April 29, 2000
We entered the house to find relatives and close friends sitting around a beautiful meal: bowls of thick soup garnished with yogurt and dill, vegetable quiches decorated with fresh walnuts and fried onions, rice topped with cranberries and pistachios.
For years she did nothing but stay in her family's home. "My father is very prejudiced. He was embarrassed that I left my husband, so he wouldn't let me leave the house. My mother and sisters are good to me, but my father won't even talk to me." Finally after years of depression, Mahraz started taking control of her life again. She started working--even though her father discouraged her--and she has recently gone back to school to get her diploma.
"You are happy and safe aren't you? Do you have many worries or problems?" Mahraz asked us about life in America. "We do have worries, they are just different than the ones you have here," we tried to explain. "In America, kids usually don't stay with their parents once they've finished with school. They usually have to work and make money and pay for a place to live on their own."
Mahraz replied: "You work hard, yes? But it's good for the country. Your country moves forward while we stay the same."
"Maybe, but we lose a lot too. We do not spend as much time with our families. In general, we do not enjoy leisurely lunches and dinners with the whole family together like people do here in Iran. Often, people are too busy to even leave their offices for lunch!" we told her.
"I would like to live on my own, to be free, but I cannot. It just doesn't happen here in Iran. Women cannot live on their own," explained Mahraz. "In America, you don't have to get married if you don't want to, right?"
Even though we only spent a few hours together, Mahraz almost cried when it was time for us to leave. She rarely gets to talk to people like Abeja and I who do not judge her for divorcing her husband, and who are supportive of her and her dreams to have an education and a satisfying career. I too almost cried as we drove away. Although Mahraz was smiling and waving alongside her loving sisters, I couldn't help feeling sad.
What kind of future will she have? Will she ever have another choice to live with her parents? What will happen when her parents die? Will she find herself alone and old and unable to get a job she likes or find a husband who respects her?
There have been many times during this trek that I've been hit with the realization of how lucky I am to have grown up in America. Sometimes it's in the face of extreme poverty, remembering that I've never really been hungry or lacking a safe home to live in. Sometimes I realize how privileged I am to have safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Sometimes it has to do with how fortunate I am to be able to read and write and to have access to a good education. Then there are times when I realize how rare it is that my home is free of such life threatening diseases as malaria or leprosy. But today it's a realization of how limited the lives are of so many women all over the world. Today I realize how fortunate I am merely to have the freedom to choose what kind of work I will pursue, whether or not I will get married, who I want to live with. Making these life decisions without an entire culture judging me is a luxury.
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...email@example.com
Brian - Taught to Fear, Told What to Think: Revelations in Iran
Abeja - Songs To Iran
Monica - Mindin' Your Own Business! A Story About Cross-Cultural Interactions
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