Gordafarid Salahshouri, citizen journalist
I spend these cold days in Tehran watching the snowflakes from behind a window overlooking the street. I have pinned my hopes on this street, but it has been a while since the high school girls chanted, “Woman, Life, Freedom,” “Death to the dictator” and “Death to Khamenei” after class. Yesterday, as I was buying almonds from the father of one of the schoolgirls, I told him what was on my mind:
“By the way, nothing is happening? I miss their protests. I have been addicted to their protests.”
“Didn’t you hear? Two weeks ago, they dispersed the girls, arresting and taking away two of them. They haven’t been released yet. And if they are released, it would be on bail and things like that. Then their moms and their dads would stop them.”
Then he reminds me he is living in Shahram neighborhood: “Every night, at nine o’clock on the dot, we let the regime have it.”
“But this neighborhood is silent even at night. Maybe because my windows are closed, and the TV is loud?” I ask.
“There is a reason for it, madam. In this neighborhood we have six or seven high-rise buildings and apartment complexes, and each one of them has a superintendent and a few janitors and doorkeepers. Up to now, they have arrested three superintendents. Why? They want them to snitch on the apartments that turn off the lights and chant slogans. One of the janitors took pictures of those who had been killed from the Internet and put them up on the walls in the janitors’ room. The poor guy has been under arrest for 20 days. His wife came to the shop and told me about it, and said that until her husband is released, she can come to the shop and take whatever she needs on credit.”
I use the excuse of buying vegetables from an Afghan refugee to hear voices of hope and analyses from the neighborhood’s young women and retired men who spend their time watching satellite TV.
In our neighborhood, like in most other neighborhoods in Tehran, Afghan immigrants and refugees sell vegetables in baby carriages that they have recovered from the trash or wheeled carts. To keep spinach, basil, fenugreek, scallions, dill and radishes fresh, they cover them with moist sacks.
These days, when the snow and sub-zero cold can freeze you to death but have given the children the joy of playing with snow after so many years, chatting politics has a pleasant aroma that senior citizens like me cannot resist to.
“Mr. Abdollah, the vendor down the street, sells each batch 500 tomans cheaper,” I say.
“First of all, look at my vegetables. Just look at them.” He pulls out a batch of basil from a plastic bag and lifts it. “It’s bigger and, above all, I give you hand-picked vegetables that are grown in Shahriar with water from wells and god’s rain, whereas his vegetables are from southern Tehran, and they’re watered with sewage that is full of heavy metals which, according to environmentalists like you, cause cancer.”
A middle-aged woman mediates between us: “Ok, ok, the lady is satisfied. By the way, did you hear that they have arrested our superintendent?”
“Yes, the grocer told me,” I say.
“The same one whose daughter goes to high school? Poor guy! They will eventually release him when he signs a pledge, and they ask him to cooperate with them because they know that he has no property to put up as bail collateral. It was the same night when, early at dawn, they hanged Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini. God willing, one day in our lifetime they will also hang the heads of this regimes. My children and my husband went to Gisha neighborhood to chant slogans because we cannot take risks in our building and in our apartment complex until our superintendent is released.”
I buy a few batches of basil and some vegetables for the stew and set out for the bakery’s long line.
A young woman who is pulling a boy of two or three years old with one hand and a shopping cart with the other falls in step with me and, as if she wants to give some hope to an old woman, tells me: “I have a degree in applied chemistry. I worked for a company that inspects merchandise, but they downsized their staff. For the moment, I am taking care of my child and I read books at home. I also translated books for a while, but I decided that it was not worth it. But my husband has a chandelier shop with multiple display windows in Laleh Zar-e Now Street. He inherited it from his father. Otherwise, how could he own such a shop when he is 35-36 years old?”
We reach the bakery and wait in line. “From what I’ve heard, you and your husband no longer chant slogans at night,” I say.
“Listen, my dear My husband and other shop owners around him in Laleh Zar-e Now Street swear at the mullahs’ regime every chance they get. And, if my son is not asleep, my husband and I take him in our arms at 9 o’clock at night and go to Yousef Abad neighborhood, not far from these mullahs’ news agency IRNA. Then we chant slogans along with my husband’s relatives and his childhood friends and return home at midnight.”
I want to hear some words of hope, so I ask her: “For how long do you think this cat-and-mouse game is going to last? When will a million people fill Revolution Street and from there march to Palestine Street and the Leader’s home and finish it?”
The young women, the applied chemistry graduate and the former translator who is now a homemaker says: “We still have a long way to go. How can you finish the regime only by chanting slogans at night and hold a few street protests? Right now, the regime is devouring itself from inside like a hungry beast. Look, they executed Alireza Akbari, one of them. The guy was 61 years old. He retired in 2001 and went to the UK to, supposedly, do business. How come they retired such an important person at the Ministry of Defense when he was only 41 or 42? In a country where 90-year-old Ayatollah Jannati is still the secretary of the Guardian Council? Well, when the dominant faction of this regime puts the rope around the neck of such a person, it means that a violent power struggle is going on inside the regime itself. Furthermore, as we, chemists, put it, the inflation rate and the diminishing purchasing power of the people who live on their salaries are catalysts for more protests in the future.”
“Yes, the power struggle, which they also call the ‘succession crisis,’ nowadays is like the worms in the cesspool that eat each other after eating what’s in the cesspool. But we also need a roadmap and organization, don’t we?”
“Well, little tyrants like us who have no experience of equal rights at home cannot reach a roadmap within a few months. For the moment, ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ is the driving force of the fight. Then, we’ll have to see what happens.”
I buy the bread, pay 10,000 tomans for each loaf, and we very slowly return to our building. Now, I am pushing the shopping cart of the chemist-turned-homemaker and she is carrying her little boy.
I ask her: “I don’t want to be negative, but I do feel that protestors such as you and your husband are somewhat exhausted. Perhaps the arrest of the superintendent and the schoolgirls has aggravated this. Can you give me a reason to hope that during my lifetime these guys would go, and that we would have some kind of equality before the law, irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, ancestry, religion or irreligion, within this political and geographical boundary where I’ve lived for over 70 years?”
“The downfall of this regime is certain because even the duplicitous reformists won’t be allowed to take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections. And the rallies that the regime organizes in its own support would have to face protesters, perhaps not in the city of the living but in the city of the dead, in this or that cemetery, in ceremonies to mourn those killed. Each one of these ceremonies would remove one brick from the regime’s propaganda edifice and would make it more costly for the regime to maintain relations with Europe and the West. If this delegitimization of the regime and the string of mourning ceremonies do not bring down the regime, then the earth is flat.”
“What about the second part of my question?”
“First of all, attacking the Leader’s home at the end of Palestine Street would not happen without bloodshed. In the end, someday we’ll have to face all our cultural and historical contradictions. I don’t know what demons would come out of this Pandora’s box once we open it. But it’ll have to be opened one day. If after the downfall of the current regime, freedom of speech for all Iranians isn't secured, then I, my husband and others like us would once again fight for the equality of all Iranians before the law. And if our generation doesn’t achieve freedom, this little son of mine would continue on our path.”