Monday, May 31, 2010


I was not yet born when Malihe came to live with my family in the 1960s. She was about 13 years old at the time. In those days in Iran, it was very common and inexpensive for middle class families to have a maid. There was so much poverty that a lot of very young girls from low-income families would offer their services as maids.

Malihe was slightly retarded, able to understand conversations and respond appropriately, but unable to perform the simplest tasks without a lot of supervision. Having been neglected and abused since birth, she was ignorant of the most basic things such as how to use a bathroom properly, how to bathe and how to dress herself. It was going to be my mother’s task to teach her everything.

When my mom was looking for a maid, someone told her about Malihe, but they didn’t tell her about all of her limitations. When she came to live with us, my mom and the rest of the family were, totally, surprised about her state of being. After a few days, when my mother realized that Malihe needed a lot of care, training and attention and that was not what my mom had expected, she decided to take her back to her family. Mom remembers that Malihe, who was somewhat homesick, knew the way to her mother and stepfather’s house. My mother followed her on a 40-minute walk to a rundown house in a very poor neighborhood in my hometown. She saw Malihe’s mother in the yard working. When the mother saw Malihe, the first thing she said to her was, “What are you doing here Mali? You shouldn’t be here. Go back.” Mali is short for Malihe. When Malihe said that she had come to stay, the mother insisted that she should go back with my mom. At the same time, the stepfather came out to the yard with a large kitchen knife and told her that he would cut her head off if she didn’t go back. Terrified and in tears Malihe followed my mother back to our house and stayed with us. After that, she refused to see her mother and sister when they would come to our house to collect the money that my parents would give them for Malihe’s services. Her mother and sister always wanted to talk to her and see how she was doing, but she would disappear and hide in some corner of the house until they would leave. So, finally, after many years they stopped coming to see her. Malihe never referred to her mother as mom or mother. She always called her by her first name, Farang. I remember her running upstairs after opening the front door and seeing that her mother had come to see her saying, “Farang is here, I don’t want to see her.” She had come to adopt my family as hers, and she, also, had bad memories from her childhood with her family. She no longer felt a bond between herself and them. When my mom told me the story of Malihe’s parents not wanting her, I asked her how could they not want her. My mom said, “They were very poor and had too many challenges in life. They didn’t know how to deal with her.”

Malihe had a very small and slender frame, thick hair and big beautiful eyes. She was the most energetic person that I have ever known. She was up at 6:00 AM before every body else and loved to be busy. She loved having company. She was the happiest when we had guests. She loved to listen to the radio all the time. She had a portable radio that she carried with her everywhere she went. She fell asleep listening to it and woke up listening to it. She, also, loved jewelry. My mom had bought her long gold earrings and several bracelets. You could hear her jewelry when she entered a room. Since I was born after she came to live with us, her feelings toward me were maternal. She was a kind soul. I remember her playing with me all the time when I was little. I remember being in her arms going to our backyard feeding my dad’s chickens. She shared her food with me all the time. I even remember one day when I was about three years or so, she was working in the kitchen. I noticed that she was chewing gum. I told her that I wanted some gum, since she didn’t have any; she took out the gum out of her mouth and put it in mine. I was too young to know better. But she gave me everything she had if I asked for it. She was my friend and I loved her.

One day when I was about five and Malihe about nineteen, Malihe and I joined my mom and my sister, Zhaleh, in the family room. Apparently, someone had just died and they were talking about death. I asked my mom and my sister, “Is everybody going to die?” They said, “Yes, everyone will die someday.” I got all upset and while crying said, “But I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.” At the same time, Malihe got upset too and said, “I don’t want to die either.” My sister said, “Everyone dies, it’s not a bad thing.” Both Malihe and I said, “But we don’t want to die.” When my mom and sister saw us both so upset, they said, “OK, OK, you guys won’t die.” I asked, “Are you sure?” They repeated over and over, “We are sure, you two won’t die. Don’t worry.” After that Malihe and I relaxed feeling assured that everyone will die except for us. Happily, we went our way. Mentally, we were both about five years old, OK maybe Malihe was a little bit older than that, but not much.

When I went to first grade, I decided whatever I would learn at school, I would teach Malihe. I decided to spend a little bit of time with her every afternoon after school teaching her what I had learned that day. This way we would both learn to read and write together. I tried for several days, but it was too hard for Malihe, and she wasn’t that interested. I didn’t know how to explain things to her. Sadly, I gave up after a few days. I really thought I could teach her and how great it would be if we could read and write together. When I was in the middle school the first school for the mentally challenged was opened in my hometown. I remember thinking that was the place that Malihe should have gone. By then, Malihe was in her late twenties. The school was for children.

Malihe loved to work, clean and tidy things up. But her way of doing it made no sense. When she wanted to put things away, my clothes would end up in my dad’s closet, my sister’s in mine and so on. If we couldn’t find something, we knew that Malihe had probably done one of her infamous cleanups where things could be lost for days or weeks. Something that should be in the kitchen would end up in the basement or some other unusual place. We always had to ask her to find things that she had moved. No one could think of all the odd places she would put things. I remember, everyday when I would go to school, I would ask Malihe to stay away from my room, closet and things. When she would tell me your room is messy, I knew that meant that she was dying to go and clean it up in her own way of course, which terrified me. When I was a teenager and would sleep in until 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning during the summer, Malihe would get upset. Every day I was awakened by Malihe walking by my bedroom door and shouting, “Get up you lazy girl, it’s almost noon. Shame on you for sleeping so long.” Everyday I would say, “It’s my summer vacation, and I want to sleep in, don’t wake me up.” But the same exact thing would happen the next day. When I would get frustrated with her, my mom would say, “Malihe is like a mother to you. She washed your diapers when you were a baby.” meaning that I should be respectful to her. In reality, her picking on me was her way of mothering me and trying to discipline me.

When one of my cousins got pregnant, Malihe would ask me what do you think she is going to have? I would say, “I don’t know.” She would say, “I think, she’ll either have a boy or a girl.”

I always felt sorry for Malihe, because of her limitations in life. Her world consisted of helping my mother at home, cooking, cleaning, watering the plants, taking care of the garden, going to the bakery or other stores near my house to buy things for my mom, going to my sister’s house or friends’ house with us. It was a very simple life with no long-term goals. She was happy to be around people and the kids in the family. She was gentle, kind, giving and child like. Her vulnerability and simplicity was painful for me to see. I often felt like I needed to protect her. When she was upset about something, I made sure I talked to her and comforted her. As I grew older it was me who felt maternal toward her and protective of her. I knew that she would always need protection in life. She was no more than a child no matter how old she was.

The day I left home, when I was coming to the US, I said goodbye to her, hugged her and told her that I loved her. And I wondered if she really understood how much I loved her. Throughout the years I have thought about her often. I have talked to her many times on the phone. I have seen pictures of her. I have sent her presents. I will see her again someday. Throughout all the years that we have lived outside of Iran, Malihe has lived in my sister Azi’s household. Azi is a kind and gentle lady, and it makes me glad to know that Malihe is with her. Malihe has lived with my family for more than 40 years. She has seen three generations of my family be born. When I was at my family reunion in Dubai, over a month ago, I asked the youngest child who had come from Iran who she missed the most at home. She said, “I miss Malihe.” Malihe showers her love and affection on this child the same way she did on me.

A number of times in my life, I have had dreams that were significant to me. Some foretold future events that have come to pass. A couple of them have been about being close to a loved one. A little over a year ago, in a dream, I saw that Malihe was walking towards me. She looked about twenty years old and as beautiful as she used to look at that age. She was wearing a beautiful and clean red dress with white flowers. I was so happy to see her. When she got close to me, I asked her to sit next to me. I wanted to sit as close as possible to her. I kissed her face over and over and held her hands in my hands pressing them against my cheeks. She kissed my face and held my hands in hers. It felt so good to be near her. There was a glow around her body. In my dream, a veil had been removed, and I could feel the essence of her soul. Her essence was pure innocence. I could feel it. She was as pure and as innocent as a newborn child. I wanted to sit next to her beautiful being forever and bathe in the beauty of her loving soul. I was very attracted to the innocence that emanated from her. I didn’t want to be away from it. When I woke up, I started to cry, talking to Malihe, I kept telling her, “Don’t leave me yet, I need to be near you. I need you. I need you.” I wanted to hold on to what I was feeling in my dream. I didn’t want her to go away.

As I awoke, Malihe got further and further away from me. But I knew that through my dream I had seen and felt a glimpse of her innocent soul. In my dream, she had no limitations. She was whole and perfect. I knew that her mental retardation was just a veil and once removed there was a perfect and strong being underneath.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Seven Iranian Baha'i Prisoners

There are many Baha'is in prison in Iran solely because of their religious beliefs. Among them are the seven leaders of the Baha'i Faith in Iran. Below is an excerpt from the Baha'i World News Service website:

"NEW YORK — As seven Baha'i leaders in Iran enter their third year of imprisonment, new details about the harsh conditions of their incarceration have emerged, prompting renewed calls for their immediate release.

The prisoners are Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm.

"These innocent Baha'is have now been locked up for two full years in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, under conditions which clearly violate international standards," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations. "We call on the Iranian authorities to release them now, and ask the international community to join us in this plea. The dictates of justice demand no less."

The prisoners, former members of an informal group known as the Yaran, or "Friends," used to attend to the spiritual and social needs of the several hundred thousand Baha'is of Iran. They have been held in Evin prison since they were arrested in 2008 – six of them on 14 May and one of them two months earlier.

No court hearing was held until 12 January this year when they appeared in Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court. Charges including espionage, propaganda activities and "corruption on earth" were all denied. Further appearances took place on 7 February and 12 April.

"In the three trial sessions that have so far taken place, no evidence has been provided whatsoever of wrongdoing – making it all the more obvious that the prisoners are being held only because of their religious belief," said Ms. Dugal."