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Life

Tip of a pencil
The travelers, Part III

By Laleh Haghighi
April 28, 2003
The Irania

My maternal grandmother Bozorg was brought from Hamedan to Tehran as a child. Neglected by a drug-addicted father and an uncaring stepmother, she was raised in her older brother‚s home in Tehran. Upon her arranged marriage with my grandfather Pedar, they both hoped they could provide something better for their own children.

Bozorg and Pedar had seven children. They were luckier than others in that all of them survived the many childhood diseases that made it common for an Iranian household back then to lose a few kids at birth or in their early infancy. However, none of them were immune to the prevalent societal diseases such as abysmal poverty.

Pedar and Bozorg did the best they could but the early years of marriage were hard and tense. Pedar was seldom home, leaving at the crack of dawn for the Tehran Bazaar only to return after the children had already gone to sleep. Poor Bozorg was left alone to contend with noisy, boisterous and demanding children with endless pits in lieu of stomachs.

More often than not, there was not enough food for the table, not enough heat, not enough blankets, not enough clothes. "Not enough... Not enough...," the walls seemed to be whispering softly in Bozorg‚s ear from the minute she woke up to the second she closed her eyes. It was never enough, no matter how hard Bozorg stretched the money Pedar brought home for their survival.

So when my mother was born, the 4th child, Bozorg grew desperate. How could they possibly afford to feed this extra mouth? Would Bozorg be forced to watch her cherished, beloved newborn baby starve to death before her very eyes? Crazed by this prospect, Bozorg took a step that was both criminal and passionate. She left her baby in a room with all the windows open, hoping that the bitter winter cold would come and take away her infant from further suffering.

It was the act of a desperate, loving mother who would rather lose her child in one quick blow than watch her die slowly and with a lot of pain. Fortunately for Bozorg, at that moment, an angel must have come down from heaven to wrap the little baby in its warm embrace. When Pedar came home that night, the newborn was still as lively and noisy as ever and Bozorg was tenderly caring for her. This was the only moment in her life that Bozorg lost her fighting spirit and determination. She would never waver again.

The years went by and Pedar's rug business in the Bazaar prospered, permitting him to move his family to the northern suburbs. The change from the downtown slums could not have been more welcomed. Bozorg's first child, Ali, had been forced to quit school at an early age to go help his father in the Bazaar. Bozorg vowed that a similar fate would not befall the rest of her children and that they would all get an education.

It was a rough battle to fight. Pedar, with all his love for his five daughters, was reluctant to let them get an education at first. Naturally, the harshest combat took place in regard to the elder daughter and second child, Atiyeh.

Many tears were shed, doors slammed, and voices raised before they could all come to a compromise. Atiyeh was allowed to go to school if: 1) She covered herself with a chador (veil) at all times; 2) Bozorg would accompany her on the bus to school every morning, and bring her back the second the school bell rang every night.

Atiyeh at that point would have been content to cluck like a chicken and walk on her hands the rest of her life if that meant she would be allowed to go to school. As much as her brother Ali was playful and outdoorsy, she was quiet and liked to spend all her time in, sprawled out on the living room rug, the tip of a pencil usually in her mouth as she devoured book after book.

So it was with a light heart that Atiyeh endured the teasing of her schoolmates, whose liberal parents allowed them to wear what they liked and certainly did not impose the outdated religious veil on them. Atiyeh did not mind. She felt like she had already climbed mountains to come to where she was and this was enough victory for her.

The trip from home to school was no ordinary trip for her. Each leap was getting her closer to an intangible dream: She was the first female in our family to achieve her education. As such, she had already traveled farther than both her own mother and her grandmother.

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ALSO
By Laleh Haghighi

The travelers
Part 1
Part 2

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