The airplane landed and we walked towards the immigration. In my turn the police officer asked me to cover my head with the scarf I was wearing on the neck. And it would be the same for the following days.
We arrived in Iran.
Our first days in Tehran, the capital, were very uncomfortable to me. It was very cold and my warmest clothes were a discrete green blouse and all my other T-shirts underneath. While I was walking through the streets I felt like I was being judged for a crime that I would not imagine what it could be. The look of disapproval was from men and women and I didn’t understand why. It’s maybe because of the combination of colours – pink scarf and green blouse – that shows all my “Brazility” which we almost don’t see in the women who are always dressing black and other dark colours. In the other hand they compensate with makeup, which is the only way they found to openly express their vain, once just the face is allowed to be uncovered.
In 1979 Iran was marked by the Islamic Revolution that initially raised up as a movement to support democracy, whose the main objective was to condemn the life and government style adopted by Xá Reza Pahlevi, who at that time was in charge of the country, and set up better conditions to Iranian people.
By the end of the revolution, the Xá was deposed from power and Rohollah Khomeini, better known as Ayatollah Khomeini, took over the command as the religious and political leader. However the wish of renovation and freedom fed by the people ended up in new prohibitions, restrictions and a lot of fear. Among the new rules, the consumption and sale of any alcohol beverage were forbidden, as well as western movies and songs, and the hijab (scarf) became compulsory to all women, even tourists.
These characteristics added to a majorly Muslim population make Iran a convenient scenario to prejudiced and uninformed people. Anyway, just like in so many places, there are also a lot of things to be improved and, as usual, the women rights (or absence of it) are in the top of that list.
Every time we asked men about gender equality they answered: “Here we are all equal! The women can even work and drive!” One funny thing is that right after listening to one of these replies we met a very nice old man and when I reached out my hand to shake his he refused to touch me, because according to the Quran he can only touch his daughters and wife.
There is still a lot missing for equality, right? In this case, as far as we understood talking to Iranians, the role of woman and the way she is considered are totally related to the religious precepts they follow. Who practices it with more devotion usually follows all the rules strictly. This gave us the perception that an effective change in the women’s condition would be only possible starting from a deep revamp of those precepts.
It was then, just in the beginning, that the first thought of this experience came: even the men who are empathic with our cause are not under repressive and thirsty looks and prejudiced judgments that make us feel very little or a barbecue steak. We still have a long path to find our real consciousness of what equality means. I’m talking about women as well. We can’t fight causes like that if in the day to day life we judge each other by the compromising conduct and men use sexist insults against the women who acted in disagreement with his wishes or opinion.
As I am very lucky, Fe convinced himself that something “different” happened there and we used the cold weather to buy a coat that goes under the knees, so that I would feel more comfortable to conclude the Iran stage.
The regular women clothing is the coat that usually has a dark colour or black and should cover the legs and the backside, avoiding to show the curves of the body. During the summer is the same, but the textiles are softer and lighter. Further to that, as I already told, using the hijab is compulsory by law and the abstaining of use may end at the police station (Iran and Saudi Arabia are the only two countries that adopt this law).
With all the girls I’ve talked to I tried to push them to question themselves about the compulsory usage of hijab, how it was to live in Iran and what they would like to change. There were not so many, but the majority sad they don’t like to wear clothes that they can’t choose, neither to have to cover the hair, but they feel powerless to change this reality, once the rules are related to the Islamic law, which is the base of the government and cannot be changed.
One of the girls gave me funny answers. She is part of a very religious family and due to that she should use not only the hijab but the chador as well, that very long black cover from head to feet. I was curious and I did a lot of questions. For her, using the hijab and chador is something that they can’t fight against and that is the reason why she simply accepts, without resistance. At the same time, seems contradictory, but she listens to a hard rock song and said that loves to go to parties at friends’ house, when girls can take out the hijab and dress what they like to. In the end, I asked her if she had any curiosity about my life in Brazil and got as an answer a loud “no, thanks!”. This made me feel a bit ashamed, but maybe for her is better to keep on going without knowing how is life outside there.
For us as westerns, using hijab and chador seems to be a deep and absurd repression. But for me, who could really feel it, seemed to be just another way to make women as hostages of something imposed by society, as it happens with the beauty standards and the hidden sexism.
Even with all these differences, we had incredible experiences there. During our visit to the Tehran Peace Museum we could understand more about wars, authoritarian regimes, chemical weapons and its negative effects for several generations. Further to that, we also met Ali Ahmadi Dastjerdi, a young proactive volunteer and in love with Brazil. Thanks to him we went around the city and interacted with Iranian culture.
With Ali and Malaley Habibi, and Afghan refugee in Iran, we visited an amazing organisation called ILIA School, that takes care and educates Afghan children who most of the times live excluded in the country.
Iran has borders with some countries among Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, what makes the migration of refugees easier, the ones who arrive in the country looking for less extremes conditions compared to those they experience in the conflict zones and refugee camps. These people are completely marginalized and they can only get a formal job and go to schools if they get the documentation grant from the government, what seems to be almost an impossible task.
Observing this reality, the teacher Monireh Arezoomandi decided to act in favour of who is invisible to the rest of the world and founded ILIA. She doesn’t charge from the students and besides all the compulsory matters, the children also learn about the history of Afghanistan, so that they will be able to know and cultivate their own origins.
To the professor Monireh the biggest challenge is to re-educate families in a way that girls can grow more conscious. She believes that when these girls become mothers they will have conditions to transmit power, consciousness and lucidity to their children and start a slow revolution that puts woman in the centre of necessary changes to achieve a society – and government – less repressive, unequal and much more inclusive and coexistent.
I was very touched by the visit and more than ever I could understand how is the life of millions of people who live in war zones and are completely hostages of luck to survive.
We entered in one of the classrooms in which girls were learning English and it became a party. They helped me to use the hijab, told us which professions they would like to study for and even sang a song in English. While I was distributing the Think Twice Brasil bracelets I heard from one of the girls a vibrant “I love you”! We all started to laugh as a big demonstration of free love. To those girls who already have harsh stories and a tireless battle to survive with dignity, to listen to one “I love you” so spontaneous showed me that for many people the simple feeling of being looked by someone is already a huge proof of love.
I dare to say that this love is the same that circulates through the Iranian hearts. The love for life and for the opportunity of making it a special and individual choice, instead of impositions and oppressive rules.
With so many prohibitions, people keep obeying, but hopeful that things will change someday. To others, while they follow the protocols in the streets, at home they break the rules and enjoy very fun parties with homemade wine and beer, pop music, girls with free hair and youngster showing off with cigarettes.
This changes so much! The serious and hostile faces that walk through the city become in big smiles and long lasting laughs. Inside home is where they find a bit of the freedom that was took from them.
We had the chance to know these two sides and live inspiring experiences thanks to the friends we made there and this made me conclude, once more, that experiences are done simply by the people who take part on it. It’s nothing but this.
Our memories and what we miss are always related to the people who, somewhere in the world and during life, awoke some feeling in us.
This applies to the good and the bad. From Ethiopia, for example, we left disappointed by feeling that we were absorbed by the hostility of a big city, like São Paulo, with nobody available to show us the truth of that people. In Angola it was different… The poorest country we have been to was the one that gave us teachings on generosity, even still rebuilding themselves from a civil war that took many years.
The same happened in Iran. A Muslim country, women apparently repressed and people who seem to be always in alert. What we found was a safe country, in which people seem to take care of each other and organise themselves in silence against everything that take their freedom, besides an amazing culture that goes far beyond Persian carpets.
All this was only possible due to the generosity of the people we met and received us as part of their families. This fortified my belief that little acts can start a virtuous cycle of good feelings and memories on us and others. As the fox from The Little Prince used to say “you become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed” and how nice would be if we just captivate and cultivate the good?
We are remembered by our acts and words, through them we become examples to be followed. Or not. In moments like this that we are living, it’s never enough to remind that being alive, by itself, already impacts people’s life. So it would be good if we were all using our lives as a tool for positive impact, each one in his own way.
We are already missing Iran and aware of the teaching we learned summarized in one of the quotes I like the most, although I don’t know the author (if you know from reliable sources, please tell me!?): “Be strong, you never know who you are inspiring.”
Let’s be strong!
PS: For who wants to contribute with ILIA, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and find the best way to collaborate so much more children can have a brighter future with less suffering.