The direct and indirect consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine concern us. It is with horror and deep sadness that we see its catastrophic impact for the Ukrainian people. Shortly before the start of the war two weeks ago, we received the text below from Sepideh Ardalani. For us it had a special resonance in the context of the current situation and we therefore decided to publish it parallel to another article of hers: “Storying with Gardens in Massia—or St. John’s Wort my Ass”. Read this essay here.
Recently, I learned that my great-grandmother was a midwife and herbalist. She left an arranged marriage and became independent, escaping clan politics: She gave up her practice and moved to Azerbaijan – just when the country was coerced into joining the Soviet Union – to work on plantations. My grandmother financed her move to the city of Tehran and access to education by picking strawberries. My mother in turn escaped Islamic authoritarianism in Iran, a consequence of the colonial hunger for oil, and fled to Germany. This lineage led me to another stretch of land bordering Russia, where today one feels once again the clashing forces of empires, the battle for power and resources, framed by territory and identity. Here I try to (re)build a relation with land.
Here is a micro-story of rupture and displacement, among countless others. A thin crack among a multiplicity of ruptures, intimating questions of relationality on a planetary scale.
A plate of fresh herbs makes my mother happy. Iranians consider such a dish a part of a meal. When my mother recognizes a herb she knows from her life in Iran, she gets excited. She talks to the market vendor, sharing its name, and a story, in Farsi. I feel the excitement too. There is something that connects me to this remembered life, here, through the life and experience of my mother. My trunk can grow a root.
The life of refugees doesn’t easily allow interaction with land, gardens, plants – if it’s not similarly exploited as the land itself. I remember the shame when, as a kid in a German town, my mother would pick walnuts from a tree in a public park and encouraged me to do so as well. Migrant bodies, poor bodies, Brown bodies foraging on white land. There were laws we broke.
Later, when wage slavery in London erodes meaning and cripples my body, I revisit these laws.
Through learning to see plants, intimating and befriending plants, I begin to grow connection to place – any place where plants grow. I learn from plants about enclosure, marginalization, collectivity. I learn to see how the logic of domination is deeply woven into the fabric of a current reality. I learn to see when this logic guides me. I learn that this is recent and can be undone. I learn that public spaces are for me too. The justification for my presence is not solely given by monetary exchanges, earning, buying, consuming, owning; I can be in space. I can feed myself off the land, make medicine with it, participate in relations alternative to those that ask to justify existence through capital or identity. I can take this with me wherever I go.
We meet at the green belts in Cologne, the train tracks in St. Erme, wastelands in Berlin, concrete cracks in Helsinki.