Future seemed bright
The travelers, Part IV
By Laleh Haghighi
May 7, 2003
Many years back, in Iran, my grandfather Pedar slowly
accepted the then novel idea that his daughters should receive an
education outside the home. This was a great leap from my grandmother
Bozorg's childhood, spent confined at home, away from outside "corruption."
Pedar's struggle to alter his belief system reflected
in some way the struggle made by the Iranian population at large
in accepting the many changes brought upon their traditional society
by the Shah's desire to "modernize" or at least "westernize"
My mother and the rest of my aunts took advantage
of the initial battle fought and won by their older sister Atiyeh.
For them, no pleadings or whining to be allowed to go to school.
By the time it came to child number 3, Mahdiyeh, and child number
4, my mother Maryam, not only school was allowed but also social
parties and outings as well, all under the supervision of their
older brother Ali of course.
It wasn't long before mini-skirts were the rage and
ironing curly hair straight was de rigueur for numbers 5 and 6,
the twins Sayeedeh and Safourah. They even changed their hated old-fashioned
Muslim names to more modern versions of Sahar and Sanaz. It was
a long long way from the time poor Atiyeh was forced to drag her
heavy, uncomfortable traveling tent of a chador to school with her.
Ironically, Ali and Babak, respectively the oldest
and the youngest child, and the two only males of the tribe, were
the ones who lagged behind their sisters in terms of their schooling.
Neither of them went to college, something that my mother and my
aunts all did. However, this did not do anything to lessen the bond
between siblings, who were unusually warm, caring and doting on
The future seemed bright. Ali had moved out and started
a business of his own. Soon after, he married his landlord's demure
daughter. Atiyeh graduated from college and took a job at the Canadian
Embassy. She was waiting for her sweetheart, Farhad, to finish his
mandatory military service, so that they too could get married.
My mother and her sister Mahdiyeh were having the
time of their lives as university students. The twins Sahar and
Sanaz were excelling not only at school but also at various extracurricular
activities such as swimming, and dancing, something that would have
been as alien to Bozorg's childhood as a green-skinned monster landing
on the roof of her house. The baby of the family, Babak, a teen
with an already manly mustache and shirt buttoned down to his navel,
was breaking hearts left and right, and having the time of his life
One dark cloud happened one day when Atiyeh, on her
way back home from her job, was involved in an "accident."
I put "accident" in quotes because she strongly suspected
that there was nothing accidental about a bucket of dirty water
being dumped on her head by some constructions workers working on
top of a scaffold, as she was walking by.
Although the foreman apologized profusely, Atieyh
thought she heard one of the men muttering: "Whore, go home
and cover yourself up." Of course, it had been years since
Atiyeh had left her chador at home and now she went to work dressed
in the latest European fashion: Hair flowing freely, brightly colored
and form fitting clothes, knee-length skirt showing off her legs,
high heels, etc.
When Atiyeh told her siblings what had happened to
her, they just dismissed it as an accident, seeing nothing more
sinister in it. However, they would soon learn otherwise. For murmurs
and rants had already been heard for some time from the countryside
and the villages, and now had found their way into the capital.
Everywhere, behind closed doors and dark curtains, bitter whispers
were protesting the alleged corruption brought forth by the Shah
into Iran's traditional social and religious mores.
In Paris, an old man with a long grey beard, who had
lived there for years without so much as catching a glance of the
Tour Eiffel lest it would corrupt his devout eyes, was inflaming
minds and hearts with his messages advocating a return to the Muslim
way of life.
It would not be long before an explosion heard round
the world would shake my mother's carefree life and scatter her
siblings and parents to the four corners of the globe, just like
so many specks of glass and debris flying randomly into the air.
Travelers against their will, so they would become...
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