Interview by Sara Damavandan
Many people dream of traveling the world. Yet few actually manage to make the journey. Visa restrictions and strict border controls have made it increasingly difficult. For tens of millions of people today, unrestricted travel around the world is a pipe dream.
One particular character is believed to have achieved this task. Little Haleh is a rag doll that has decided to go around the world as a representative of all those who are unable to travel, and realize their dream of touring the planet.
Haleh Moaddabian is the creator of this globetrotting doll. Haleh has designed a traveler that needs neither a passport nor a visa, and can communicate in a universal language. Many people have been instrumental in enabling Little Haleh to fulfill her golden dream. She has been delivered by mail to a wide variety of places. Each time, the doll has stayed with a host who has gone sightseeing and taken pictures with her.
Kayhan London paid a visit to Haleh to learn more about her project.
KL: Haleh, please tell us a little bit about yourself. Where were you born, where did you go to school, and what are you doing now?
HM: I was born 30 years ago in Tehran. I got my high school diploma in mathematics, then gravitated towards the arts. I decided to study graphic design and enrolled at the Arts College. Now I illustrate children’s books professionally, and also make dolls.
KL: How did you come up with this project?
HM: That’s a difficult question. A series of events and experiences culminated in this project. The movie “Amelie” was a source of inspiration for the doll. “Amelie” is a French movie where the central character, who is calm and poised, strives to transform the dull life of the people she encounters by bringing happiness back into it.
There were other elements that influenced this project. I had two childhood friends who moved away because of their father’s jobs; one moved to Japan and the other to Thailand. We would write letters to each other constantly, and I have kept all of those letters. Another determining factor was that I was thinking of emigrating, but for various reasons, decided against it. All of those elements came together to create “Little Haleh.”
KL: When you first made Little Haleh, did you send her around by mail, or did a trusted friend carry her?
HM: I posted Little Haleh”four years ago to Florence. Her maiden voyage was stressful, because she was stuck in a post office in Italy. Officials were suspicious of the contents, and they were not delivering the package to my friend in Florence. After much effort, my friend was finally able to secure its release.
The way it works is that the doll is mailed to someone. When it is received, the person is required to take the doll to interesting sites and take pictures while holding “Little Haleh.” The doll is then mailed to the next destination chosen by me.
KL: Are you worried about the safety of the doll?
HM: In the beginning, I was very worried about the doll getting lost or running into other issues. But now that several years have passed, I think the doll has found its way, and takes care of itself.
KL: How many countries has Little Haleh visited, and has she been able to connect with people?
HM: Little Haleh has traveled to 46 cities in 22 countries and has connected with a large number of people. What’s fascinating is that the doll has connected with people of all ages, and the experience has been an interesting one for all involved.
KL: What is Little Haleh’s message?
HM: Her message is one of friendship, and of smiles. Though there is chaos, turmoil, and ugliness in the world, people embrace Little Haleh with all the affection they would give a child, and wish for peace on earth as they smile for the camera. Little Haleh” connects people to each other through this long chain of global encounters.
KL: Has the doll been damaged enough as to need repair?
HM: Yes. At one point she lost her knapsack in the Netherlands. I made her another one and sent it over with a passenger. In the United States, her neck suffered on a couple of visits — once in Chicago, and another time in Iowa. Thankfully, the hosts were able to make repairs. Last year, Little Haleh visited Iran with her host from Australia, and I was able to repair the neck again and replace her clothes, which by then were tatty and dirty.
KL: How much do you worry about her when she is far away?
HM: I really don’t worry about her much at all. Little Haleh has always had gracious hosts, and I am confident that that will continue to be the case. I always say that it is the hosts who give life to Little Haleh. All I did was make a doll.
KL: How do you organize the trips? Does the doll have hosts who you don’t know?
HM: I set up the first five destinations, and her program was pre-organized. After a while, as more people heard about the project through Facebook or the project website, they started leaving me messages and offering to host “Little Haleh.” I take her location in consideration before having her mailed off to the next one.
KL: Will Little Haleh ever grow up to do bigger things, or will she stay the same?
HM: I think she has grown over the past four years. All of her adventures and mishaps have made her more mature, and she has proven to be not just another decorative or display doll. The more people get to know her, the bigger and livelier she will become.
As for her doing bigger things, at the moment, I’m trying to trademark her to secure her future. We are also raising funds for a movie project about her.
KL: Will she raise a family so that they can ensure the succession?
HM: That’s an amusing question. I hadn’t thought about that. I think dolls that are loved never die, so Little Haleh will probably continue her journey until she gets tired and ends up in a circus like Pinocchio. Maybe then, I will think about your suggestion.
KL: How can an interested person follow Little Haleh’s travel adventures?
HM: You can find her on the internet, on the Little Haleh website, Facebook page, or Instagram page.