Dirt, Dust and Bad Spirits

By Howra Salaheddin


There’s a Persian tradition that happens every year near the end of March. It’s called Khaneh Tekani which translates to picking your house up and shaking it until it’s cleaned. Khaneh Tekani cleans the house of dirt, dust and bad spirits.


As a kid, I loved Khaneh Tekani because it gave me a sense of freedom. I wasn’t attached to my old clothes, if they were too small I’d just nod, and off it went to charities and kids who really needed them. Dolls and toys were trickier, I loved some of those so much and yet I had to let go. But at the end of the day, this drastic change in my room meant nothing to me. I didn’t feel alone without my things, I didn’t need anything because I think at that age, my mind was a whirlwind of new things on its own.


I would never be lonely with that much free time and fantasies. I remember one specific story I made up about a circle that traveled to the city of triangles and even though they all could clearly see it’s a circle, in the end they were convinced it’s a triangle that just looks a bit different. I don’t know why this story is the one I vividly remember amongst all those stories I made up. Maybe it was because I felt like a circle in a room full of triangles. Maybe I just really like circles.


When I reached middle school the tradition changed faces. Suddenly it was an elaborate plan to rid me of everything that made me who I am. What would a third-grader be without her multi-colored bracelets? What did I have if I let go of the 10 teeth I shed last year? What would show my growth as a human if not my exclusive collection of Disney movies? Khaneh Tekani turned from a non-issue in my life to a danger to my whole identity. I guess going by the circle’s tale, these objects and shared experiences made it a much more reliable, maybe even respected triangle. Maybe the circle needed those things in its life. Whatever the reason, Khaneh Tekani became a very hard task for my mother to do.


Khaneh Tekani was an opportunity throughout my early teen days; it was a great time to throw away anything embarrassing that years ago comforted me. As if these objects shape-shifted and they no longer looked or meant what they did back then. Khaneh Tekani didn’t only mean turning the house upside down and shaking the bad spirits; it meant turning me as a person upside down. Getting rid of anything I didn’t particularly enjoy about myself or my life anymore.


I didn’t really get rid of the bad spirits, I just hid them.


Instead of dealing with emotions I picked a box and filled it with objects I didn’t want to see anymore, birthday cards and postal cards and gifts my dad brought me, things that were essentially too dear to throw away but also too hard to look at every day. These were the things I wish to forget and Khaneh Tekani gave me the reason. By the age of 16, the circle had tried its best to forget any bad memories of trying to be a triangle and forced itself to work harder for the task.


Now I’m seventeen, not that older but a lot has changed. The way I deal with pain or the way pain deals with me has made Khaneh Tekani seem more like a chance. A chance not to only dust the drawers and bookcases or wash the carpets and windows, and throw away any bad spirits and thoughts but to take some time to know them and step in a new year with fewer burdens. Khaneh Tekani is still a tradition, I’ve learned that traditions don’t really care about your identity crisis, years don’t wait for your acceptance to show up and changes just happen. This in itself is quite comforting.


Right now the whole country is quarantined because of the COVID-19 outbreak and most of us are stuck in our houses like ghosts. This has given me time to think about the box, opening it up and smiling through most, confused as to why a packet of gum was such a big deal to me at age 14 and relieved that my Barbie stickers still stick. These days when I think about Khaneh Tekani I feel excited. It doesn’t seem so personal anymore and it seems like the circle has finally realized just because you want to be a triangle, you won’t become one and it won’t be okay or fine, it just won’t matter.