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Things change so quickly. A few weeks ago Miss P had a birthday party, during which there was the opportunity for the kids to perform karaoke. All of the girls at the party suddenly became bashful and were too embarrassed to go to the front of the room and perform in front of their friends. All except two young ladies who seemed to revel in the spotlight. Mr. Man later noted that these two brave souls were both Iranian. Four weeks later both have been snatched from the spotlight. One, whose parent works for the Iranian embassy, is forced to attend a newly established Farsi school in the area, and the other, S, has returned to Iran.
S, like so many girls her age is a fan of High School Musical (her songs of choice for karaoke were from HSM), Hanna Montana and ice-skating. Both S and her sister took ice skating lessons with Miss P, while their mother, Marjan, rediscovered speed skating. Ice-skating was a childhood passion of Marjan’s, which she had to give up after the revolution in Iran, because there was no more ice.
As we watched the girls ice skating recently, Marjan expressed her dismay because S. had recently articulated her desire to become a competitive skater and that this dream would now be impossible to realize. Although I know from having an 8 year old that their career ambitions change by the hour and S had probably changed her mind several times before the end of that week, I understood that what Marjan was getting at went way beyond ice-skating. I understood that along with the ice-skating rinks, the revolution took away people’s choice and that Marjan was taking her daughters back to a place where they would no longer be able to choose.
Marjan tried to be strong for her daughters. Telling them the good things about their country. But as she talked, her voice is almost inaudible. You can see the water welling up in her eyes. As curious as I was about what their life will be like, I quickly changed the subject, letting her enjoy the few days of freedom she had left.
I feel for Marjan. I wondered how do you go back to that? How do you take your children back to that? Your daughters? Knowing that a lot of the questions and concerns I had were based on misconceptions, I decided to sit down with Marjan over coffee to get a better understanding of things.
The first thing I wanted to know was how she really felt about leaving. Her response was that although she was sad that her children were losing so many opportunities, going back to Iran would give them a more realistic view of life. They will learn that life has challenges and that “you can’t always be up, sometimes you must be down”. They will learn that everything isn’t always just given to you, like it had been for them in the west, but that you have to work for opportunities.
Marjan still has dreams. She dreams of someday opening an ice rink in Iran. It would be open 6 days a week: 3 days for boys and 3 days for girls since there is no co-mingling of the sexes. But with little hope that things will change in her homeland during her lifetime, she dismisses this dream with a shrug of her shoulders saying, “an ice rink won’t change anything”. She also sees the hopelessness in Iranian youth and blames it for the rise in drug use among them.
I was also wanted to know Marjan’s thoughts on wearing a hajib since her scarf wearing habits were very liberal. While she wore a scarf more often then not, some of her hair was always visible. And while she only removed the scarf in private settings, like someone’s home for coffee or at a gathering of the class parents, there were usually men present to whom she was not related.
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Despite my ignorance about most things Muslim, I do know that the hair is supposed to be completely covered and that the only men who can see a woman with her head uncovered are close relatives. Marjan told me that she wore the scarf for the benefit of others. There were other Iranian families at the school who could make trouble for her husband in his job if she didn’t tow the line, so she wore the scarf in public.
She went on to say that she was comfortable with her relationship with God and didn’t feel that covering her head added to her piety. She further opined that Iranian Islam was “not real Islam. Islam never says you have to do something. It gives you a choice.” Upon her return to Iran she would have to don a hajib, and her daughters as well.
Marjan isn’t completely without hope for Iran. Before she left she told me she hopes that someday soon she will be able to see the Iran of her youth and that someday the world will be able to see this Iran as well.
I hope that for her as well.
Originally posted on the blog formerly known as Ms. Wooden Shoes*