Self Portrait

In the Pinocchio fable, when the Fairy brings the puppet to life, she tells him that if he wants to become a real boy, he will have to prove to be good, brave and unselfish.

I remember when I watched the Pinocchio story on TV as a little girl. It was a peaceful, fantastical moment that allowed me to forget for a minute the war raging in my country, Iran. For me, growing up during the war was putting into practice the words of the Fairy, fundamental and essential teachings.

I felt similar to Pinocchio in his passage through the wood, bedevilled by the presence of the Cat and the Fox, who mock, wound, confuse him and even hang him from a tree, continuously hampering his return home.

I remember when I heard the news on TV that Iraqi planes were dropping dolls, which were actually bombs, on cities The children thought they were toys, and they went up to them to pick them up.

I always took my doll with me everywhere; I imagined she was alive, like the wooden puppet. I talked with her and she was able to reply, in no way different from a real person. For me this was an important, serious, concrete relationship; I shared everything with her, asked her questions, had real, deep conversations with her. As in Pinocchio, I too imagined my doll was a living creature, with a soul, able to move and talk with me, despite her fragile, ungainly appearance.

When the news of the doll-bombs dropping from the sky spread, I was convinced that my doll was in danger too, that everything I had could blow up and disappear, just as it had arrived.

During the war, you can’t think about the future, you can’t imagine it, because for you it doesn’t exist. You love what keeps you alive, including being a child. You can only live in the present, with what you have at that moment.

You learn to love the air, breath itself, the good little things that surround you, in such an intense, profound way that you could never imagine. You love everything that keeps you alive, including being a child. It was essential to preserve myself, my world, despite everything.

For me, all this meant being unselfish, and being bravewas a direct result of this, and preserving goodness, the pure, simple goodness you experience as a child, was the first commitment I made.

But the words of the Fairy represent, in actual fact, a constant commitment to be observed, for all one’s life: every day we have to prove to ourselves that we are realchildren.

Tannaz Lahiji


In the precise moment I lost my doll on the taxi, in the rush to escape and find the nearest place of refuge, while the alarms were sounding, I experienced for the first time the feeling of emptinessas a result of the loss. The bombs were dropping, yet there was me trying to explain to my mother that my doll had been left behind in the car and now she was lost. Shortly afterwards, I lost my mother too; then my brothers, split up by that war that I still didn’t understand much about.

Losing and waiting for a return.

Six years passed until I was able to see my mother again; twenty until I saw my brothers, who had fled to Germany.

And yet, the wait around which I constructed all those years was one of the most wonderful and significant experiences of my life.

The moment when I carefully drafted the letters to my brothers was imbued with value; and months that elapsed before I got their reply: this time was filled with moments that were so intense for me, in which I imagined their reactions, responses, the lives they were leading, the world they were living in. Then to think, again, about the next letter. Moments that filled the vacuum of loss.

At such times, the wait is enriched and even becomes formative; what seems empty becomes full. It is filled to the brim with essential meaning and sense.

The wait whose ultimate aim is to reunite, to join together again two parts of the same nucleus, reminds me of this empty space in the skylight: the windows do not close completely – the part that remains open, which lets the outside in and the inside out, this is waiting.

Waiting for the reuniting of two parts that are now separated.

Waiting that becomes pure light, an extension of the inner towards the outer and vice versa, without filters or limits.

In that little space is to be found my childhood and what I have become.

When I finally met up with my brothers at the airport, I remember that all the bystanders were struck by our wild embraces, in which we totally lost control of ourselves. The children we had been were reunited as adults.

Now we were together again, after all that time.

Tannaz Lahiji