Everyone in Firoozeh’s family has a “reputation,” which sticks with each family member for their entire life. For example, one of Firoozeh’s cousins defecated on the curtains as a little kid, and decades later, his mother still teases him about the incident. Firoozeh’s older brother, Farshid, has a better reputation: in kindergarten in Abadan, he was popular and charismatic. Forty years later, Farshid’s parents and cousins still ask his opinion about everything—they treat him like an oracle.
One of the key characteristics of Firoozeh’s family is that it never forgets: Firoozeh’s parents and other relatives remember little details from her early life. While this sounds pretty irritating (almost everyone knows what it’s like to have a parent embarrass you in front of your friends by talking about what you did when you were five), Firoozeh portrays her family’s behavior as a loveable flaw.
In 1976, when Firoozeh is eleven years old, she tells her parents that she wants to go to camp. Naturally, Farshid is consulted on the matter, and he finds an expensive camp eight hours away from Newport. Kazem takes Firoozeh to buy a sleeping bag and other things, even though he’s very thrifty. Kazem buys a sleeping bag that’s so enormous Firoozeh can barely carry it.
Kazem loves his daughter deeply, but he can also be very stingy. Notice that, just as Firoozeh’s family members remember trivial details about each other, Firoozeh herself remembers this funny little episode from her relationship with her father.
Months later, Kazem takes Firoozeh to the bus stop. Firoozeh is nervous about going to camp, but Kazem calms her by telling her about going to America years before. On the bus, everyone stares at Firoozeh’s sleeping bag. Someone tells her, “your nose points downward, so I figured that’s because you’re always looking at the ground,” and everyone laughs.
Throughout her early years (and into adulthood), Firoozeh experiences teasing and prejudice because of her Iranian origins. Her nose especially becomes a point of focus.
Firoozeh and the other children arrive at the camp. Firoozeh immediately dislikes the girls in her room, except for Mary, who’s so homesick that she cries all the time. Mary is at camp with her brother Willy, with whom she’s so close that she can barely stand to be separated from him. Everyone in camp teases Willy and Mary, and secretly Firoozeh is relieved, since it means that nobody teases her. She also decides not to bathe, since doing so involves getting naked in front of others, which she’s never done before. Instead of participating in the activities, such as archery, cooking, or horseback riding, she sits alone making key chains every day.
It’s interesting that Firoozeh doesn’t make friends with anyone else in the camp (besides Mary)—and in fact, throughout the memoir, Firoozeh doesn’t really talk about the friends she had as a child. Instead, Firoozeh gives the impression that she still feels like an outsider even after spending many years in California—which would explain why, at her summer camp, she spends all her time alone.
The campers are supposed to put on a play: Fiddler on the Roof. Firoozeh plays the grandmother’s ghost, which requires her to be covered in talcum powder. When the counselors apply talcum powder to Firoozeh’s body, they discover that her body is so greasy that the powder “clumps” on her body, and as a result, she looks like she’s been “dunked in a vat of bread dough.” After the play, she wants to take a shower, but can’t—she can’t stand the thought of getting naked.
As in many other parts of the book, Firoozeh describes an episode from her life that’s tinged with sadness—going to an American summer camp and making no friends—and makes it funny. Laugher allows Firoozeh to make light of her childish embarrassment, and embrace her early memories of America instead of regretting them.
On the last day of camp, Firoozeh arrives at the bus station and finds Kazem and Farid waiting for her. Farid immediately yells, ‘You stink!” On the long ride home, Firoozeh, too embarrassed to tell her father that she hated the camp, invents elaborate stories about her “great adventures.” Firoozeh still doesn’t know whether Kazem believed any of these stories.
Firoozeh lies and claims she had a great time at camp, perhaps because she doesn’t want to disappoint her father, who just wanted to do something nice for her (and may have wanted to help his daughter fit in with her new American peers).