Brain Washing

At school, my religion teacher constantly warned us about judgment day and made us feel guilty about not being devout enough. I was keenly aware of the fundamental lapse of logic in her stifling religious ramblings but irregularities were always explained away…

At the start of each school day, we lined up behind our class leader. From a little stage, the principle yelled out slogans for us to repeat and gave speeches about the troops and their battles. Thankfully, the scud missiles closed our schools and put an end to that charade. 

I loved reading the “Keyhaaneh Bachehaa” magazine. My best friend and I use to turn to the very end where they published the pictures of smart students from all over Iran. We tried to point out the religious kids. Then, we looked at their names and where they lived. We were bored and this was a funny game.

Little by little, I started feeling guilty about laughing at Akbar or Zahra. The names stopped being funny. What was so funny about being religious? What if the kid’s dad was killed in the war? Wasn’t it mean to call someone “dehati” (villager) or “fagheer” (poor)? Until then, I had never met a poor person who wasn’t religious or a rich person who was. Out of curiosity, pity and guilt, I became religious.

I wanted to know what “mostaz’af” or “jahadeh saazendegy” meant. What did it really mean to be a martyr for the cause of Islam as opposed to dying from a heart attack? How come everyone in my family was escaping the country while others actually wanted to go to war? 

Roghieh came over twice a week to clean our house and always complained about the war. We pretended it wasn’t happening but Roghieh wouldn’t shut up about it. She took empty cans of “reeka” (dishwasher soap) from our house, filled them with water and sold them on the street. I loved her and was worried she would get arrested for fraud. I was worried we’d buy one of our own reeka containers by mistake. What then? Did we have to be nice and pretend it was great or would my parents fire her? She blamed everything on the revolution, and she blamed the revolution on Googoosh! She said Googoosh wore sexy outfits and had to be stopped. Her pre occupation with hell and Googoosh was her hobby.

Finally, my favorite magazine ran a story called “Gheseh-ee shirin tar az asal” (a story sweeter than honey). It was the story of Mary and Jesus from the Koran. For some reason, I found it very convincing. The damage was done and I cracked under the religious pressure, I started praying 5 times a day.   This religious phase was stressful on me. I felt an obligation to an intangible doctrine in a home where everyone made fun of religion. My father called mullahs “madar ghahbeh” or sons of bitches/whores, I used to think he meant “madar ghahveh” or sons of coffee which made no sense. My father joked around that Michael Jackson, Jamileh and even Geppetto would go to hell which was reasonable to believe since they weren’t practicing Muslims. I was sure we’d all go straight to hell too.

Good Muslims pray five times a day. The problem was there were no good Muslims around to teach me the prayers. I was solely responsible for saving my soul from eternal damnation and my body from the fires of hell. I used a text book as my guide. But that wasn’t practical because I couldn’t pray if I had to bend down and change the page every five seconds.

By this time, Tehran was too dangerous. Our area was supposed to be safe and our relatives came to stay with us. Iranians are unapologetically lively and are genetically programmed to “mehmooni” (party). With all that commotion, another technical difficulty was finding somewhere quiet to concentrate on reading Arabic. I wasn’t allowed to stay in an empty room by myself, it was dangerous.

Every time I completed my “vozoo”, my older cousin swore she heard a “chos” (silent fart) from my direction. With a chos, you can never be too sure so I doubted myself and went back in the bathroom and re did my ritual hand washing all over again. It was very frustrating to know that I had to wait until judgment day to find out if any of my prayers were rejected and how many I was short of!

When I wore my white chador and prepared to pray, my aunts and uncles turned red and I could tell they were trying not to laugh. They each pointed me to a different direction and I didn’t know where to face Mecca and pray.

It was a real test of my faith to get from the bathroom to an empty room. My mom humored my solitary quest for salvation for two weeks. She stood guard in an empty room and changed the pages of my text book every time I blinked my left eye. But she refused to cover herself up and expected me to pray while she was in a T shirt and with make up on. It was totally unacceptable. 

Eventually, my grand mother lovingly stepped in and told me I could make up lost prayers when I was older. She explained God had better things to do than keep track of my missed prayers. She put me on a psychological detoxification diet which did not include time with Roghieh. Losing her, hurt so bad. 

Since our home wasn’t exactly conducive to Islamic morality, I felt it was best for everyone if I put my religious obsession on hold for a while. But not before I gave my parents a lecture about their decadent life style of home made wine and make up and called them “monaafegh”. Luckily, decadence is tempting and contagious and I was back to my old self again. As a prize, my mother let me take a puff of my uncle’s cigarette! I was cool again.  


Shout out to my high school teacher for help with this one.

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