Dispatch | Deprivation
04 Apr 2012 03:34
Living with lack.
[ society ] "You're still not a man," exclaimed my uncle, his wife nodding in agreement. "So living on my own, with my own money, managing several staff, and being in my 30s still doesn't make me a man?" I gasped, knowing full well what was coming in response. I saved them the bother. "Not until I've married, right?" They both nodded in agreement.
Other than my lack of that one single credential for making it to manhood, this Nowruz was lacking a lot. For many it is a two-week break, a time to escape the city or even the country. This year, the rial's lack of value was one of the factors that led me to be one of the few who stayed put for a change. As tradition demands, I visited my few other close relatives who remain for what we call Eid Didani, yet although the tables were overflowing with fruit, nuts, and sweets, I was practically the only guest. In recent years, my relatives have been leaving the country and at the current pace I predict that next Nowruz will leave just my grandmother and I peeling fruit for one another.
"I've found you a suitable candidate," my grandmother shot across the room during one of the "didanis." I was dumbfounded. For years, she has been rejecting suggestions in our little game of my-marriage-with-whom. Her breasts are too small, she's too skinny, that one's too old, this one talks too much -- and I consider myself to be fussy. For years, she's been informing me about the declining standard of the contemporary Iranian girl and warning me how I'm better off looking outside of the country. The candidate in question was dual-ethnic like me, apparently an important factor. I asked if she'd set her scrupulous eye upon her, to which she replied that she hadn't, but she had seen her sisters, who were beautiful. That was the deciding point.
My aunt interrupted, "Maybe the 28-year-old sister is better for him." My grandmother looked disappointed with her daughter-in-law's flippancy. "Nobody will marry a 28-year-old."
I escaped the planning to chat with a distant relative, a 30-year-old female -- a Persian picture, no less, even if beyond my grandmother's acceptable threshold. She's jolly and friendly, with a relatively well-off family in a nice part of the town. Although she's employed, she certainly couldn't live off what she earns in her modest office job. I cheekily asked her about her candidates.
"They are plentiful, but they come with excess," she explained, "an excess of demands." Many of these demands are for her to cut off contact with any male friends. "But what about these male friends?" I asked. "Have you taken an interest?" She explained that there was plenty of interest there too. "When I've met with them they say that if I'm not willing to have sex with them then there will be no relationship. They even say that they have options that will give them sex if I don't." She went on to describe another sort. "They tell me that they already have a girlfriend and that they only want to meet me for sex." I felt awful. I know I've thought the same. I might hazard that she lacks a certain scowl which I've heard female friends say is essential wear in public in Iran.
I live with this tension, both in me and around me. It permeates through contemporary Iran. I sometimes wonder if all the demands of law and culture leave us with a heightened awareness of that which we are expected to ignore. Throughout Nowruz, I would see back-to-back Persian songs on the Persian music channels, each professing love for that special one. It felt odd to hear pop music so disconnected from the people. Contrary to those sappy songs, it seems we in Iran feel some sort of something for more than one -- the girls with the guys even. I've been on dates with girls who I've later found out were on the brink of marriage, seemingly weighing their options.
I often ask myself and others around me what's happening here that there's so much tension. "There's no good guys," the girls reply. "There's no good girls," the guys reply. Guys seemingly lack a sense of responsibility and are lazy, whereas girls have high expectations and are neurotic. I myself see that there is a dramatic difference between generations, yet the younger generations are bound to the older through a lack of real independence or any possibility of it. We cannot earn enough to afford the mobility we'd like, but on occasion we're offered a semblance of independence if we adhere to certain rules and traditions, like marriage.
I think a single word suffices here: trust. And the lack of it. We simply do not trust anyone and anything around us. We grow up with our parents preparing us for and warning us about those married days, like an upcoming war. We cannot trust our friends for they are friends only so long as they don't want the same thing as us. We cannot trust our colleagues because they want the same thing as us. We cannot trust our government because they want anything but us. We cannot trust foreigners because history has shown that they're not opposed to screwing us.
In conclusion, I'd like to note that if being married in Iran makes me a man, then being screwed in Iran makes a girl a woman. I'm being crude, but it's literally how we define the difference. And thus, we are contemporary Iran. We are its aging youth and we've learned to live with a lack of a lot.
Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau