My first memory of snow is in Central Florida. I’m three or four and awed by these globs of Cool Whip drifting from the sky. Mom wraps me in a coat and Dad takes me outside. The snow is melting fast. It lasts just long enough for me to scoop a few tablespoons into a plastic cup.
Back inside our wood-and- linoleum kitchen, Dad pours a few drops of red syrup onto the white fluff. “This is grenadine,” he tells me. “It’ll make the snow taste like pomegranates.”
I love the taste. Like red roses, blooming on my tongue.
Fast-forward 33 years. I’m curled in bed with my head on my stepmom’s lap. Susan strokes my hair, and I sob.
Is it grief or whiplash? School shootings, invasions, wildfires, earthquakes. Women in Iran shot at close range, in the face and genitals, for daring to show their hair and raise their voices in public.
I am enraged, horrified, ignited, inspired. Susan listens, strokes my hair. I never imagined, after my own mom died, that I would have a phalanx of soul moms, surrounding and supporting me. I never imagined, as an only child growing up between cultures and continents, that I’d have a constellation of soul siblings spread across the globe.
I never imagined, sitting at home, typing away, that I would be involved in a revolution. Yet here I am. Here we are.
Woman, Life, Freedom
In September 2022, Iran’s women rose up. Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody lit a fuse. “Woman, Life, Freedom!” became the cry that rallied people across the world.
My family is Baha’i, and many of our friends fled Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which installed the current regime. As a writer, I’ve witnessed and shared stories of the persecution of Baha’i families — of families separated and spread across continents, of students denied an education, of women and men arrested and hanged for being members of a minority faith.
I’ve also celebrated Naw-Ruz (new year) with my Persian friends, eaten my fair share of fesenjan (pomegranate-chicken stew), and listened to poems and prayers chanted in Farsi. Although I’m not Persian by blood, spiritually, I’ve been adopted.
Dr. Noshene Ranjbar is an Iranian American transplant who shares a vision with me of women healing ourselves and our communities in mind-body circles across the globe. She connects me with women in Iran who are ready to tell their story. This is how I meet Z.
A lifelong protestor and revolutionary for women’s rights, Z. is laid up at home in northern Iran with a broken leg when we speak. “How?” I ask.
“Running from the police,” she says, matter-of-fact. “They were shooting at us.”
We speak over Zoom, hours at a time. She shares what life is like under constant surveillance. As a woman in Iran, you can be hassled or arrested if you wear bright colors, hold hands with a man, or ride a bike in public. You are taught to silence your voice and deny your true self.
Rule by unwritten rule, Z. deconstructs for me the realities of gender apartheid and toxic religiosity. In America, we have other ills and traumas to heal — like unchecked capitalism and racism — but they lead to the same place: our relatives are dying and diseased due to mass man-made imbalances.
After these talks, I go for long walks in the snow. My nervous system cools in the soft, white landscape. Z. sends me a photo of herself in Tehran in the snow. “You are my mirror,” she texts over WhatsApp.
I’ve found my sister, and she’s on the frontlines.
Guilt and Grace
As a child, I lived in Israel-Palestine. My relatives come from Eastern Europe. My grandparents fled Austria- Hungary and the Russian empire to escape death. Looking at Ukraine today, I know my grandparents saved my life.
The psychological effects of conflict and oppression still haunt me. How could they not? The frontlines are here in the U.S. too. Women’s bodily sovereignty is under constant threat. We may not be giving birth in bomb shelters, but violence and lack of care remain.
Then I remember. Our hearts are connected. Time and place make no difference. Every atom of peace and nourishment that enters me ripples out. I am healing. Many women are healing, connecting. This makes all the difference.
Z.’s hair is cut short and dyed deep red. Her face flames from my Zoom screen: “We are all born free. We want a normal life. Feminist life is normal life. For everyone.”
She leans in. “Can you see my necklace?” A golden chain appears on my screen. A tiny pomegranate hangs from it.
“See what’s inside?” she asks. I look closer. “It’s a snowflake. Inside a pomegranate. For me,” Z. says, “the two most beautiful things on earth.”
Andréana Elise (she/her) is a poet, educator, and community grower. She is the author of Circle the Bones With Shining and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is currently based in Champlin. andreana-elise.com