Thursday, February 10, 2011
I lost an uncle today.
I don't call my parents often. It is either the time difference or the mood difference. I have never been a talky kid. In the 18 years that I lived with my parents, I spent more time reading and listening (despite the fact that mother wanted and challenged us to be opinionated and expressive kids). I don't like talking about life trivia, and I prefer to write about other things. With my parents we rarely talk about anything serious. I am more of a hug and joke and play backgammon kind of a kid. If we talk, it is in the form of a fight over existentialist matters and politics. And then, we fight like cats and dogs. By "we" I mean mother and I. She is the cat, I am the dog. We talk affectionately though, when someone dies.
He was not my uncle, in a sense that he was not my father's brother in flesh. But he was my uncle in every other sense. I cannot say much about him, out of respect for his children. But his death triggered this memory of growing up during the war, during the sanctions. I am being the dog these days, biting people over Iranium, and over the misplaced activism of some Iranians who think if America bombs Iran (while they are tweeting or facebooking from Los Angeles), then Iran will turn into a heaven!
I had promised to turn this into a personal blog. So here's my memory.
I refer to him as He.
I was 13. It was the forth year of the war. My parents were both ill, and we didn't know. Seeking better medical care in Tehran, Mother was (falsely) diagnosed with cancer and her body organs were being removed. Father had fallen ill out of that stress, with a correctly and rapidly diagnosed heart attack (thanks to my aunt who had detected his unusual pulse and had rushed him to hospital before it happened). My two young siblings had chicken pox. I was suffering teenagehood and a sibling who was 3 years younger than me but acted 10 years older, controlling me and my promiscuous nature.
It was winter. It was cold, there was not enough oil in our oil-rich country to heat our homes. Fuel was rationed, food was rationed. Food and fuel rations were measures put in place by no one other than Mir Hossein Mousavi, the man who despite all political perils suffered in prisons, kept us fed and schooled when the bombs fell; when the American sanctions aimed to starve and break Iran's military knee; and when food money was used to buy American weapons from the Israeli middlemen!
We lived in a large house. The house was built 30 years before we moved to it. It was built to be an affluent home. My parents had invested all of the earning of their short successful careers to buy it. Their careers were cut short by the revolution. It is only when I was a grownup independent woman that I realized that that affluent home was the only wealth we possessed. It misled us (who kept nagging at mother asking for expensive 'western things'--not barbies of course, but just sneakers or jeans to make us look like Madonna) and others who kept asking father for financial aid and if refused, mistook us for stingy rich. But that's how my mother wanted it: "if people know you are a have-not, they won't help you out; they will just respect you less."
This house had high ceilings and more glass than brick walls! It was a bit of a non-functional architecture. It would have been an ideal summer home, but in fuel-rationed winters, keeping the dry sting of the desert winter from the soft skin of kids aged 13-3, two of which burning in fever and itching in pox, was not an easy feat for the littlest of grandmothers, who in addition to keeping them warm, had to feed and dress and take care of the education of kids, who were likely to be orphaned.
Both grandmother and the kids were shielded from the turmoil that mother and uncles suffered in Tehran. It was only "He" who was suffering agony, because He knew that my father was in critical condition.
Father needed to be operated immediately abroad. Doing a simple angiogram carried an 80% risk of death; it was not only the sanctions but also the fact that many specialists were either in the service of the war or had left the country to their Western homes, running away from the fascists who were making the lives of the rest of us hard. Certainly, my 45 year old parents, whose career was cut by the the revolution, had no money to afford such expensive medical trip. And even if they did, (as mother had considered selling the home and all to take father for treatment), getting visas in those days of American-flag-burning was not easy.
Through all that turmoil, He was keeping an eye on us, and on my father's business, while shielding us and even grandmother from the tragedy that was likely to befall on us. Because of him, things did not look as horrible as they do, as I am writing them 27 years later.
In those days, you had to stand in lineups to buy bread, rice, meat, butter or fuel. Of course, in all sanctions and wars, those who "have", or seem to have, do not suffer the perils of the average people. He was not an average member of the war-struck country. He was well respected, well connected and in food business. He had people to stand in line and get our food ration on coupons; and of course some of those items were not good-enough for us. Which middle-class Iranian would eat Taiwanese rice or drink Iranian tea? No one! he got us the best of Iranian rice and provided us the best of the Indian teas. He came to our house everyday, bringing us a stack of fresh bread, and providing for us all other essentials of life: soap, fuel, cookies, sugar, salt, fruit, meat, beans--all rationed too. Because of He our pseudo-orphanhood was not as horrible as it may have been for people who did not have such connections. But that is something I will never know; because as far as I recall, with the exception of "Taiwanese rice that didn't turn fluffy", I never heard major complaints about food shortage from others. Sanctions did not halt life, nor did fascism of the zealots. Iranians still managed to live and managed to have a little fun here and there.
Today, I learned that He is gone.
Mother said my father was at first inconsolable, but then he couldn't speak to me because he was out helping His family with funeral.
I cannot help my tears. He is walking through the green gate of our house, calls out to my grand mother: "khanom bozorg", he would say, "baratoon noon-e tazeh avordam" (I brought you fresh bread.) What touches me is that he did this mundane chore himself; that he never sent his minions. Respect for "khanom bozorg"s obliges noble men to humbleness. And he was noble.
Today, some British asshole has asked for tougher sanctions on Iran. Saudi Arabian pimps are surely lobbying "the powers" for war with Iran.
I am not worried.
I know my family is not hungry. I know my family will never be hungry. My father has had the operation for which he was urged to rush to the West, in Iran.
27 years later, I still shiver at the thought of what my life would have become if my parents had died then. 27 years later I do all in my power to make sure no 13 year old Iranian girl will have to shiver in cold because war is keeping the oil in the trenches.
But I know, that in Iran, it is not the government, not the king or Imam, and not the Western powers and the Eastern conspirators, but uncles like He that keep the fabric of the society together, when they take care of the sick, cold and hungry kids of their friends.
To "He" ... peace, love, and respect.
His memory eternal.
Posted by Naj