October 20, 2018 / 23:11


I cannot believe it! I am in Tehran’s international airport, my first impression is not so emotional or memorable as this airport is the new one and I have not a single memory from it!

16 June 2012 Saturday 10:41
I cannot believe it! I am in Tehran’s international airport, my first impression is not so emotional or memorable as this airport is the new one and I have not a single memory from it!

My heart is beating as fast as you can imagine, and my whole body is shaking out of excitement and fear.
Fear of what if I feel like a stranger in my own homeland, fear of what if my own people treat me as an outsider in my own country, fear of what if my homeland and I don’t connect, fear of what if they question me or arrest me at the airport for being out of the country for such a long time and fear of many more “what ifs”!

I walk slowly and cautiously, a bunch of young people are with me in the same queue and I can feel that they have the same fears as I do! However most of them grew up here and they know the system much better than I do.

I overhear their conversations and gather that they are students and they are in Iran only for the summer holidays.

Everything seems to move easily and smoothly: people go to the officer’s desk, they show their passports, and answer a couple of questions and after stamping their passport they leave with joy and happiness to start their summer holiday in their homeland.

So why am I still so worried about things?

Why is my heart beating faster and faster as it gets closer to my turn? There is nothing to worry about… I will be fine!

And finally it is my turn, I have to face the officer after 22 years, I take a deep breath and walk towards his desk. I say a quick hello and put my passport on his desk, he seems to be nice; he too says a quick hello to me without even looking at me and starts to search my name in the computer. Then he stares at the computer screen and I get really worried as he looks at the page in my passport and again at the computer, my passport, the computer screen and as he does it, I get more scared and quite sure that I am in trouble!

Then he starts to speak up without even looking at me: “you’ve been black-listed (mamnolkhorooj) for the last 20 years by your husband, we have to take your passport and you cannot leave the country until he sorts this out for you!

I just knew it! I tell him with a quivering voice: “but I am divorced officer! Also my ex-husband is dead and that is the reason that I came back, he can no longer bother me or my family or…”  Seemingly, he is not interested in what I have to say, so he interrupts me and says: ‘Listen, I cannot do anything for you, you have to go to the main office with your papers an documents such as the proof of his death or your divorce papers and they will sort it out for you, but we are going to take your passport and give you a receipt and then you do the rest by going there and showing your papers’.

So this is my first welcome sign from my own people after so many years. I am thinking about this and it really bothers me, it’s ridiculous! My dead husband still has more power than me? I have to give up my passport even if it’s temporary but because of the wish of a dead man? Why?

It suddenly strikes me that these subtle tactics are a lot more effective in oppressing women than the overt sharia laws and rules. Women lose their confidence and self-belief without even noticing it is being taken away from them.

* * *

I tried to regain my composure, and took the receipt for my confiscated passport and went to baggage claim! 
I went to the baggage area, once again I started to loose my confidence and was asking myself whether I did the right thing by coming back after such a long time. From the very start I felt how much both me and my country have changed over the last twenty some years!

I get my suitcase and walk slowly towards customs and still amazed about what had just happened! Fortunately, as soon as I tell to the custom’s officer that I have been out of the country for 22 years he allows me to pass through without searching or even looking at my bags. I go in and as soon as I see my brother I forget about everything else and run towards him with joy and happiness. Those moments were so precious that I didn’t want to change it with the whole world.

In the car I started to realise the changes, both in me and in the country, we had changed and grew a lot, in good and bad ways.

The high rises, the modern motorways, the people especially the young ones and their looks made me start thinking of something very complicated and serious: confusion!

Confusion about what people really want: modernity and freedom or a strict regime and tradition! The more I stayed the more I figured most people are entangled in religion and tradition without even knowing.

At home with my family and friends I was so blessed and happy and from the very beginning I was showered with love from everyone, my family, friends, maids, neighbours and even the strangers! I felt loved and welcomed. But was I happy to be here? Did I want to live in such a confused and chaotic society?

I started to visit a few cities during my stay for sightseeing and research and talking to different people with different backgrounds and outlooks on life in Iran.

Two weeks after my arrival I travelled to Mashhad, my father’s and ex-husband’s hometown.

My priority and first intention in Mashhad was to pay a visit to the grave of my love ones, such as my beloved nanny, Maryam and also my ex-husband! It was such an emotional moment; I had to visit my darling nanny in the cemetery! The same feelings I felt on my day of arrival rushed back to me! On my second day of stay I went to visit my parent’s grave, I wanted to be with them and talk to them and kiss them, while they were lying down under the ground and I wasn’t sure that they would or could love me or hear me as they used to. Thinking of them as a pile of bones, was devastating, enough for me to pass out.

Even at my ex-husband grave I had a strange feeling, knowing that he was not here to bother me anymore and justice was finally done by nature setteling the score with him. I still felt sad. Why people were so cruel and selfish or sometimes sick or irrational that when they die, others would celebrate and be happy for them not being on earth anymore.

The next day, when I went to the family court to get my ex-husband’s legal death certificate, once again and after 22 years I had to face my past!

I had to face the day that I got arrested by authorities, and my only crime was that I did not want to live with my husband and had filed for a divorce!

I still could remember exactly what happened that day with details- Hajjie Rasouli, the powerful mullah, who obviously was taking Ali’s side, accused me of acting like a slut or a prostitute by not wanting to live with my abusive husband.

He also threatened to put me in jail or hold me at my parents house like a prisoner if I disobey his orders or summons, and if I pursued to leave my husband by divorcing him!

Those days were so bitter and fundamentally and crucially painful! But now, in this particular day after all these years, finally justice was done. All my struggles and painful moments were rewarded: I walked with fear and excitement towards the same room where I had heard all those slanderous and horrible remarks! However, this time as soon as I stepped in, everyone showed me respect by standing up and greeted me in a very polite way!
They asked me what they could help me with and I told them that I was here to get a copy of my husband’s death certificate. Respectfully I was shown the way and was told to go to the second floor.

Yes after many years of living in exiled being accused of something that I wasn’t, at last integrity rewarded me by making these people to behave as they should have 22 years ago!

Mashhad is the holy city where Imam Reza is buried; the city where I spent six years of my married life. Mashhad too had changed a lot, just like Tehran and perhaps other cities.

As Jerusalem of Iran, people would pilgrim here to renew their faith and to pray for their ailing loved ones, they would pour money and jewellery into Imam Reza’s mausoleum and beg for health and salvation in return. Sick people would kiss and touch the silver and gold bars surrounding the Imam’s grave, the practice that spread disease instead of curing it. This was still the same, men and women flocked to the mosque in thousands every day. But in 2008 one thing was different; you could now have a cyber pilgrimage via the internet thanks to the government run web site! You could participate in this superstitious ritual from afar. There was no progression really it was the same irrational behaviour, now practiced in designer clothes and with the help of the latest technology. The spread of diseases were less now because you didn’t have direct contact with bacteria ridden silver and gold shrine around Imam Reza’s grave.

When in Mashhad, I attended a few parties, in some, men and women were dancing and drinking together while in others men were separately drinking alcohol while their wives were drinking tea in another room and the topic of conversation was limited to lives of their husbands and children!! After dinner they would all join together in same room trying hard to pretend that their lives were perfect and they were so happy and content and wished for nothing more! They were the group of traditional and religious people who were trying hard to prove to themselves and the rest of us that they are enlightened, open-minded and liberal! They were trying so hard and even were talking about how they were attending spiritual retreats and Yoga classes, and when someone asked them about how they felt about those classes they didn’t even know what to say!

Back in Tehran, one day when I was on my way to someone’s house for an interview, something interesting happened.

I was waiting for a cab in one of the busiest streets in Tehran and the traffic was so heavy, I was already late. Before stopping a taxi, I saw a motor bike and realized he was a cabby!

As soon as he stopped and dropped off his passenger, I walked towards him and asked him if he would take me as a passenger and surprisingly his answer was positive and so I jumped on the bike behind him, with my arms around him, holding him tight to avoid falling off the bike! I was both interested and confused, that in such a system when women are not allowed to show their hair and pre-marital sex or relationship between male and female is such a taboo that they get flogged or stoned in public by the morality police, one could hold a strange man tightly in her arms without any objections or questions, solely on the premise of being a passenger!

As I started to write and research about life in Iran from the very beginning I sensed the young population is in danger. They suffer and struggle a lot among their own society or should I say their own family!

Most of them were disappointed with the government and the regime but their concern was not that anymore; they thought that the family issues and the traditional ways of living these days were more of a problem than the government itself!

Of course they put the blame foremost on the government but they believed the solution is now in the hands of the people and it’s up to them to realise that they are drowning in both Tradition and religion more and more every single day.

I started my research by speaking and interviewing the young and middle aged people and I tried to speak with different classes and backgrounds and also from different places and cities. The more I did this, the more I noticed that most of them have one major problem with the society and people and that was: tradition or Sonnat.

I spoke to a lot of people during my trips around Iran, I met a young writer one day and we talked about a lot of things, Religion came up as we were talking, Fatie, the young writer in her late 20’s was saying how she was so turned off by religion she just didn’t have the same faith as she used to but one day she found herself in a desperate and hopeless situation, and the first thing she thought of was praying to Imam Reza ( the 8th Imam of the Shiat who is buried in Iran) and asking for his help and salvation and donating in his name to the poor! Fatie said: you know we have religion in our blood it is so intertwined with us that we can’t denounce it, it runs in our veins, we can’t see it but we feel it and it is our life line, but just as when we have a cut in our finger and we wash the gushing blood off to prevent infection, we do so with religion when it is exposed and public. 

Iran’s demographic is young, seventy percent of the population is under 30 years old, and many of them have lost the hope of regime change; they don’t think things can improve so they cope with things as they are.

They can’t believe how their parents hope for progress, modernity, democracy and freedom of speech when they deny these most basic rights to their own children, all because they don’t agree with breaking tradition.
The civilized society as a whole is made up of the smaller pieces we call the family unit.

I do appreciate the fact that in some countries like Iran being with family is very significant and it’s the priority of each person to respect his/her family as it’s the most important thing in their life but my biggest issue and question is about the current situation in Iran is: if we want some improvements and some changes, justice and so on, then, how can there be any change in the whole if the individual units remain the same?

by Soheila Ghodstinat
Soheila Ghodstinat was born in Iran. She has lived in 30 different places, 13 different cities and 7 different countries.

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