Parivash Rohani is from Iran. Her identity is strongly tied to the Baha’i faith. Iran, an Islamic state, is both the birthplace of Baha’i and the epicenter of persecution against it. Raised Baha’i, Parivash couldn’t understand why she was harassed at school when she looked and spoke like the other children. After Iran’s revolution in 1979, classroom bullying escalated into imprisonment and execution. It was now dangerous to be Baha’i.
One morning, Parivash’s father received a warning that Bahai homes were being burned. Parivash was sent to stay with a cousin at the university, and by evening, their home was destroyed. Parivash was stunned. The sole possession she carried was a necklace given to her by her mother when she turned fifteen. It had once been her grandmother’s, and she wore it faithfully around her neck. Part of a protection prayer is inscribed on it in Arabic and today, Parivash keeps a sheet with the Persian translation.
Parivash’s uncle built their home the same year it burned down. It was large and full of furniture. Now, everything was gone. A known Baha’i activist, It was time for Parivash to leave too. Hoping to return to Iran, she sought refuge close to home, and went with two cousins to Southern India. Stifled by the heat, the Iranian cousins cut off their long hair, only to learn that women with short hair were viewed in India as suspect. Indian women wore Saris that revealed their stomachs. This was forbidden in Iran, but it was too hot to be fully covered. “So we decided to wear Saris. And that made our life so much easier. I still was Parivash Rohani with the same values. I just made the choice to wear different clothes.” She acknowledges that adaptation is an individual decision, but she ascribes strongly to the “When in Rome” mentality.
Parivash met her husband in India and they left for California in ‘85. There, the Iranian diaspora was so large, they struggled to integrate into an America beyond it. They heard rumors of a state that was frozen, wild, and remote, and in the Winter of ‘86, they landed in Maine. “It was beautiful. Really it is the way life should be!” Parivash laughs heartily, but the early days were lonely when neighbors sheltered inside. Desperate to make connections, Parivash decided to bring food to her neighbor. The neighbor later told Parivash that when she heard her new neighbors were from Iran, she was scared that “a bunch of terrorists” had moved in. Now, Parivash is the school’s emergency contact for that same neighbor’s children.
Parivash loves to assimilate, but some traditions are firmly tethered, like rosewater. ”When somebody dies, they pour rosewater in people’s hands. All of these significant occasions are mixed with the smell of rosewater, so it takes me back to so many memories.” She once baked a rosewater dessert for a potluck at the YMCA. She gleaned from the “disgusted faces” that rosewater is an acquired taste. She finds humor in this. Her humility is disarming. An (now retired)ICU nurse in Lewiston, Parivash was able to connect with patients and their families in a way that she believes promoted healing beyond the basic practice of medicine. Her patients nurtured her, as well. “Really connecting with people energizes me.” Parivash is an advocate for Baha’i human rights worldwide, and hosts screenings of the documentary film, “To Light a Candle” by Maziar Bahari, as part of the Education is Not a Crime campaign.