TitleMemories of my humiliations

Nightmare in the Time of Cholera

7 Jun 2011

■ Shafagh Ashna
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The first memory belongs to my childhood. Although the image is hazy, I hear the voices quite clearly. I was five or six. My mother and I got up early in the morning to go to the market and use our food coupons. In the frosty morning of our town, I could see weary men and women squatting in line with their colorful sacks and baskets in front of the ugly cooperative companies, the remnants of the time of war, waiting for the doors to open so that they could get low-price rice and sugar. I looked at the street and then turned to my mother to ask if they would give us delicious Denmark cheese today or not, when I saw the lips of the woman standing next to my mother moving anxiously. “The police, the police!” My mother took a look at the street, and tucked her forelock behind her scarf. My mother was young at that time. She was beautiful and I liked the way a lock of her hair hung on her face. It had never crossed my childish mind why at all should she wear a scarf. I thought maybe it was for the cold weather, because I myself had wore one of those woolen hats that covers all the face. I turned quickly and saw a green Toyota crossing the street. Its passengers were looking at people rudely and furiously. “Bastards,” my mother muttered. I kept hearing the sound, the police … the police.

The second memory is about my father. It belongs to the same years. When my father came home from work, he used to change his clothes and go to the garden. He picked the vegetables, watered the plants patiently and obsessively, cleared the weeds, and cut the buxus plants. Then he stood up, touched his mustache, and watched the outcome of his work. A garden full of flowers, filled with the smell of petunias. But one day everything became different. My father came home and nodded his head to me who had come to say hello to him excitedly. He came inside, leaned against the cushion, then took a cigarette out of his pocket and began smoking. My mother who had realized something was going on, sat beside him and asked if anything was wrong. My father explained that they had warned him not to wear short-sleeve shirts and haad punished him in the factory. But he had not resigned and had came to blows with the factory guards. He said he might be fired, puffed at his cigarette, and put the butt in the ashtray my mother had brought him. Then he gave a look at me who was standing in the corridor listening to him frightfully and shocked.

Every part of our life seemed to be under control

Such things were common those days. Every part of our life seemed to be under control. When we wanted to take a trip, in addition to the terminals being dirty and crowded, we had to travel in the old and broken busses which crept up the steep roads and usually broke down in the middle of the way and arrived late. But the worst of the trip were the police stations. Bearded soldiers came inside the bus, searching the faces one by one, and pointed at some people “get down.” Or they warned the women whose scarves were tilted, were asleep or were not paying attention to have the right hijab! If they were so shameful, they would bend down their head and say “observe your hijab, my sister”. Although they had not learned to be polite those days and didn’t know that they can say these words in a respectful manner. Suppose we wanted to go to the north, we wanted to go to the beach and swim a little bit. I cannot forget the ridiculous way we used to swim: naked or half-naked men and dressed women who wanted to swim with their husband or children. Even then they would not leave us alone. The speakers kept shouting: “observe your manners, observe”. That’s it. Those days are filled with the memories of my parents planning to have hidden entertainments. They are filled with their anger and curses every time they said they were disappointed of the regime.

However, the story of my life was no different.

When I grew up and went to school: “Don’t wear jeans! Don’t shave your head this way! Don’t wear pictured t-shirts! Don’t bring walkman in the campus!” and many other does and don’ts. But one of them I will never forget and every time I remember it I feel the same humiliation. I was at the first year of high school and had been accepted in a well-known school. The schools had just begun and as usual I had new clothes, new books and notebooks. I was enthusiastic. I listened carefully to what the principal said as I was so excited of growing up and going to high school. I had had a haircut the day before. I had not shaved my head in any restricted style and I had not cut it down in the Titanic fashion which wad popular those days. I had just bought an inexpensive tube of gel to become handsome and the other morning I put a little bit of gel on the front part of my hair. As the principal finished speaking, students went inside the classes in a line. When it was our class’s turn, the head teacher pointed at me as soon as he saw me. I was horrified. What’s wrong? What have I done? The students who went inside the classes looked at me and murmured something to each other. When everyone went inside, the head teacher came to me, pointed at the school door and said “Go home”. I was close to tears. I said “But why sir? What have I done?” He said go and wash your hair and then come back. “I haven’t done anything wrong sir,” I said. “What have you rubbed to your head?” he said. “It was just a little bit, sir.” I said. “Go home, wash your hair and then come back,” he said. “No one is at home sir. My parents are at work,” I said. “Go to the school’s WC and wash your hair. It shall be the last time you come to school like this,” he said. I was degraded. I lost all my eagerness and self-confidence. When I went to the class, the teacher had already come and there was only one seat left. Feeling lost and defeated, I sat by the desk with my wet hair, under the surprised and ridiculing looks of my classmates. I could never forget that anger and rage during the four years I was at that school and I could never help disliking there.

I became older and went to university. I could no longer tolerate all the humiliations. But what could I do? An hour after we talked to the girls, our name was on the board. Come to the security office. Their behavior had improved. They tried to look friendly, smiled, held their prayer beads, and kept asking. They no longer shouted like the soldiers of my childhood, but they said the same thing, “Observe your manners.” The Guidance Patrols had just begun working, and the streets were filled with Mercedes-Benz, Elegance instead of the old Toyotas and Paykans. Women wearing chador and men holding guns stood in the crossroads and main squares, with grim faces and said “Observe your hijab, ma’am.” Even they put some people in the police vans. If anyone resisted, they would beat her down and it would lead to torn clothes and the screams of the women who resisted and didn’t want to resign. I can still hear the screams of the girl in that film on the internet. The young girl kept shouting “Leave me alone, leave me, I don’t want to get inside.” I got a headache when I saw those patrols. I was so filled with rage, I came home nervously and had to take pills to calm down. Then came the days of the 88 election. When people cried “We no longer want the regime of Guidance Patrols,” I could see my childhood days and the police Toyotas. I could see my father smoking angrily. When people shouted “Free hijab is the right for every Iranian woman,” I remembered my mother putting her hair in the scarf. When irritated people put their hands up as a sign for victory, I remembered all my birthday parties that were ruined with the sound “The police! The police!” I remembered all the fear and anxiety I had when taking the hand of the girl I loved, all the time worried that the police would come and take us to the police station.

Things are still the same. Only on 1388 they removed the patrols at least from Tehran, in fear of the angry people. When I read the news that the Moral Security of the Society Project is once again going to start, and when I saw those hateful faces in the crossroads, I started shivering. “What have we done wrong, that we should go through this much humiliation?” I wondered. “How long should we feel this anger in our hearts, go through hidden shivers, clench our fists, fill our hearts with hatred and turn into disappointed and frustrated people? How long?”

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