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Profiles | Searching for Serenity: Fatima's Story

by ABI MEHREGAN

17 Sep 2012 22:02Comments
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[ dispatch ] Cross-legged, hands up, eyes closed, and energy flowing freely -- these are the 16 attendees of a meditation class held in Tehran's impoverished Imamzadeh Hassan neighborhood.

The program, which runs for eight terms of nine classes each, promises both physical and mental enlightenment. Classes are held at participants' homes on a rotating basis to evade the attention of the authorities. Such classes are regularly shut down and their organizers arrested throughout Iran.

The Islamist victors of the 1979 Revolution envisioned an Iran rooted in religious tradition. The desecularized state of the Islamic Republic explicitly promotes Islamic values and morals and has abandoned or suppressed much that is characteristically Iranian. This has prompted the cultivation of a counterculture that has become very visible.

Fatima is one of the participants in the meditation class. She leads a difficult life, and meditation provides balance. She was born 53 years ago near Ardabil. Her sweet voice mixes Turkish and Tehrani accents. She tells me her story, starting with her marriage at the age of 13.

"My first husband was cheap, mean, and 15 years older than me. I had no say in our marriage because my parents predetermined everything. Tradition prescribed this. We lived at his parents' home with his two sisters and brother. I acted as the family's cook rather than his bride, obedient to everyone.

"I struggled the first three years. I realized he smuggled drugs, and although I was embarrassed to speak up against this, I did so on religious grounds. As a result, he beat me. Treating me like a child, he expected my enduring obedience and acceptance of immoral income into the family. He even developed an addiction at the same that I was pregnant with our first child."

Upon their daughter's birth, conflict between the Fatima, her husband, and his family intensified. She left him and their child. "I returned to my parents' home in shame," she says.

Fatima's family farms a sliver of land in an impoverished village near Ardabil. She describes their dire living conditions, with a diet restricted to bread, cheese, and potatoes.

After working a few weeks, her father arranged a second marriage to a 55-year-old man. That lasted three months. "I think he felt bad for me because he was older than my father, and his kids were older than me. In three months, we spoke a handful of times. I took the two golden bracelets and ring I was given, sold them, and moved to Tehran," she says.

She stayed with her brother in the capital before moving to another brother's home in Isfahan. When that situation didn't work out, she returned to Tehran to stay at an uncle's. Her cousin enrolled in an hairdressing school, and Fatima sold one of the golden bracelets to join her. "I went to work at a hair salon for six months. I wanted to save up to visit my daughter," she says.

"The Iran-Iraq War changed everything. Tehran was bombarded, and we all returned to our villages. My cousin fought Saddam and came back wounded. He basically needed a companion who would act as a nurse, and my family insisted that we marry."

The newlyweds moved into a room in Tehran where Fatima cared for her husband. "I quit the hair salon, and we lived off of welfare," she says. His health slowly improved and Fatima, after giving birth to a son at the age of 29, returned to work. At 32, she had another child, her second daughter.

Fatima's husband eventually returned to work as well, but Fatima's daily existence did not improve. She worked for her own sustainment. "I sought God's protection. I wanted God to know my struggles, and never leave me," she says. Her life headed down a familiar path as her husband became a drug addict. He spent her money on himself. She turned to antidepressants. She worked a second job at a restaurant, making 9,000 tomans a month, until disputes with the owners led them to fire her on fabricated grounds, she says.

These events weighed heavily upon their children. Their daughter became extremely religious, wearing a black chador and attending Qur'an recital classes; at 16, she unsuccessfully attempted suicide three times. Their son dropped out of college. Everyone blamed the father. "On the one hand, I hate his guts; but on the other, I feel bad for him," Fatima says.

She finally convinced her husband to enter a detoxification program. After sobering up, he began to attend meditation classes and enjoyed them so much that he started to take his daughter and son along. "Meditation classes helped us find ourselves. I stopped taking antidepressants. Tranquility entered our lives and we felt things becoming better," Fatima says.

She says her daughter's own depression lifted, her son returned to academics, and her husband became a positive figure. "They arose from their cold winter's sleep," as Fatima describes it. However, after seven months of sobriety, her husband relapsed.

Fatima opens her eyes, lowers her arms, kneels down, and fixes her gaze on the instructor. She smiles at two of her fellow classmates: her 21-year-old daughter and 24-year-old son.

Before the end of the class, the instructor solicits questions. Fatima asks, "How do we distinguish an injustice?"

Abi Mehregan is a pen name. Abi is on the staff of Iran Labor Report and covers poverty for Tehran Bureau. Photo by Sina T via Flickr.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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