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Life

Sticking together
The travelers, Part II

By Laleh Haghighi
April 14, 2003
The Irania

My maternal grandmother Bozorg was saved from the neglect of her drug-addicted father and uncaring stepmother thanks to her older brother, who took her from the provincial town of Hamedan to the bustling capital Tehran.

In those days, traveling from the Iranian countryside to Tehran was akin to flying from the Earth to the Moon. Such was the difference between a sleepy, traditional provincial Iranian town like Hamedan and the bustling, burgeoning modern capital. Even today, there is a sharp contrast: Tehran is a world apart from the rest of Iran, perhaps even the rest of the planet.

Bozorg, who had been used to sit in a dark room all day with no one to talk to, encountered a big shock. But it was a beneficial shock. Although her brother had resigned himself to the fact that his little sister had been struck dumb, Bozorg amazingly made a quick recovery upon entering his noisy, warm household full of children, servants, relatives and guests. She soon regained her faculties of talking, laughing and socializing with other people.

Of course, it wasn't like Cinderella suddenly became a princess overnight. After all, what value or respect had a penniless little orphaned girl in the society of Iran, where a woman's worth was defined by either father or husband. So Bozorg was treated as the poor relation in her brother's home. Even though she was around the same age, maybe slightly older, than her nephews and nieces, she was relegated to doing house chores, working alongside the other house servants.

The most bitter regret of her life was that she was never allowed to go to school like the rest of the children and this haunted her until her old age. However, she relished in being allowed to roam freely among other people, to be talked to, listened to. She felt for the first time that she was alive.

While still in her teens, Bozorg's family arranged a match for her with my grandfather, Pedar. They met on their wedding day and Bozorg felt incredibly relieved to see that her future husband was young and had a full set of lovely thick, wavy hair. At her tender age, her only wish in life was that the husband she was destined to would not be old and decrepit like many other matches she had seen. And her wish was for once fulfilled.

Pedar and Bozorg, being both young and penniless, bonded very quickly during the first very hard years of marriage. Bozorg's mother in law, affectionately known simply as Aveji in the family, took Bozorg under her wing and heaped much love and affection on her. Bozorg, thirsty for maternal guidance, reciprocated enthusiastically. Many years later, when Aveji was on her death bed, it was in Bozorg's house that she found the last comforts of her life.

It was sad to see the end for a woman who was such an incredibly strong matriarch. Aaeji, who had successfully resisted the idea of marriage until the "old maid" age of fifteen years old, actually married her husband out of love. She had fallen in love with his photograph which depicted a tall and handsome young man, looking much younger than his thirty years. Aveji herself was as short as an apple so the two made quite a funny picture wherever they went. But what Aveji lacked in height, she made up with her zest for life, her passion and her exuberance. Her husband, a shy quiet type despite his prominent stature, was madly head over heels for her and remained so throughout their marriage. So it was with great difficulty that he resigned himself to leaving his wife and children and go to Tehran to find work.

But Aveji would have none of this. Despite everyone's protests that she should stay in her birthtown of Hamedan and take care of her children while her husband slaved away in Tehran to send them back the necessary money to survive, Aveji was adamant that her family stick together and that her children grow up with a father. None of the obstacles mattered to this fierce young girl: Neither the fact that the only means of transportation she could afford to and from Tehran was a rickety old bus. Nor that the route from Hamedan to Tehran was full of potential dangers: thieves, murderers and rapists who would likely target a "helpless" lone young girl. Aaveji took the hand of her children one at a time, and went back and forth continuously until she had delivered every single kid to their father in Tehran. Then, she took the rest of their measly belongings and joined them in the capital.

Perhaps the kinship between Bozorg and Aveji went beyond that of a surrogate mother-daughter relationship. Perhaps these two women had looked at each other and smiled, recognizing from the first glimpse that each had met in the other -- a fellow traveler.

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