It is dawning on me in a deeper way that I am not safe here. My husband cannot keep me safe. He comes from a place I do not understand, cannot know. It is becoming clear there is a part of me that is “on my own”—-separate from a husband I thought I knew, could understand. I thought we are alike more than different. The opposite seems true. I spend more and more time in our rooms “resting” just to be away from this foreignness.


When I’m alone I have more time to think, so that’s what I do. Think and think and think! I am beginning to feel betrayed by my husband. He might have gotten arrested no matter what, since his name was already on a list, but Savak likely wouldn’t have kept him as long as they did had he not brought anti-Shaw literature in our luggage. He was naive and wouldn’t listen to me prior to flying. I tried to convince him it could be risky. He brushed it off. Angry? I am free to feel angry now. At him! A kind of fury is seeping inside me, like water looking for a low spot that keeps dribbling into an ever deeper pool.

I am not trusting my husband’s judgment on all kinds of things. He himself is suspect to me now. It is not a question of love. I sure still love him, desperately even, but a new reality is feeding an expansion of my own will, a sort of separation, part of a couple yet not a couple, like a limb tearing. Oddly, I can be in the same room with him yet feel like he’s very far away, an unknown commodity. Or is it me? I’m very far away. Marooned. 


My husband has gotten ill. Dysentery. His dad sends for a doctor who comes to the house. He is very dehydrated so the doctor orders an IV. Remarkably, my husband remains in the living room, on the floor like everyone else with tubing in his arm to pump fluid into it. He seems to be recovering before our very eyes. One of his brothers has also gotten sick. Probably something eaten from a vendor on the street. No wonder! He recovers quickly though with only rest. My husband takes longer to get well but it still doesn’t take a long time. Quicker than when I was at my most extreme from the food.

After a few days, my husband is recovered now from whatever made him ill. His dad decides we should get married by a Moslem priest, so our union can be blessed, legitimate. I begin to see all of his family more and more foreign. I am so very far away from them culturally. A moslem wedding I know nothing about, do not understand? I don’t really want to do this wedding business but part of me thinks “what the heck, I won’t know a word of it anyway.” 


The priest comes the next evening. We all sit on the floor like this is an ordinary activity but the mood is different. Everyone has a serious look on their face except one of my husband’s brothers. He sits removed and behind the priest a bit. He starts making funny faces at me, mimicking the priest but in an exaggerated way. It’s all I can do to not burst out laughing! Even though I can’t take this event seriously, it would be scandalous and rude to laugh. Oh God, won’t this ever end? At least all I have to do is act chaste, serious myself. How hard is that?

The following day we pack for the trip back to Tehran and home. My home! I can’t wait to get out of this country! I have never in my life felt so insignificant and small, as if something too long in a dryer has shrunk to half its original size from too much heat! At least it won’t take as long to get back to the capital since we will fly instead of taking the train. While the slower journey through the countryside was interesting, it took much longer. At least there’s speed with a plane.


Once at the Ahvaz airport it is hot, incredibly hot. Like Mehrabad Airport, most of the terminal is open-aired. We finally front up from the tediously long line to go through security. My father-in-law has bought us first class tickets so there’s a small mercy to look forward to since I’ve never had the pleasure of my anticipated comfort. 

We finally arrive at the endpoint for a final check before boarding. There are separate queues for men and women, which strikes me as odd. It becomes clear why, however, once I become first in line. The female officer frisks the woman in front of me, patting her down. Next, me! She goes through the same procedure from my neck, shoulders, breasts, waist-front and back, groin area and thighs. I don’t feel violated as much as I feel like a presumed suspect of sorts. It is chilling. Vulnerability writ large.

August 1977

The heat in Ahvaz is getting to me so my husband’s cousin decides to take me to a Public Bath. It is just for women and though feeling warm and a bit sticky, it is still refreshing. I might even smell the hint of chlorine which is a great alternative to the dank smell of human sweat in this ungodly heat.


When we enter, they give us towels for the pools of water we sit in. After a time, we make our way to the showers and it’s odd how some of the women still have some underclothes on. The incongruous picture in my mind of the belly dancer, barely dressed and gyrating at Nasser’s wedding and these women’s modesty feels sort of ridiculous to me.

After our time away from maleness, after sitting in shallow pools and showering, and after yet another stark contrast from the world I come from, we clean up, dry off and walk back to the house. Once there, I scoot into the rooms my husband and I share and crash on the bed. Waking later, I reluctantly go back to the frigid living room with the air conditioning set at sub zero temperatures. I’m aware of accumulating an internal shrinkage of my very own self, voiceless and small, without power or influence in a world I do not know.

The next day we go to a club on the edge of town. It seems to be a social club with maybe some sports activities but it is unclear what they might be. We sit on a veranda, looking off to an endless horizon, sand and yet more sand as far as the eye can see. In the distance is what looks like a mile high flame. I ask my husband what it is. A burn-off from gas or oil, he’s not sure which, but says it’s common in the oil fields of Iran. Nothing in this place—or the entire country for that matter—is familiar to me, nothing, and for the first time I begin to feel more and more desperate to go home, to things I know.

A Hundred Thirty Degrees

In contrast, next we walk along the streets of Ahvaz. It is dusty, hot, perpetually hot! People everywhere, like all cities but noisier, I swear. It seems there are more pedestrians than cars. There are a lot of open window shops, no glass. I tell my husband I’m thirsty and he guides me into one of them and asks if they have water. Out someone comes with a glass full, grimy and sticky. While horrified, I’m so thirsty I drink it down anyway and pray I don’t get dysentery!

We make our way outside again, hitting the dusty streets. Perpetually people ad infinitum! We walk by an open-air meat market. Glassless windows reveal hanging slabs of meat. They appear to be legs of lamb. Horrified yet again, flies roam around their exposed flesh like vultures, with attendants occasionally swatting them off. 

The troubling part about all this unfamiliarity is the aura of potential danger the entire atmosphere poses. How do people survive here? I seem to be more and more afraid in this environment. It’s not just even after what has happened with my husband’s jailing; it’s more than that. It’s the foreignness, the unpredictability, potential danger lurking everywhere. That, and the sense that all surface activity and function is camouflage for the real Iran underneath, for things more nefarious. At times I’m not even sure I can count on my own husband. Questions I ask him float into dismissals by him, in camouflage style behavior. Am I becoming paranoid? And who would blame me?! 


Back in our bedroom after the events of the day I’m alone again, consumed with fear. It envelops my mind, my skin, the walls. It feels like they’re closing in! Is it hard to breathe? Yes, I do believe it is. And yet, more than anything I am acutely aware I cannot “lose it” here. There is no one, no one—not even my husband— who can save me from this culture, this madness. After all, it is the world he comes from, his normal, the world that locked him up. Bizarrely, it is predictable in its unpredictability to him, one he understands and accepts. Me? I know nothing of such things and it is clear that as an American and as a woman, I am adrift without a liferaft or even a life jacket. In Tehran there seemed to be more resources, access. Here? Only my husband and his family. Foreign, all! I am so very alone.