Today I consider myself as a different woman, one who doesn’t want to talk about universal discrimination against women. Today, the 8th of March has another concept of meaning for me and I strongly feel I like to talk to you on this day about war and peace, and to express my wishes and desires to some of the people in this small world.
I have been out of my country, Iran, for a long time, because of political reasons. I have lived and travelled in different countries. I am familiar with different languages and cultures and have friends from different backgrounds, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Indian and Chinese. I am working in a college where, among my students, one is African, another is English, a third is Latin American, a fourth is from Eastern Europe and another is from the Middle East. Furthermore I am living in a quiet street in London where the neighbour on my right is French, the one on my left is English and the one opposite is Polish. The world is not as big as I had previously thought.
I remember Tamara, who was of Tatar ethnicity in Tashkent. She was my friend even though I couldn’t speak her language well, and we met each other quite often. She invited me for dinner and our children played in the garden. She served food that was the same as ours; only it took a bit longer to serve the starter, the main dish and the dessert. She made Green tea, not in a cup, but in a small bowl and she was trying not to make it full, according to her culture of welcoming the guest into her house.
I remember an Armenian student. We met each other on a bus in Yerevan and I went to her house with my family. There I met her blind mother and listened to Armenian music, and when an earthquake happened in that area, she never contacted me again and I cried from my heart for her loss.
How can I forget my Uzbek lecturer, who felt close to me, as her husband’s grandfather was Iranian. When I graduated, she organised a party with members of her family at her house. Instead of wine, horse’s milk was served, which presented some difficulties. But she said it contained a lot of vitamins for pregnant mothers, useful as I was pregnant at the time! I’d never tried it before, but at that gathering I drank the horse’s milk, and everybody said “Cheers” in the Uzbek language.
How can I forget my Russian neighbour, we went out and bought fish from the fishmongers and cooked it together. She cleaned the fish and I put some Iranian stuffing inside. She told me stories about how she became a socialist. She told me how Russians had brought all the equipment and materials by train from Moscow to build Tashkent University and how the train had taken a month to arrive. She said that, after a big earthquake in Tashkent, Russians and Uzbeks had come together to rebuild the modern Tashkent city. She said that once they had celebrated the 8th of March with flowers sent by aeroplane from the Communist Party to all women during the Party Congress. That made a perfect headline for the daily newspapers.
How can I forget my Scottish neighbours, who were like grandparents to my son, and who looked after me like a daughter. They laughingly told me that drinking whiskey with water and ice showed a lack of respect towards Scottish people! They told me stories about Robert Burns, their own national poet, how he had loved his 13 lovers and so produced beautiful poems. They celebrated with a Robert Burns’ Supper, eating their own traditional food, “haggis”, and reading poems on his birthday.
How can I forget Christina, my English teacher who, very importantly, helped me to get my first job in this country? She married a nice Kurdish guy from Turkey and she helped a lot of refugees to settle in this country. How can I forget Helen, who was always there for me and showed great consideration in helping me with study and work. How could I fail to acknowledge my love and respect for Luanne, who has always been a great friend to our Iranian community. How could I ignore Robert, who likes Iranians, speaks Farsi and loves his Iranian wife.
How could I miss talking about Jude, a Christian African colleague. We talk about work and study, we both teach computers and we are aware of a lot of educated Iranian and Nigerian people working in this area in London. We eat lunch together and discuss problems in our countries: he talks about Iranian Government policy regarding the current situation in the Middle East and I talk about how we need peace in our country. I go to his house and his son calls me “aunty”, just as Parasto, another friend’s daughter did when she was a child.
And how could I not mention Gity for her sense of humour, Sima for her honesty and kindness and Farideh for her hard work and independence in life.
Yes that has been my real world, although at the same time, the unhappiness, difficulties and misunderstandings I have lived through cannot be ignored. That big world is so small for me now that my imagination can easily envisage anything. I have seen a lot of similarities in my world rather than differences. I have found all people to be the same; no one person is better or worse than another. Colour, race, religion and gender don’t have any place in my judgement of them.
Today I feel this huge world is like a big family for me. All of us are members of this family. Why are we talking about nuclear weapons, war and killing each other? Was not the Danish cartoon simply a big misunderstanding which caused a lot of death and conflict between Muslims and the West? But you can see another side to the story as well: elsewhere an Iranian movie got the same Golden Bear prize as a Danish film producer’s in Berlin two weeks ago.
I wonder whether, the money spent on war to be allocated instead to education, hospitals and modern equipment and technology in some Middle Eastern countries, would this not be a better way to help them become modernised more easily? I believe strongly that by keeping the fire of war burning, there is no way we can achieve democracy, good friendship and tolerance.
Today the whole world is in crisis, particularly in Middle Eastern countries, and I am worried for my home, where my sick mother is living, my brother is working hard and my sister is responsible for four others. I don’t want to see that small, beautiful land destroyed by bombs again, which made my father and brother sleep forever. None of us wants to see any harm come to Behshte Zahra, a place where thousands of young people were killed during the war with Iraq.
I talk to my Iraqi doctor friend through the Internet for hours about love, friendship, war, peace, the UK and the US and even Bird Flu. He is only 26 years old, but he has known 8 years of war between Iran and Iraq, during which Saddam Hussein started to destroy our countries. He realises that I become very upset when I remember that time of war. He has asked me not to talk about it as he feels ashamed as an Iraqi, even though he was very young when the war took place. He hates war and is looking for a quiet and peaceful place to live.
He has always been a witness to war in his country: the war with Iran, the attack on Kuwait, sanctions and then the US invasion. And now, after the Smareh explosion he has shut himself away in his home and worries whether Iraq will descend into civil war. He said that Bird Flu has killed a young Iraqi and that he felt a kind of relief at least an Iraqi died without being involved in the war with the Americans or any other Iraqis. He says that all the young people in Iraq have a sad life and look 10 years older than their age. He is looking forward to seeing democracy in his country.
How to keep quiet and not to think about seeking a way to prevent war in the world? I believe women have the potential to play a great role in this subject at the present time. Today, as a woman and as a mother, who has for many years celebrated the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, I am saying I am in love with peace and friendship and security.
More than anything else, I think about my own country nowadays. I know that in a peaceful environment my sister, my mother and my friends would be in a better situation to fight for their rights, for I believe that in a conflict situation, women lose more than men. Under such circumstances, women suffer more than men, both economically and psychologically. In a peaceful environment everybody can turn their thoughts to progress, development and positive changes in their life and society.
Yes, today I think about peace and security more than at any other time. So, on this day, with a red rose, I go to meet all of those women who are striving for peace and who disagree with war in any part of the world.