Sheyda woke a breath and a heartbeat before the morning call to prayer. Outside, a rim of pale light was inching its way above the hills to the east, but there in that room the darkness had a viscous quality about it, thick and adhesive.
Sheyda stretched, lifting her hands above her face, as if to push back the last remnants of night. For Sheyda, this was the very best part of the day—the long moment of silence, when it seemed as if the whole world was poised, teetering on the edge of praise.
In June 2017 I entered the Society for Humanistic Anthropology’s Ethnographic Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction Competition, winning first prize for my short story, Call, based on fieldwork undertaken amongst Afghan refugees living in the Iranian city of Shiraz.
During the long years of doctoral research enormous reserves of energy are channelled towards the production of a thesis: a single body of work of six, seven or eight chapters and eighty, ninety or a hundred thousand words, and following a particular structure that has been established over countless years. However, a thesis is not the only way to present research. Indeed, returning from fieldwork with a head full of stories and a heart heavy with foreboding about the writing-up process, a doctoral thesis seemed a peculiarly unsuitable vehicle for capturing the ethnographic realities to which I had been exposed.
A great many of those who spoke to me in the field did so on the condition of anonymity. It was not only names that had to be altered but, oftentimes, locations, residency status and various other potentially identifying details. As I sorted my way through reams of interviews I found myself having to excise more and more of the data that I had so painstakingly collected. Striking an acceptable compromise between ensuring the safety of research participants and producing an honest account often seemed an impossibly herculean task. Early on I realised that fiction could provide a way through this ethical quagmire allowing me to tell a ‘true’ story about Afghan refugee life in Iran.
Call is published in the June 2018 issue of Anthropology and Humanism.
by Elisabeth Yarbakhsh
CAIS Research Scholar