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Life

The travelers
A long line in our family of perpetual travelers

By Laleh Haghighi
April 8, 2003
The Irania

They say a child's long-term memory kicks in after the age 1. My grandmother was maybe a little bit older when she got her earliest memory. It consisted of seeing her father pulling her mother by the hair and dragging her from room to room as she screamed and wiggled hopelessly to free herself from his iron grip.

Bozorg's mother was, people say, a beautiful young woman from a well to do Hamedan family. Although she had many jewels, her most precious ornament was probably her long, thick mane of hair which she kept in a neat braid that would have rivaled Rapunzel in length, volume, and magnificence. But unfortunately, the object of her pride became the instrument of her torture in the hands of her violent husband.

To this day, Bozorg has talked very little of her father. My mother herself vaguely remembers seeing her grandfather only once or twice at their home when she was a child. Even then, she says, he never spoke to her or any of his other six grandchildren. He wouldn't even make eye contact. He just sat at the dining table and ate in silence while Bozorg put dish after dish in front of him.

From what little rumors my mother has gathered, Bozorg's father was a hopeless drug addict to the end of his life. He squandered his wife's possessions, and beat her to a pulp if she tried to refuse him the money needed for his destructive habit. He even stole all of her jewels which she had carefully and lovingly hidden since her wedding day, not daring to touch the priceless gems for fear they would get lost or stolen.

Bozorg never knew the reason for her mother's death. Some say it was a broken heart. It simply may have been one broken limb too many. In those days, even the seed of the idea that would form the concept of domestic abuse had not come into existence in the remote provincial town of Hamadan, nor the rest of the world for that matter.

After her mother's death, Bozorg was not allowed to go to school anymore. Her father, for whatever reason Iranian men had those days, decided that the place of a girl should be in her home, not on the outside where she could be "corrupted." Soon after, Bozorg's father remarried. The woman he chose as a second wife was the very contrast of Bozorg's mother.

Outwardly, she was a ferociously pious woman who played a prominent figure in the community because of her supposed religious strictness and morality. But in reality, she was a greedy woman with a cold calculating heart and an acid tongue, motivated in life solely by her own interest and survival.

After Bozorg's father passed away many years later, this octogenarian woman did not even allow the corpse of her husband to become cold before she started hunting for another husband. Who am I to judge her? Maybe she believed (rightly so?) that the only key to her survival in the society she lived in was the protection of a man.

Bozorg's stepmother did not take any interest whatsoever in the little orphaned child left in her care. And Bozorg's father was obviously too busy injecting his arms with all kinds of substances to notice his child was left to sit in a corner of her room all day and all night, with no human contact. Not even a distracted hand would perfunctorily give her a pat on the head in passing, like one would pet a dog.

She could very well have wasted away, forgotten, in the confines of an old home, with a drug addict for a father and an uncaring stepmother if it wasn't for her older brother, already a grown man with a wife and family of his own in Tehran, visiting Bozorg.

There, he found his little sister in a quasi-catatonic state, swaying back and forth continuously, with a fixed stare on her face, and no recognition that anything or anyone was around her. He also noticed to his dismay that her little fingernails had turned black, as if reflecting the gloomy state of her health. Bozorg's older brother decided once and for all to take his sister to live with him and his family in Tehran. These plans were met with scarce protest by Bozorg' parents, who seemed surprised to be reminded that they had a child living among them.

And so the fate was sealed. Bozorg's bags were packed and she started on the first trip in her life, which would take her from her native Hamedan to the capital of Iran. This would not be Bozorg's last trip however. My grandmother would merely become the first in a long line in our family of perpetual travelers.

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