Letter by women’s rights and student activist Bahareh Hedayat (1)
By Bahareh Hedayat
Translation Arash Azizi
My Amin, My dear, the fourth anniversary of our wedding has arrived…
I am filled with so much happiness and disappointment that you would not believe. The girls have thrown a “glorious celebration”. Mahdieh [Golroo] baked two cakes, one for my birthday and one for our anniversary. I received a lot of gifts too, and many well wishes. I was made into a bride — and what a bride I was! I placed your picture on the table and pretended you were a groom from far away! It all went well. The girls (Mahdieh, Atefeh [Nabavi], Shabnam [Madadzadeh], and Maryam [Jalili]) did their all. For about one week they were busy knitting a beautiful doll. I kept messing with them and they with me!
Fariba [Kamalabadi] and Nooshin [Khadem] knitted a crop top [blouse]. Mahvash [Sabet] gave me a dress. Mahboubeh [Karami], Ladan [Mostofi], Elmira, Nazila [Dashti], Reyhaneh [Haj Ebrahim Dabagh], Jila [Karamzadeh Makvandi] and Nazanin [Khosravandi] gave gifts too. The others said congratulations and all that!
It was like this around Nowruz as well. We had a lot of fun. We were all happy!
Sometimes we break into tears and the secret within us comes out. But, I can’t really explain the situation in here. On the New Year equinox, for instance, after a few days of the girls’ preparation and cooperation, we made a large Haft Sin, gave gifts to each other, sang hymns, and each person prayed for herself. We danced and had a loud, collective lunch where we made fun of each other and laughed. But, right at the moment of the New Year, when we had all gathered around the table and joined our hands with each other (Imagine us with all our make up and beautiful clothes on), we automatically broke out in tears. I don’t recall hugging and kissing anyone that day who didn’t have red eyes and whose entire face wasn’t soaked in tears.
Bahareh Hedayat’s friends and family celebrate her 31st birthday in her absence at her home with Amin Ahmadian.
With all the injustice we go through and all the effort it takes to remain concentrated and strong, it is truly remarkable here. You can’t imagine how many mothers are in here who have young kids and teenagers at home but still appear so happy that you can’t believe what is taking place in the depth of their hearts.
Mahdieh and I had a race to eat cream-filled pastries. We tied. We were dying from laughter and having fun. Every afternoon [during the holiday season] we [had a party]. Imagine, a [different] “party” [each time] two or three beds away! We would play, perform, scream, cry, and then a happy New Year, again. [After the countdown to the New Year,] the elder ones begin to talk about their prison memories and we all become serious. We never watch TV — the programs are so bad. Kolah Ghermezi was on when we were on our way to a Nowruz ‘party’, or rather, we had people over!
For many of the Nowruz days we would have collective lunches, and we were very loud. In the last days of Nowruz the guys from ward 350 [the general section of Evin prison for men] sent us fish, herbs, rice, oil, saffron and a lot of ingredients. We made “Sabzi rice and fish” (the traditional Persian Nowruz dish).
Around Sizdeh Bedar we did all that we could. We had so much fun. We played and kept beating each other up so bad that my left feet and right arm is still in pain! The [Iranian authorities] made an exception on that day and gave us two hours to hang out in the passage behind the cells (because our yard is too small) where there is a row of trees and you can run in the corridor. We played Dast Reshte, Vasati, Zoo (Tag), the game where you throw the ball in the air and call somebody’s name, and a few other games. We made ourselves look like dolls and created different expressions with our faces and laughed. We had lunch after that.
Amin, I don’t know what people outside think of prison. Perhaps they think we only eat dried bread and cry all the time from depression. When a new one arrives, she usually says: “You are not doing that bad here! It’s good inn here, and I didn’t think it would be!” I tell them to wait a little more and they will discover that the hardship here is not because of comfort, clothing, and food. We use any excuse to throw a party or celebration. We do it more in here than outside the prison. But, there are many things we lack here as well — more than is known.
Aside from missing everyone (even though it is not possible to put it aside), you can see your life pass you by in front of your eyes. You have no natural environment to think and grow. Even if you try to read books and you are able to get your hands on books that are less censored, you still cannot challenge your thoughts. I sometimes observe how our analyses of the most ordinary pieces of news are full of illusions or our fears [surrounding the new] unfounded. I am reminded of the film, “Underground”, where a life was completely taking place under the ground. The little boy, who lived underground as an infant, asked his father when he finally went outside and saw the moon, “Father, is that the sun?” (or, maybe it was the other way around). He was shocked.
Here, we waste away a lot of our life. Even with happiness, what is taken along with the wind is also daunting.
I will never forget the first time that Fariba wanted to bring a flask of tea to the meeting with her daughter Taraneh. I saw her place sugar cubes on the tray but then take them away. Then she put some chocolates on tray but decides to replace them with dates! I said to her: “What are you doing?” She said that she was unable to remember how Taraneh took her tea. She ended up taking the sugar cubes, chocolates, and the dates!
I didn’t show any emotion with Fariba in the room but when she left I was unable to control my tears. Think about it. Taraneh was 12 when her mother was arrested and now she is 17. She is a mother but has forgotten little niceties of her motherhood because of oppression. Or, imagine the [women prisoners] with two or three-year old children. How much do you think Nasrin and Maryam have lost?
To be honest, saying “prison has no impact” is not an accurate statement, but those who say that “completely breaks you” are not on point either.
Here we live in another world, far away. When we return we are not the same people, and neither are you. The distance scares me, even though I know that for a conscious person it is not impossible to adapt to a new situation. But how much consciousness does one have?
A prisoner is very talented in coming up with abstract imaginings that are far from reality. A prisoner’s connection with the world outside is cut (or limited within specific lines), and the colorful world of outside the prison is limited to one color. The interesting part is that people outside prison are focused on the happenings inside the prison!
Let me stop there. These were all generalities. Don’t try to find meaning behind them! I talked a lot. Let’s get back to us.
I recall a day in university when you visited Dr. Manteghi, but I don’t remember why you went (publication, elections, the union, or another reason). You wanted to talk to him, and I was standing behind the door. I could see you through the slight opening in the door. I heard you say: “We are not kids anymore, Doctor! We are 27, 28 years old!” I think your words affected Dr. Manteghi just the way you wanted them too! My heart sank. I thought to myself: 27, 28 years old? He’s old! I am young! Damn! He is getting old but we’re not together yet! I like it that you were older. This was the reason I fell in love with you.
Let’s be serious, Amin! I am 31 years old now. We have been married for four years. It kind of feels weird, doesn’t it?
“When a loved one is away what is done unto you is unspeakable”
It is unspeakable… It really is unspeakable… and I shall not speak…
April 4, 2012