The day I became a woman

I never forget the joy of walking around proudly sporting two rings of blue thread in my ears


The day I became a woman
by Nazy Kaviani

The day had arrived.  I was both excited and scared.  An elaborate meal was being prepared  in our huge kitchen.  Our “receiving room” (otaagh pazeeraee) had been swept and dusted and the doors to that wing of the house, usually closed during our daily life, had been left open, so I could see the beautiful red carpets and the elaborate furniture from where I was sitting.  I could also see all the fruits and pastries arranged on the coffee tables, knowing full well that no one was to touch anything until the guests had arrived.

Though this was one of my mother’s usual lunches with the women of our family, this was also a special day for me.  I was looking forward to the arrival of Khaleh Shireen, my mother’s aunt who was really like a grandmother to me.  When she arrived I ran to see my mother receive her, take her coat, and guide her to the guest rooms, where she was seated at the top seat of the room, a place of reverence and respect reserved for the eldest.

I was hiding in a corner, watching what was taking place, not wanting to be noticed.  I knew they would start looking for me soon enough, for a ceremony awaited me.  I still remembered how they had come looking for my older sister last year and had taken her into the room after lunch.  I was trying not to remember her yells and tears. 

Khaleh Shireen was a tall and gorgeous old lady.  Well, thinking about it now, she couldn’t have been that old at the time, since she lived a long and prosperous life and passed away in her eighties a while back.  To me, however, she looked old.  Her beautiful long hair, brightened by henna, was gathered in a long braid all the way to the middle of her back and a big smile was forever perched on her lips, making her squint her eyes.  Her deep throated voice and laughter was at once a reminder of life and uninhibited expression, and a little scary and intimidating for me, a girl of ten.

My mother’s beautiful lunch spread served and taken away, my oldest sisters started serving tea and fruits to all.  This is when they called my name.  I was by now back to being scared again, fearing pain.  I could hear my mother calling me, but I was stubbornly sitting in the corner of our family room behind a curtain, the farthest corner of the house from the guest room.

The curtain shifted and I saw my mother, standing there.  She was looking at me with her beautiful eyes, framed in her long dark eyelashes.  She said:  “Nazy Joon, are you hiding?  Are you scared?  I can’t lie to you, it will hurt a little bit, but not too much.  I thought you really wanted this.  It’s O.K. sweetie, Joonam, if you changed your mind, or if you’d like to wait, we can forget it or we can do it another time.” 

We walked into the room and someone told Khaleh Shireen that Nazy was ready.  She reached in her bag and pulled out a smaller container, her kit.  I sat in my mother’s lap, where my entire small frame was covered and held warm with hers.  She held my hands and said soothing things in my ears.  The opened alcohol bottle spread an unfamiliar smell in my nose.  It all looked so serious to me.  Khaleh Shireen pulled out her already threaded needle, disinfected the whole simple apparatus in alcohol, and looked at me with a serious face.  She said:  “Nazy Jaan, you will have to keep your head steady, no big movements honey, O.K.?”  And frightened as I was, I shook my head in agreement. 

Truth be told, I did scream like a banshee and cried a lot, too, more out of fear than pain.  But I never forget the joy of walking around the rest of that day, proudly sporting two rings of blue thread in my ears.  I had become a woman at ten.


In the summer of 2005, my 15-year-old son announced that he was going to get his ear pierced.  I protested feebly and then I asked him if I could go along.  He agreed, no small feat for a teenage boy who normally would rather be caught dead than with his mother on his personal adventures.  I was grateful.  We went to a tattoo shop on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue, where a cute girl covered in tattoos and pierced jewelry all over her body administered the piercing.  Just before the piercing expert entered the small stall, I asked my son if he had had a change of heart and he said not.  Afterwards we went to have pizza, making a little celebration out of the experience.  All the while that day I was remembering a distant day in the house of my childhood, where another celebration had been in progress; this one for me.


I was devastated to see that image on the first page of  I couldn’t bear to look further, I couldn’t bear to click on it.  I don’t know where in this world, in which tribe, and in which family those pictures were taken.  I won’t say it wasn’t in Iran, for other than a vague and recent knowledge of the heinous practice of female circumcision, I don’t know too much more about it. 

Instead of dwelling on the ugliness of it all, protesting its existence as an Arab, African, Central or South American cultural phenomenon, or whether or not this was happening in Iran, too, I retreated into the beautiful and peaceful memories of my own childhood, where women gave love, gave support, gave wisdom, and gave joy to the young girls of their families. 

The Iran I grew up in, the Iran which lives forever inside of me, represents a nation and a family that loved and revered its little girls, sent them to school, taught them to think and work, and to celebrate being a woman.  Those teachings came in handy for my generation which has been fighting unfairness and inequality of the recent decades with all its might, tooth and nail, and lest anyone is disheartened and mistaken about its outcome, though suffering occasional setbacks and losing some battles, has been winning the war with flying colors.



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Oh gad. First, I'd like to

by Claire Atkins - Men's Necklaces (not verified) on

Oh gad. First, I'd like to give you a two thumbs up for your story Nazy. It reminds me of the film "The Girl with the Pearl Earring." It must be the picture though.

Anyways, that female circumcision is so horrible! It's the first time I've ever heard about such a procedure/tradition. I couldn't click on the pictures because I fear that the images might stick to my head for a long time. I don't want that. I don't know if we can blame tradition since people continue to believe it. I'm just... shocked. That's all.



very nice!

by Hungameh (not verified) on

Its the little things in life that we celebrate always stay with us! these things dont have to be expensive just as long as your family and friends are there for you and it holds more meaning to you...its a beautiful thing


I don't understand this

by Anonymous77 (not verified) on

My parents had a fit when I arrived with holes in my ears.
They thought it was such a pleb thing to do.

Looking back, with the holes almost closed up,I rather think that my parents were right. It looks like being a branded cow with Swiss bells really.


Nazy jan

by Feshangi on

You have done it again! A beautiful story beautifully told.  



What a sweet story!

by Monda on

And you tell it so well Nazy. I was not aware though that in Iranian families ear piercing signified the girl's rite of passage. But my family was not a traditional one in many other ways either.

I had my ears pierced at age 18, by this nice doctor (!) at Tehran Clinic. By then I had seen many pictures of women artists with their ears pierced, but when I saw Joan Baez on her album cover that was it for me. I wanted to be like her in at least one way. I was not able to buy a guitar or find myself a voice teacher! So one day after my office job and before my evening college class, I took a taxi to Tehran Clinic. My parents liked the fashion and complimented me on the tiny gold studs, when they noticed them about a month later. I had my second ear piercings when I finished my bachelors in the States as a little celebration, again all by myself, away from home and family. This time not by choice.

After many months of me hearing repeated requests and pleas, I finally took my daughter to have her ears pierced when she was 11. Many boys and girls in her 6th grade class had theirs done but I experienced a  moment of cultural dilemma: what if she asks for tatoos next?! That little statement of independance from my little girl urgently prompted me to think about my position in many areas of her life later on. Thank God she does not have a tatoo yet!   

Ari Siletz

Nazy, you almost gave me a heart attack!

by Ari Siletz on

Masterful how you set up the reader. You and Alfred Hitchcock deserve each other. Sensitive, timely and... piercing.


Ms kaviani I envy you!

by Tahirih on

Being the only daughter after 4 boys, my parents did not even think to inflict pain on their darling!! so when I was 16 my older mean cousin sat on me and without any disinfectants pierced my ear. I struggled and set myself free , then she laughed and said " well do you want to be lump sided?"

So tearfully I sat through the next ear!!

When my parents found out , they were very upset with her, but the deed was done!! of course I had the infection and had to be treated!

despite it all, now looking back , we all had a good laugh , and I still love my cousin.



Nazy Kaviani

Thank you...

by Nazy Kaviani on

Thank you all for your encouraging words.

Dear Shocked: I most certainly did not mean to shock you with details of my personal tale! I don't know how old you are, but I know how old I am. When I was 10, we didn't go to Tehran Clinic to get our ears pierced, we did it at home, complete with the pair of small turquoise and gold earrings that came after the piercing had healed. I think I did try to convey that times did change and when faced with my son's decision to wear an earring (or three!), the small tradition of respecting the choice and celebrating it had stayed with me.

Dear Azadeh: Thank you for you as usual wise words. In fact the significance of my story is not about when the society, norm, or culture regarded me as a woman, but when I considered myself as a woman. I was a scrawny tomboy, a late bloomer, who didn't have my first period until I was 15; but all those years prior to it I had started feeling included and celebrated in the circle of my women relatives as a woman.

My shock at seeing the one photograph of that story was deep and inconsolable, pushing me into my own childhood memories as a little girl, where it was not only safe to be a girl in my mother's arms, surrounded by aunts and cousins, I had come away with a memory worth cherishing and keeping for the rest of my life.

Thank you all again for letting me share something important about myself.

Azadeh Azad

Rite of Passage

by Azadeh Azad on

Thank you, dear Nazy, for this beautifully written story.

We didn’t have this tradition in our family. In fact, my ears were not pierced till I was 28… when I had them pierced in a Beauty Salon in Montreal. I never liked jewellery and had occasionally wore clip on earrings before that.

I think 10 is too young an age for girls to become a woman!! In hunter-gatherer and agricultural societies, it is the coming of menstruations that is celebrated as a passage into womanhood; which makes more sense than the Islamic, arbitrary age of 9.

Thanks again.


Ps. Unfortunately, female genital mutilation *is practised* in Kurdish villages of Iran as well.


No thread and needle for me!

by shocked (not verified) on

When I was 15 I asked my parents if I could have my ears pierced. Matter of factly, they answered, it is your choice. They made an appointment for me at the Tehran Clinic and that was that. Properly executed, no needle and thread dabbed in old fashioned alcohol, etc. I'm honestly aghast by all that tradition-steeped-into-religion brings to perfectly intelligent and modern families. Did they not think about the consequences? And how does that define womanhood? And how can you of all people even remotely compare ear-piercing with female circumcision? I'm completely shocked by your blog today!


What a fabulous woman ,

by wind (not verified) on

What a fabulous woman , your mother. You're a very lucky girl.

The circumcision was in Kurdistan Iraq. Not Iran.

I don't think Iranian Kurds subscribe to this vile and barbaric practice.




by tissa on

Nazy jan, what a lovely story.  It brought back memories of the day I got my ears pierced.  I was four, and I too screamed like a banshee.  The way you contrast your own experiences with the experiences of the circumcised girls is heartbreaking.

Wonderfully done!


A Sigh of Relief…

by LalehGillani on

I was hesitant to open this thread, not knowing what awaited on the other side. Recent stories of passionate dreams and scary circumcisions are still fresh in my “innocent” mind…

Earrings! I am so relieved, Ms. Kaviani. Masterfully done!


absolutely beautiful

by IRANdokht on

Now that's the Iranian style of traditions and rituals that we're accustomed to...

Thank you for bringing this up especially in contrast with that heartbreaking article that horrified most of us. A majority of us grew up in such loving family environment with similar warm memories as you have so beautifully revived with your story.

It's our responsibility to fight the negative PR that we're getting these days by speaking candidly about our sensitive souls and humanitarian values.

Very nicely done! Thank you!


Multiple Personality Disorder

Very elegant

by Multiple Personality Disorder on

…with a personal touch.  I don’t want to dwell on the issue of circumcision.  My views are expressed on that thread, but just to mention that your comparison between loving family rituals verses hateful barbaric acts of violence against innocent children is outstanding.

Flying Solo


by Flying Solo on