Heaven and hell
[ places - april 02 ]
Wedding in Khomein
Azam has just woken up. Her father killed a man with a blow from his spade in a fight over water and was imprisoned. Her mother remarried, but the new husband didn't want the child. When her father was released from prison, he did not want her either, so Azam lives with her grandmother. She has inflamed eyes. There is no running water in the village, so Azam brings me water in a pot from the river because I was from Tehran and must be sophisticated. We go from house to house. The whole village is going to the wedding.
Akram is 17 and very shy; her marriage is arranged. The day before she was depilated all over, and on the day of the wedding, the skin around her eyebrows is still red where they were plucked. She looks terrified. In some villages, brides go to the hairdresser and choose a style from a pattern book, heavily-lacquered affairs with names like 'swan' and 'waterfall.' Village hairdressers are booked for the entire day so they can do all the guests - and the groom's father pays.
Akram's dress, handbag and gloves have been hired from the village shop and go back the day after the wedding.
Women, children and men sing, dance and play drums, but not all together.
Mohammed is 18, though he looks years older, and as shy as Akram. He is due to start his national service a week after the wedding. After the ceremony, Akram and Mohammed go into the bedroom, while their families wait outside to inspect the sheets as soon as they have had sex. Mohammed flees from the room in embarrassment, leaving Akram to face the families. Many village women prefer pregnancy and childbirth to sex.
Imamzadeh Hashem, in the Alborz mountains two hours' drive from Tehran, is where a group of women paragliders - modern women living in an Islamic state - gather. Even though they are far from Tehran's morality squad vigilantes and the main road, they stick to strict dress codes (chador, maghnae'h and manto) in case of intruders and, to be doubly sure, prop their image of the Ayatollah against the van and unfurl their flag. Fatemeh Asgharpoor, a mother of three, told me: "In addition to all that has already been said about women's lives in Tehran, add the summer heat. The hejab gets really annoying - Tehran is hot and polluted, and we feel boxed in. Any spare time I find, I come to the mountain and I feel free, away from the ordinary weight of being a woman in Iranian society. Flying through the air reduces my frustrations."