It was the summer of 1993 when I went back to Iran for my first visit after four years of being away. I was extremely happy, excited and emotional to be back in my old city and my old house, to walk in the old streets with my old friends and to see my dear relatives. At the time it felt so right to be back there that it did not seem that I had been away at all.
Nazila was my best friend from elementary school who I had kept in contact with by letters, so naturally we were mutually excited to see each other and to spend time with one another. One day Nazila and I had gone to Meidooneh Mohseni to walk around, look at the shops and eat my favorite ice cream. We were deep in conversation on our way back home heading down Mirdamad, when we heard a commotion. As a mini bus suddenly stopped in front of us, Nazila became fully aware of what was going on immediately and I remained unaware and confused. She told me to keep my head down and continue walking, but it was too late. Before I knew it we were being thrown into the mini bus by a group of women covered with black hejab like a dark cloud and men in ugly green uniforms carrying machine guns.
We were pushed to the back of the bus where a number of other ladies were sitting who had been picked up prior to us. The next scene immediately brought me into the land of fear from the land of confusion. The black hejab women and the gun carrying men were trying to pick up another lady after us, who was resisting them. She was screaming and yelling trying to stop them from taking her while the black hejab women were pulling her toward the mini bus. When their struggles did not avail they asked for help from one of the men (with guns) who eagerly stepped forward to assist. Due to not being either the lady's brother, father, nor husband, the man could not touch her in any way, so he used a blanket to carry out his task. Yes, he used a blanket to place a barrier between his hands and her body (which was fully clothed) to keep his "decency"! As the lady was pushed into the mini bus crying and screaming, the driver pressed hard on the gas and the mini bus took off.
While the drama with the lady and the blanket was going on I was desperately seeking answers as to what was happening? What had we done wrong? Nazila explained to me that we were going to be arrested for "indecency" by the authorities, however she could not give me answers as to why. We were fully covered with modest clothing and were wearing minimal make up. I was wearing a simple pair of blue jeans, black lace up flat shoes, a long and loose black robe and a good size head scarf. Nazila was covered head to toe with black loose clothing, although she did have just a tad bit more make up than I did (I had just started wearing light makeup). Nazila told me to quickly take off all of my rings (I was wearing four), which I did in a panic and placed them in my pocket. We made sure that our hair was covered fully under the scarf and did not know how els to "accommodate".
At some point I looked back at the row behind us where the other ladies were sitting. One of them calmly smiled at me and said "you girls will be OK, it is us who are definitely goners" as she was wearing a bright pink lipstick, green eye shadow, small colorful head scarf and other "improper" clothing. I gave her a reassuring smile.
As the mini bus was speeding off one of the black hejab women sat on the seat next to Nazila and I. Immediately Nazila started asking her questions as I was frozen in fear/disbelief/confusion. She inquired about why we were picked up and all the woman kept repeating over and over was: "I do not have to tell you as you know yourself what is wrong with your appearance". Really, neither one of us was aware of what we could have done differently to be more "proper" and "decent".
After many prompts the lady finally confessed on where our "indecency" lied. She told Nazila: "The only issue with you is that a corner of your neck was showing, but if you cover it with your head scarf you will be OK". Then she looked at me with disgust and said to me: "But you, you are wearing blue jeans. That is western clothing and a decent girl would not wear such a thing. And what is this watch? (it was the new big and colorful pop out Swatch watch that was in style those days) Have you no shame? This is far from the elegance of a lady which you should be displaying. How dare you?". I started to argue and defend my elegance, decency and propriety and my status of being a lady, when Nazila interrupted and apologized for my shameful display of ugliness and foul taste. I followed her lead and took my watch off and promised the woman that I will not wear blue jeans again.
Nazila continued to plead with the woman to let us go before the arrival at the dreaded "jail". So finally either the woman's heart softened or she became completely annoyed wishing to get rid of us and asked the driver to stop the mini bus. The man with the gun did not like the idea and tried to convince the black hejab woman that the trashy girls (Nazila & I) must learn our lesson and be punished for walking around town like whores. The woman laughed and assured him that we have learned our lesson and will reconsider our wardrobe. So the mini bus stopped in the middle of some street (by now I had no idea where we were) and as the man was grumbling and the woman was laughing at our fearful faces they let us go. We jumped out of the mini bus and started walking away as fast as we could.
On our way back home I entered the land of anger as I was cursing the city, the country and all of the people living in it. I wanted to get out of there and never go back. Nazila was listening to me quietly and not quite grasping why I was so utterly furious.
The reason why we were picked up by the authorities that day was not because they spotted the corner of Nazila's neck or my watch, it was because we were two young girls happily walking in the street. Who knows what would have happened to us if we had not been dropped off of the mini bus before they reached their destination. Jail sentence, calling of the parents, signing a document promising to "change", payment of a large sum of money would have been some of what it would entail. However, a greater part of it would have been a bigger blow to our dignity and pride, slashing of our happiness and joy and killing our zest for life.
I thank the Universe for taking me out of that dreadfully awful environment, yet I can not help but to feel guilty for leaving the rest of the dignified, elegant, decent ladies of my country to go through this injustice day after day. Women like Nazila who did not even grasp the fact that you could be angry about such treatment.