’m not a beggar! I’m from Y and it is about two weeks that I’m in your city. I had come here to find a job, but unfortunately I couldn’t find any. All the money I had was spent the first days and I’m really broke now and have to sleep in streets and parks, that’s why I look like a drug addict. It’s so disgusting for me to be looked upon as a drug addict and beg other people but I have no other choice. I just need some money to get back to my hometown. May God have mercy on your parents’ souls. (English translation by Hayati & Maniati)

In Iran, beggars usually beg in or around mosques since such holy places give them the upper hand in arousing the religious feelings of worshipers. Some beggars display enormous creativity in their begging! They may artistically sing wistful songs for the worshippers even if worshippers try to stonewall beggars’ attempts either by quickening their pace as they walk toward the mosque or even by pushing beggars away. This beggar’s artfully enacted narrative transported me back to my homeland. To me, as a person living out of my home country, this personal begging narrative was trans-historical and trans-cultural. The narrative was there like life itself.

When I read this story, I started to co-construct an identity with the begging speaker while listening to him reciting his narrative in my mind and in my first language which I had been longing for. The narrative which was being recited was to me what I had been missing for weeks. This narrative had a potently pleasant impact on me just because it was being rendered in my mother tongue!

The beggar’s narrative imitates life and life imitates narrative. For the beggar, life is an achievement of memory recall; beyond that, recounting his life is an interpretive feat. And, I think, this memory recall is assisted more through narratives of personal experience formulated in my first language. From now on, when someone tells me their life, I will try to scrupulously listen to them. I will try to consider it as an achievement and not merely a panhandling attempt which I used to egotistically evade.

Hayati, A. M., & Maniati, M. (2010). Beggars are sometimes the choosers. Discourse and Society, 21(1), 41-57, DOI: 10.1177/0957926509345069.

Author Vahid Parvaresh

Vahid Parvaresh is an assistant professor of English at the Faculty of Foreign Languages of the University of Isfahan, Iran. He holds a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Isfahan and an MA in Applied Linguistics from the University of Tehran. His research interests are in discourse analysis and cross-cultural pragmatics.

More posts by Vahid Parvaresh
  • akbar

    Good Story.This Essay really conveys feelings of the writer.I like it.Write More..

  • Shadi

    Different and interesting! Good luck!

  • Amir

    so nice of you,so lucky for me to have the chance of reading.

  • hamid

    Nice story and good expression.

  • Setareh

    Terrific as it came from the writer’s own experience.I found the example interesting as well !

  • Khan

    Hello Vahid

    Thanks for sharing the personal experiences. It is poignant and triggers thought as well as questions the over-structured sources of knowledge which often devalue the personal experiences. I think the piece raises some fundamental questions about the purposes of the ideology of total immersion and the amount of agency individual have in such broad brush approach to social phenomenon which often kills the voice of individuals.

    Great!

    Khan

  • vahid

    Thank you, Khan!

    Interestingly, usually young people who are emotionally more fragile than the grownups are sent abroad to be immersed in English!

    best,
    vahid

  • Tahmineh

    Hi,

    I often get similar feelings when I read some of the masterpieces written by Jalal-e- Al-e-ahmad and Sadegh Hedayat especially where they talk about their inner emotional struggles and conflicts and their rather sad and gloomy life in a narrative form. I always wonder whether there could ever be any English translations of those books (or any English book in general) that could cause the same unexplainable inner feelings and sensations of the Persian writings in me!

    Sometimes our mother tongue gives us a kind of chill that no other language can bring about!

    Beautiful writing, hope to see more!

  • A very great and usueful experience share with others and a very god entry on language on the move.
    I really liked it and I think I got something valubale out of it.

    Thank you very much…

  • Anna

    Hi there!
    I really liked this post of yours and it made me ponder over what I see in the streets these days. Because its Ramadan now , beggars benefit from their intrinsic art and ability to evoke religious feelings in people and make them feel pity on them! To be honest, I feel in a total daze when I see them!

    To me, it was a fantastic narrative and I enjoyed reading each and every sentence. Yes, sometimes when Im teaching in my classes I terribly feel like speaking Persian even a single sentence; Sometimes I feel nothing can express my real feelings but a short piece of my mother tongue.
    And I agree with tahmine in the inability of translations in conveying inner sensations of the writers.

    Great writing! Were waiting to read more.

  • Shima

    Apart from anything else, the nostalgic flavor of the writing was impressive!
    Good luck and bests

  • vahid

    You are right, Tahmineh.

    Regarding Hedayat’s “The Blind Owl” for example this inability to reflect the emotional struggle is evident form the begging of its translation.
    As you know the story starts with:
    در زندگی زخمهایی هست که مثل خوره آهسته روح را در انزوا می‌خورد و می‌تراشد. اين دردها را نمی‌شود به کسی اظهار کرد، چون عموماً عادت دارند که اين دردهای باورنکردنی را جزو اتفاقات و پيش آمدهای نادر و عجيب بشمارند و اگر کسی بگويد يا بنويسد، مردم بر سبيل عقايد جاری و عقايد خودشان سعی می‌کنند آنرا با لبخند شکاک و تمسخر آميز تلقی بکنند
    But, we, as Persian speakers, know that خوره in Persian is not necessarily a disease (slowly eroding disease) but is a culturally rich/loaded word.
    This unfamiliarity, perhaps, has led, for example, Costello, to translate the word as CANKER which covers parts (not all) of the emotional struggle in this surreal story:
    “There are sores which slowly erode the mind in solitude like a kind of canker. It is impossible to convey a just idea of the agony which this disease can inflict. In general, people are apt to relegate such inconceivable sufferings to the category of the incredible.”

    Health & Peace

  • razi hajiamini

    I did enjoy it Sir, thank you.
    ur tone made me happy of my being home any way!!

    Good Luck

  • farzaneh

    nice and impressive .write more plz.

  • nahid

    interesting but sad..

  • Niloufar

    A very touching experience turned into a well-penned article.
    If only we could all be exposed to such “Total immersion” as to truly appreciate our mother tongue, our hometown, our people and even our beggars….
    Thanks for sharing and hope to read more from you soon.

  • h.h

    I know how u may feel being there all alone.why? because you’ve been our professor for a while. By the way,nothing has much changed since u’ve left.We look forward to see u back in our university.

    Good Luck