Meet Parya Rezaei, a 30-year-old Iranian children’s animator who lifts children’s spirits in a detention camp
“In a green forest brimming with beautiful flowers, a turtle whose name was Luki lived. Luki of our story had always wanted to be a hero. All the same, he always ended up inconveniencing his friends. He decided to hide inside his shell. One by one, the inhabitants of the forest started looking for him. One day, Mr. Chipmunk arrived at his doorstep. Knock, knock. ‘How are you? I’m your neighbor. My house’s roof is leaking. It needs a hero.’ Luki came out of his shell in the blink of an eye.”
This is the onset of one of the children’s stories Parya Rezaei, a 30-year-old Iranian children’s animator and children’s author has written. In one of Greece’s asylum camps for 11 months now, Rezaei is a refugee. The UN Refugee Agency reports that only by sea 361,712 people arrived in Europe in 2016. The vast majority of refugees and migrants are escaping war and degrading destitution by parting ways with their homeland. In the Iranian woman’s case, it was oppression of speech that prompted her to run away.
“Though I was a princess in Esfahan and I often feel like an outcast now, I could not continue in Iran. There is no support in Iran for artists, no democracy, no pay, no freedom of speech,” she continues.
That is why the children’s animator paid 1200 dollars to a smuggler to get her to Greece (from Iran to Turkey, and from Turkey to one of the acritic Greeks islands is the most popular smuggling itinerary). From Mytilini, Rezaei was taken to Thessaloniki, where she was placed in a temporary detention camp. Shortly after, she was sent to Athens, to Eleonas camp in particular. In one of this camp’s containers, she’s been spending the last 11 months of her life daydreaming of the day she will be granted asylum. Her exodus from Iran has taken existential dimensions now.
“Ever since I remember myself, I have wanted to know about the stars and God and my father,” Rezaei, whose father died when she was 8, communicates. “My most nagging question was where and who God is. I wrote my first and very short story at 8, right after my father’s death. It was a letter to God. I was asking God where my father was in that letter. Why aren’t my classmates playing with me? Because I don’t have a father? At the time I was thinking I had committed a crime, and my father’s death was my punishment. Then, it all dawned on me. I had a father, the one I was writing the letter to.”
Her zest for God and the “divine” are so strong that she admits to feeling put out by even one of her own story’s heroes, the famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.
“Stephen Hawking has been my hero throughout my whole life, a genius man of such mental and emotional strength. But his strong opposition to God’s doctrines has let me down. I want to prove God. I know I’m just a refugee now, and this is a temporary phase of my life, but I will make it. Now I have nothing… But I have my dreams for the future. And, hopefully, I will find a way to go to America and print my books. And God will help me, and I will get to know and prove him to Stephen Hawking and to everyone.”
Fairytales on Iranian soil
Her religious ardor aside, Rezaei was a student of Psychology before embarking on the journey to Europe, and is keen on resuming her studies. She has also written three fairytales on Iranian soil, and has directed two of them. The detention camp, with its numerous escorted and unescorted children, is the perfect breeding ground for her artistic endeavors. What she did in Esfahan, in a different culture’s attire, she does now: entertain children.
“All children of the world are mine. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I want to have children of my own, but I definitely want to put a broad smile on every little one’s face.”
With her characteristic high-pitched, Japanese, anime voice, as she jokingly says, her luscious smile and open arms, Parya Rezaei gives these children back their childhood. They play puppet theater, they improvise name games. They love her for she snaps them out of the bleak and dampened walls of the camp. She loves them for they make her one of their own.
“ I don’t want to grow old. I want to retain my childishness, my frisky inner world to remain like this,” the Iranian animator, who thinks that by inhabiting her children characters she is not being pulled away by the mundaneness of adulthood, says.
Return to Iran
Asylum procedures in Europe may take up to five years in many cases. Parya Rezaei can do nothing but stand by in the meantime. A point in favor of her asylum application attempts is that her mother and two sisters are already in Germany. If and when she is granted asylum, the first thing she will do is resume her studies in Psychology and print the fairytale she is working on now. Ideally, there will come the time when she gives her own interpretation of the Gospel in Persian, she craves. In a perfect world, she will return to Iran the princess she felt she was, but this time with freedoms.
Stav Dimitropoulos is a journalist and writer who has appeared on CBC, CBS Radio and FOX Channel, and has written for In The Fray, YourTango, Gadgette and many more. Facebook | Twitter: @TheyCallMeStav