“The Lamb of God,” by Ali Kashkouli

Nov 28th, 2018 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

Every child grows up and slowly acquires the knowledge of social norms within the particular society in which they are being raised. The immigrant child, however, faces the specific problem of trying to merge two conceptions of normalcy: that of their parents, and that of their peers. With these dichotomous views one can’t help but feel a little different. Much of this otherness stems from a variance in religion and the cultural rituals that sprout from it. And when it came to “otherness,” even at an early age I was well on my way to cornering the market. My personal exposure to basic Christian beliefs was so limited during my childhood that there was a time when I just thought “Christ” was a surname. I imagined the village mixers in Nazareth during his infancy…

How are you all doing? Nice to meet everyone. My name is Joseph Christ, this is my wife Mary Christ and our boy Jesus.

With my olive skin, funny name, and poor understanding of the Christian faith, clearly the holidays would provide whatever weird punctuation my life was missing.

Christmas is always an odd time for any child of a non-Christian background. True, we enjoy vacation as much as the next person, but a sense of cultural isolation remains prevalent regardless. Upon returning to school at the conclusion of the holidays many of my schoolmates would tell grand tales of their Christmas morning. I could only listen with jealous engagement as they would regale each other with what was left in their stockings and how Santa apparently preferred chocolate chip over oatmeal raisin.1

My culture on the other was just slightly less typical when viewed with the lens of Western ideology. There was almost nothing I could share in class about how I spent my Christmas break…in Las Vegas.

You see, Iranians classically flock to the capital of sin in late December to take advantage of foreigner friendly bargains. We’re like the swallows of Capistrano when it comes to free buffets and affordable room rates. While all of my peers were singing Away In a Manger and exchanging gifts on Christmas morning I was in Vegas hard at work surreptitiously dropping quarters into slot machines and familiarizing myself with the finer points of betting against the spread.

Even as a child I felt it inappropriate to recount a visit to the land of legal prostitution on the same day that everyone else reserved for celebrating the birth of their savior. The closest we came to having any sort of holiday tradition was the celebration of the Iranian New Year, or Nowruz, every March. Most people tend to assume an Islamic origin, but I later found out that the date is actually of no religious consequence in the Islamic calendar. It is actually a Zoroastrian tradition and, much like many traditions, is just so old it never went away.  My mother would prepare her sofre-ye-haft-sin every year in preparation for the holiday. The Persian phrase translates loosely to the cloth of seven s’s and includes various objects that, surprisingly enough, start with the Farsi equivalent of the letter s. It was a smorgasbord of culinary alliteration. Apples (sīb), dried oleaster fruit (senjed), garlic (sīr), dried sumac (sumāq), wheat germ (sabzeh). All placed on display for the world to see. I’m convinced the Jamba Juice people stole our idea.

These types of things were hard to explain to your average American schoolchild given that I didn’t fully understand them myself. Furthermore, I was significantly more concerned with acceptance, not the cultural literacy of others.  For me, these seemingly odd Iranian traditions, though ancient and thoroughly interesting to an adult, just made me want to keep them at arm’s length as I yearned to be a normal American kid.

It was difficult to be proud of who I was in the 1980’s. Watching the news at the time was pretty much an exercise in self-loathing. It was a constant barrage of dark haired mustachioed men with fists viciously pounding what seemed to be an invisible ceiling. The chant was always the same, with a throbbing pace that seemed timed to the beat of a livid metronome.

Marg bar Amrika! Marg bar Amrika! Marg bar Amrika!

These Death to America rallies would seemingly go on indefinitely if the media was to be taken seriously. It was as if Iranians never did anything like have picnics or walk their children to school. Nope. Just irate sloganeering and Molotov cocktails according to 60 Minutes.

Given that my existence was based mainly in eating and watching television my opinion was easily molded by the skewed perception to which I was exposed. It was embarrassing. Though I had never met these seemingly enraged young men, I knew I hated them. I hated who I was and wanted to dissociate myself from anything remotely Iranian. As a result, interest in our little holiday was lost.


That feeling of cultural isolation in an adopted homeland was ever-present during that period of time in my life, but conversations I would have with my peers would take the tone that one would expect from boys of that age. Bodily functions comprised a great deal of the talking points so ethnic estrangement wasn’t generally on the docket amongst the first grade crowd.  I considered sharing stories like the time my parents sacrificed a lamb in our bathroom, but that was probably the sort of thing Child Protective Services frowned upon so I kept mum on the topic.

Now that about 30 years have passed I can only assume the statute of limitations has expired on this so I doubt anyone can get prosecuted (And if it hasn’t, let me be the first person to apologize to my mom and dad since they’re probably reading this in jail). That being the case, one could rightfully conclude that there were probably a few “health code violations” that occurred on that particular day. I don’t quite remember the occasion, but one can only imagine it must have been important if you’re bringing a small hoofed animal into your bathroom and ritualistically killing it in the name of Abrahamic tradition.

To be fair, in the Middle East this sort of thing happens all the time. The practice of animal sacrifice goes back thousands of years and was actually sanctioned by the God of the Bible. However, I don’t think a plastic bathtub and linoleum floors were quite what the Big Guy had in mind.

I understood that this was being done to celebrate some sort of event and I was assured that this was all “normal.” Something about God blessing something if I recall. At the same time though, I had good deal of compunction – as if I was an accessory to ungulate murder. I didn’t know exactly how to feel. But just in case I wished for a new bike while we had God’s attention.

As an adult I can look back and be horrified as I view that scene through an American’s eyes. At the same time, however, the Iranian in me can sort of grasp the religious gravity of such a thing. The two perspectives are not interchangeable. People generally adopt one or the other. I, on the other hand, was never fully able to sell myself on either viewpoint. My life as a cultural mestizo was off and running as I continued through my elementary school years.


Children often have that innate desire to simply fit in, especially those of the aforementioned elementary school variety. I was no different. My plan was to find the exact center of that parabolic bell curve and pitch my tent. I slowly altered my dress to further accommodate my desire to belong. Gone were the days of the mortifying blue lederhosen I was forced to wear to my first day of second grade. As third and fourth grade approached shorts and t-shirts became the order of the day. I no longer brought sack lunches from home. Goodbye left over chicken kabob and rice, you served me well…but it was time to fall in line with the crowd and dive headlong into the nutritional cornucopia of the American school lunch program where I would eat chili dogs, nachos, hamburgers, pizza, and tacos on successive days (I quickly gained 12 pounds and developed a raging case of tophaceous gout, but that’s a different discussion altogether).

I looked into every detail of assimilation. I left no stone unturned. For example, I had noticed that many of my classmates had a predisposition to nosebleeds. I, on the other hand, had never experienced such a thing. Perhaps it was the arid California climate desiccating their nasal mucosa. Or maybe there was a pocket of suburban San Diego with an abnormally high rate of juvenile nasopharyngeal carcinoma thus increasing the incidence of nosebleeds. Could it have been that they were simply overaggressive nose pickers? Did I consider any of these potential explanations? Of course not. The only logical answer must have been that if it happened to others, but not me, then I must have been defective.

One day I had decided enough was enough. I stood some fifteen feet from a white stucco wall outside our home. I took a deep breath and made a running start. I lowered my head like the world’s least intimidating rhinoceros and plowed into that wall as if it were the one thing separating me from a lifetime supply of Ho-Ho’s. The result? As expected from anyone with the poor sense to voluntarily break their nose, yes, my nose can indeed bleed under the right circumstances.


I doubt that my desire to belong was any different from any other child that age. The unique challenge I faced was that I was incapable of asking the right questions. My standards of normality were perpetually caught between the poles of my ethnic identity and I was too young to come to any reasonable conclusions. Neither my parents nor my fat, and apparently coagulopathic, peers would be of any use in resolving my personal impasse. I was on my own.



[1] I recall leaving out cookies for Santa one year as a test of his existence. I left them on the porch for easier access since our home lacked a fireplace. Sadly there was not even a nibble. It seemed that good old St. Nick not only had a weight problem, but he was also kind of a racist.


defenestration-ali-kashkouliAli was raised in suburban San Diego and, over time, realized that he had no discernible skills outside of memorizing lists and thumb wrestling so clearly the pursuit of medicine was the obvious choice. He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and is a physician by day and a 90’s alt rock connoisseur by night (he’s never met a Weezer song he didn’t like). He writes in his spare time would like to thank his parents since, without them, he would be far too well adjusted to write anything remotely interesting. He currently lives with an undersized cat named Stevens and a fish named Sugar who live together in an increasingly shaky truce.

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