By Manijeh Rezapoor 

Core of Iran Noruz in family: Afghan filmmaker Sahraa Karimi 

March 24, 2019

TEHRAN -- Sahraa Karimi, a filmmaker, writer and photographer originally from Afghanistan, but born and raised in Tehran, says that family is the core of the Noruz celebration.

“When I was a child in Iran we celebrated Noruz like Iranians, totally like Iranians, we had Haft Seen. My father was the head of the family, so our house was full the first day of Noruz,” Sahraa told the Tehran Times in an interview in early March. 

“We did not have any plans to go anywhere, we knew relatives would come to visit us. We had fruits and sweets and candies just like Iranians,” she said.

“I like the customs of the new year,” she conceded. “Whatever we wanted we had. My father always said if you are good children, then you deserve to have all these.”

“My childhood was full of paintings and decorating eggs. I was the person who had an idea to paint different eggs and my sister used to take care of sabzeh (green sprouts),” she said.

She also spoke of her excitement when she got new banknotes from relatives bearing stamps of congratulations, “I still have some of them,” she said.

“When we are children, we just think about enjoying the time,” she said, regretting that as a grown up, we are dealing with many issues and Noruz just becomes a part of those many issues.

“So Noruz must be the best one for us as a child,” she asserted.

“I have my connection with Noruz now. I don’t celebrate it the way we did in our childhood. I believe the core of the celebration of Noruz is family. My family is not here anymore. My father is dead, my mom and sister are in Canada, my brother in Afghanistan, and I am here. After leaving Tehran I only took the memories with me,” she said.

She also shared her feelings about Noruz.

“It gives this feeling that when the new year starts everything will become new; it spiritually helps you become a new person and you try to recapitulate your last year and think of what you would like to be in the coming year,” she explained. 

“For me, Noruz is always a new opportunity to be a better human being,” Sahraa said.

“Noruz for me is still like what Noruz is in Iran. Of course, I respect the ceremonies in Afghanistan but the habits and traditions are different. In Iran, we have Haft Seen but in Afghanistan, we have Haft Mewa,” she added.
 
Haft-Seen includes seven items that begin with the Persian letter “seen”, which is pronounced in the same way as “s” in English.

Haft Mewa, which is literally translated to “seven fruits”, is a delicious, sweet, crunchy and syrupy mixture of dried fruits and nuts.

She continued that Iran is a Persian country and Noruz is its most famous cultural event, but in Afghanistan, it is only part of a large celebration, and that the largest one is Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Sahraa moved to Slovakia at the age of 17 where she obtained her Ph.D. degree from the Film and Television Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava.

“When I moved to Slovakia I suddenly cut with everything, with the culture and those habits. But then again Noruz for me was Noruz. I have always been connected with the old culture. Wherever one goes or moves outside homeland, she/he takes part of that culture with her/him. For example, I have my book of Hafez with me everywhere, it is a kind of piece of my culture that goes with me everywhere,” she explained.

“But during those years I studied in Slovakia, maybe I did not celebrate Noruz properly, but for me the first day of spring was Noruz. I took that day off even if I had something important to do. I always told my professors and friends that today is Noruz, it is a new year for us and I want to celebrate it,” she said.

She added that when she went to Afghanistan, she saw different sides of the celebration. In Afghanistan, they celebrate for three days. 

However, she said that she is happy this year since during Noruz she is in Iran, and after all those years it is a kind of celebration again. “Maybe I will go to my friends and repeat the old things,” she added.

Sahraa is in Tehran and busy these days working on her film “Hava, Maryam, Ayesha”, a film that tells the story of three women inside Afghanistan. 

“They are normal people with ordinary lives and ordinary issues. I want to be the storyteller of those stories. It is a movie I made inside Afghanistan,” she said, adding that the film is in the post-production stage in Tehran. 

Sahraa is determined to submit the film to the Cannes Film Festival this year.

“When I finished university in 2013, I decided to go back to Afghanistan. I did not know why I wanted to return to Afghanistan. I did not have experience of living in Afghanistan. Of course, I am from Afghanistan. I am more familiar with Iran and its language, but I went back to Afghanistan and decided just to observe. 

“I did not want to immediately make a movie and desired to know more about my culture: the language, the habits social issues, economy, culture and actually everything,” she explained of her experience in her homeland.

“I did not want to gather bits of information and from the collection of these bits of information create a story. So, for almost 4 years, I just observed and took notes. During those years, I worked with UNICEF for two years. I wanted to travel and gain experience inside Afghanistan, and the only way was to work for an international organization, otherwise, as an individual it was dangerous, especially for a woman,” she explained.

“And from those experiences, I wrote a story,” she noted.

Her feature–length debut “Afghan Women behind the Wheel” collected about 25 awards at major film festivals around the world.

Sahraa was a jury member for Eastern Vista, a section dedicated to movies from Asian and Islamic countries, at the 34th Fajr International Film Festival in 2016.

She displayed a few photos at the “Nimrouz” exhibit in Tehran along with a group of Afghan artists from all corners of the world at the Niavaran Cultural Center in November 2017.

Photo: Afghan filmmaker Sahraa Karimi.

RM/MMS/YAW

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