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Khaneye Doost (Friend's House)


By Salomeh Keyhani, Golestan Community Association

I am always surprised by how few Iranians know or have even heard about Golestan Kids. While Golestan is located in Berkeley, on a busy stretch of galleries, independent pottery studios and shops, many Iranians are not familiar with this growing and creative organization.

I learned of Golestan, a Persian immersion preschool, through a friend while preparing to move back to northern California from the east coast. I was immediately intrigued, an Iranian preschool in Berkeley? I had heard of Persian classes for children and Saturday language schools, but a full time preschool seemed like such a remote possibility. I quickly looked it up on the web and emailed the Executive Director, Yalda Modabber, for an appointment on an upcoming trip to the Bay Area. First impressions are always the strongest and Golestan exceeded my highest expectations. What struck me most about Golestan were the warm and welcoming greetings from the teachers, the open and airy feel of its entry room, the Persian carpets on the hard wood floors, the tapestries on its walls and the large open windows framing the little garden where pomegranates are grown with the help of young eager hands. Spaces tell us a lot about the occupants and the mindset. This space projects a welcoming facade with a warm hospitality beckoning those who enter. Golestan’s friendly design and ethos is especially reminiscent of the airy spaces and warm feelings created in Sohrab Sepehri’s poetry.

We visited the “Bolbol” class led by Mina joun to get an idea about how the classes are run. Joun is how every teacher and child is addressed infusing the school with courtesy and affection. The children followed Mina joun in a rendition of “Ey Ensanha” a Persian nursery tune set to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. I was hooked. I submitted an application the same day and nervously ran counts in my head of how many children were on the waiting list. Yalda has become used to this form of eagerness from parents handling inquiries with both graciousness and a smile.

Golestan creates nostalgia for a childhood school experience many of us never had in Iran or growing up as Iranian-Americans in the US. In the past 30 years, I have never been so reminded of the best parts of my culture, focusing on music, poetry, hospitality and kindness. Yesterday my daughter looked outside and saw the rain and started singing “Baroun Barouneh”, an Iranian folk song, popularized by Viguen. Many of us growing up in Iran skipped the nursery tune phase in school and were seeped in revolutionary songs. Many second-generation Iranians in the United States in the 1980s felt a schism in identity growing up in a context of political fodder that has no place in childhood. Golestan introduces a new model for early childhood education unique for our diaspora and Americans who want to be a part of it.

For Nowruz, my daughter grew her own sabzeh at school and created art for her Haftseen. She looked at the Haftseen daily during the 13 day celebration, admonishing anyone who came too close, to only look and not to touch. Her embrace of the traditions and culture reminds me of my own childhood excitement around Nowruz. Having the opportunity to integrate millennia-old traditions both at home and at school is a rare treat for an immigrant family. A treat that I hope will be available to more and more Iranian-American families as Golestan works to spread its mission by helping other communities develop sister schools around the country.

As immigrants, we all take pride in our traditions, but it has become more difficult to observe our ceremonies with a free spirit because of the constant negative news cycle and media driven caricature that has been created of our former home. Golestan promotes the best of Iranian culture and teaches it to our children and creates a positive Iranian American identity when our children need it the most. Golestan isn’t just a preschool serving 100 or so families, it is a strong innovator in our community showing us a path forward where we can embrace the best of our culture and keep it alive in our new home. Golestan is not only keeping our culture alive here, but serves as a nuclear source of support for language immersion, cultural celebration and community pride. Golestan is rapidly becoming an important Iranian-American civic institution that is committed to assisting communities around the country establish Persian language early childhood education.

Sophrab Sepehri famously wrote “Khaneye Doost Kojast” (where is the friend’s house?). It is right here in Berkeley. Come visit.

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