Years ago, my mother, father and I went to Esfahan one summer. One evening, after having been out sightseeing and strolling around Maidan-e Iman on a beautiful starlit evening, my dad asked my mother if we could take a bus back to our hotel instead of risking our lives in a taxi. My maman, having grown up in Iran and being accustomed to Iran’s unique driving etiquette, was never rattled by the fact that the only rule of the road in Iran is that there are no rules.
Although she didn’t particularly like riding buses, on this evening she agreed, but only for my dad’s peace of peace mind. After waiting at the bus stop for what seemed like an eternity amongst people who stared unapologetically at this Iranian woman standing with a man who was clearly a foreigner and boy they couldn’t quite figure out, our bus finally appeared. It was hot and humid that evening and when my mother looked into the windows of the bus as it squeaked to a halt, I could hear her groan. It was packed with more people than I’d ever seen crammed into a bus. It looked more like a can of sardines than a bus full of people.
When the doors of the bus finally opened, my dad and I followed the men into the front door of the bus while my mother entered the women’s door at the back of the bus. It has always struck me as odd that Iranian women are forced to go through the back door of buses like 1950s African Americans being forced to go to the backdoor of a restaurant for food. I guess the only real difference between the two is that America ’s “niggers” were African Americans while the Islamic Republic’s “niggers” are our grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, nieces and female cousins. Just as blacks were once considered to be mere second class American citizens, so too is it true of our women in Iran today.
Lest I digress further, let me get back to my story of the bus. Somehow, that night I got separated from my dad in the wall of sweating humanity entombed on that bus. People were everywhere. Every square millimeter of floor space was filled and every seat was taken with weary eyed and exhausted workers making their way home from a hard day’s work. With much effort, my dad made his way to the back of the male section on the bus until he was separated from my mother by only by a thin metal bar which served as the border between the male and female sections of the bus. It was only when my mother asked him, “where’s Lance” that he realized that I wasn’t behind him. They began to call out my name, but I couldn’t see them. Try as I might, I was unable to push through the wall of legs all around me. My dad was calling out to me in English, “Lance, where are you?” while my mother called out in Farsi, “Raheem, azizam, kojahee?” I could hear fear in her voice so I yelled back in my small voice, “I’m here mommy.” My mother clearly overreacted, but she was scared that I might get off, or get pushed off the bus accidentally and she wouldn’t be able to find me. H
er fears were, of course, unreasonable, but a mother’s fears for her children often are.
What she did next still blows my mind. Since my maman spoke Farsi which my dad could not, she told him to stay put while she went to find me. Without the slightest hesitation, or concern for her own safety she climbed under the bar separating the women from the men and began pushing her way through the crowd, who were surprised to see a woman in their side of the bus. “Raheem, jan, kojahee….beah inja, azizam” she called! Although my mother’s voice was like a beacon in the night to me, I could not make my way to her. There were just too many huge men blocking my way. How she was able to budge them as she made her way forward still amazes me. Such is the strength of an Iranian mother’s love for her children.
Finally, she pushed her petite, 51 kg, body forward to where I was tightly lodged. When I saw her sweet, but anguished face, she took me lovingly, but firmly by the hand to start the journey back to the rear of the bus. Suddenly, a big, burley man who was so morbidly obese that his fat not only filled, but was pouring out of the two seats he occupied shouted at her about being in the men’s section. Though frightened, she glared back at him and told him shut his mouth since she was only trying to find her child. Stunned at being snapped at by a woman a fourth his size and in front of so many other men, he dropped his head and didn’t say another word which is typical of all bully’s when someone stands up to them. As we made our way back the women’s section, no one else said a word to my maman.
When I heard of the women’s rights activists arrested and imprisoned in Evin Prison recently, the thought of my maman on the bus that day came to my mind though I can’t say why for sure. Surely, she was my Shir Zan that day. It took courage for her to flout Iran ’s strict laws on segregation of the sexes on public transport and come find me, but the courage that she showed in rescuing me is nothing when compared to the sea of courage shown by Iranian women living in Iran these past twenty-eight years under extremely difficult legal and social circumstances.
While there have been many men with strong and noble characters, during this time, that have supported our women and respected them as equals in all aspects of society, there have been many others who’ve either preferred to see them stripped of their dignity, their rights and their confidence by a legal system that condemns them to second class citizenship in their own county, or worse, men who have been so frightened of the regime that they have stood by in timid silence as their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, aunts, nieces and female cousins have been forced to