The tale of two cousins
True, non-fictional, accounts of the lives of two women living in Iran
May 21, 2007
R. was born in Khuzestaan, and then moved to Karaj when she was twelve. When she was in high-school, she took an IQ test on which she did so brilliantly that the school principal personally contacted the family to tell them about the exceptional potential of the by now 14 year old R. She went to college to study physics. This is when her family started pressuring her to get married. She fell in love with a poet/philosopher. The guy went to her house to ask for her hand in marriage. She agreed, and her parents were out of their skins. By now she was a sophomore in college. As soon as they got married, she was pressured by her husband’s family to have a child. The husband was on his family’s side. She gives in. She has a child when she’s in her third year. Her grades start going down. She has now no prospect of going to grad school. Finishes her undergraduate education. Starts looking for a job, but her mom refuses to baby-sit the child -- this prevents her from finding a proper job. Found a couple of students who needed help with their physics courses, but her husband publicly made fun of the meager income. She writes poetry, short stories, and is a trained Persian traditional music vocalist. Has been depressed for a number of years, and no-one knows for how long. She decides to burn her poetry and prose notebooks. Might have had an affair with a person who actually read her poems; she denies it, but no-one believes her. Wanted to get a divorce -- has been trying to, but to no success: it was made clear that her daughter would be taken away from her, and R’s mother makes it clear to her that she would not take her back. The fights. The pressure. The humiliation. And finally submission. Reduced to a nothing of a stay-home mom.
N. was born in the South of Tehran, in a traditional family. Went to a high-school for gifted students for half a year, but then her family made it clear that this was costing too much money. Studied French Literature at Tabriz University. She then went to Tehran University to get a master’s degree in ancient Iranian languages. Ranked first in the exam for “E’zaam”; she consequently got into Sorbonne to continue studying ancient languages; The Department of Higher Education was to pay her expenses. The Department of Higher Education first suspended her grant to leave Iran as the French government was passing a law banning all forms of religious representations, including Hijab, in high schools. This delayed her leaving Iran for 18 months until it was made clear by Sorbonne that it would not enforce such laws on its graduate students. It then turned out that she would need $900 per month to supplement her stipend from Sorbonne to be able to live in Paris -- the Department of Higher Education would only pay $500, whereas they were paying the man who had ranked 2 in the exam the entire $900. Her family refused to pay the additional $400, and not because they wouldn’t be able to. Meanwhile she is working at a certain Institute in Tehran doing research on Iranian languages. By now she reads and writes a number of pre-Islamic Iranian languages. At the same time, her family has increased its pressure on her to get married -- she is by now 31 years old, and they are getting worried about her age. The main suitor is a certain friend of her older brother: a cattle owner from a village in Kurdistan, who has a high school diploma. He has made it clear that he loves her, but that her studies and intellectual curiosities are of no consequence to him: He wants to a stay-home wife. The Department of Higher Education has informed her that she should choose a different school. They write to her that “Sorbonne is a mediocre school, and it is recommended that students go to first rate schools.” This delays her leaving Iran even further. The financial issue not resolved. She is giving up. Another year passes. She is 33 years old. She gives up. Agrees to marry the brother’s friend. She gets engaged to the friend. Comment