How would you feel if you lived in a country that arrested a young woman for wearing a skirt that showed her knees? That’s what happened recently to a young writer client of mine. Not only was she arrested, she was humiliated, thrown into a dirty jail, interrogated, and had her clothing stripped and taken from her. Here is a bit of what she wrote:
Guys, imagine yourselves in my shoes. You’re walking on the street with your friend and your cousin, going home from work after a long busy day, exhausted, when suddenly some guy stops you. You turn around, you see him and three other guys plus two ladies in chador running toward you, and you just freeze.
They force me into the van with eight other ladies, ranging from the age 13 to 45 or so, all looking decent but somehow defeated. They sit sad, angry, unable to do anything but sigh, cry, or talk loudly with the . . . I won’t call them cops. Cops are supposed to make you feel safe. These creatures only make you feel insecure.
I see the guy who stopped me and he’s laughing with the woman who’s apparently in charge. “Good job, I didn’t see that one, nice catch.”
Yeah, you think, you caught the savage murderer, right?
Now, I’m 24, and I’m not scared but angry, and I control myself, but I feel so darn horrible for that little girl, or that mom, or that other girl who’s about my age and says she just arrived to Tehran to buy something and leave.
We ask to contact our families, but they refuse to let us use our phones, threaten us when we try, but we hide your phones and texts our families to let them know where we are. We try to sound relaxed. “Mom, don’t panic please, all right? I’m totally okay. Just grab your ID card and a some of your own clothes and head for the police station down at . . .” and so on.
The girl on the left is thirteen. She’s crying. She’s scared. She’s not allowed to contact anyone, but I encourage her to send a text while I try to draw the attention to myself by speaking loudly. “Where the hell are you taking us? I should contact my family. This is kidnapping. Literally.”
They keep us in the hot van for an hour to watch other ladies cry, yell at the creatures, and ask to go to their families. One of them could be my mom. “I have two children, and my father’s in the hospital. . . . This is outrageous; look at me!”
They finally take us to the station after two hours. We are allowed to make one phone call. “And you must tell a family member to bring you clothes with ‘better hijab.’”
There are maybe fifty ladies there, so very different from one another. Different ages, different looks. Some are laughing as if this isn’t their first time, and I join them, but this is the first time someone’s insulted me in this . . . special sort of way. I try to comfort the younger ones, the ones who are shaking with tears, and calm the older ones, who are shaking with rage.
The police then take pictures of me. Not the professional regular mugshot but pictures of my body and uniform from all angles. I feel subjected to some indecent act. But I smile. I smile so wide in the pictures that the girl who’s taking the picture with that old completely unprofessional camera is completely bemused or even annoyed. I’m supposed to be crying and begging them to let me go, you see. I should be scared.
And I smile. I try to see it as a story in which I’m the hero who’s been arrested for . . . nothing.
They file my information, and then I sit there waiting for my new outfit for an hour or two, watching the faces of those who have forced me here. There’s that thirteen-year-old girl, who is forced to open the buttons of her uniform just because the one who arrested her realizes it’s ridiculous to bring her here and there’s nothing wrong with her her outfit. And that woman doesn’t want to get into trouble, so instead of letting the girl go and admitting her mistake, she’s creating trouble for the girl, who’s crying.
After two hours of being judged and humiliated, I change into the clothes they give me and they take my own clothes by force. They keep the “bad, indecent” clothes for themselves.
No, I’m not gonna call them cops. Thieves, maybe? A girl says her jeans are worth a lot to her, and when they refuse to give them back, she tears the jeans into pieces so they can’t have them either.
With a lot of trouble, they finally let us go. And now I have a record.
If you can walk on the streets in the country you live in and not worry about getting arrested for your clothes, then be happy about it. You have something a lot of people don’t.
Would You Help Share a Piece of Freedom?
It’s been in my heart from the moment I connected with this amazing young Iranian woman, who taught herself to read and write English just so she could write novels to share with the outside world, to bring her to America to attend the San Francisco Writers’ Conference in February. She has never been out of her country, and has watched those she loved die from brutality. Her dream is to become a writer who is free to write what is in her heart.
If you have it in your heart to share a piece of freedom this holiday season, please take one minute to do so. What will it cost you? About the price of a latte and scone at Starbuck’s. Are you willing to miss one quick coffee break to make a dream come true for a writer who dreams? Here is what she says:
“Iran is a complicated place. So complicated, that if I lived outside of my country even for a few years, I would slowly stop understanding it. From outside it’s a dark place. You walk inside, and you’re surprised it doesn’t seem so bad. Then you stay here for a few months, and you start understanding why people can’t dream here.”
She concludes: “It isn’t only because dreams are forbidden. It’s more because you slowly forget how to dream at all.”
How You Can Help
I’ve never solicited funds for anyone, or tried to push or promote my own books on my blog. But I feel sometimes we just need to stop and remember our blessings. To borrow from my client’s words above: “If you write what you want and do not fear for your life, then be happy about it.” Maybe helping just one writer won’t make a huge dent in the world or stop the injustices and oppression in other countries. But helping one person is helping light one candle to dispel the darkness.
So can you afford $10?
- If so, please go to PayPal here and copy and paste this e-mail into the window when you click on Send Money: firstname.lastname@example.org
- In the box asking the purpose, put “freedom.” Be sure to choose “I’m sending money to family and friends.”
If you’d like to donate more or less, any amount is greatly appreciated. I am responsible for coming up with funds for her transportation here in the states, as well as all her food, lodging, hotel, and travel (she has no money for any of this). She plans to stay two weeks and meet many people in the SF Iranian community.
Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada, the literary agents who put on this spectacular conference every year, have graciously offered to give her a scholarship to the conference and have invited her to speak. Let’s all help make this a great experience for her, sharing some hope and a piece of freedom so she can go back and write and be a light to this world!
Have a heart. Share a piece of yours. Appreciate your freedom this holiday season. Pray for peace and for world leaders to get a heart for their people.
UPDATE: My client was denied her visa. She spent all her savings flying to Dubai, where the interviewer accused her of falsifying the two letters she submitted (one was from me and the other from the directors of the conference). She was told to “get out.” Needless to say, this poor young woman was devastated. Her first trip out of Iran, fearful and worried, only to be treated so unkindly and sent home. So at this stage, I called every agency I could and left messages and wrote e-mails to the consulate in Dubai and other places. No one has answered me.
We will still try to find a way to bring her out, but there may not be time for her to attend the conference. And she cannot afford to travel to another country to try again to get a visa (she can’t do it in Iran). So any funds being donated at this point will be sent to her to help reimburse her travel expenses. Her father also borrowed money to help her go to her visa hearing.
So, thank you for helping, and if you feel inclined to donate to this cause, it’s much appreciated. She has not asked for any financial help, but I want to at least help her get back what she lost. And then we will do what we can to move forward to get her out to the US. Thank you for your help! ~ Susanne