Yasman, a 35-year-old skinny woman, with almond-shaped eyes and a wheat complexion, bears wrinkles around her eyes and is bent from the stress of overworking and living in a foreign country. She is a mother of two sons and a daughter, and her life has been marked by various highs and lows.
At the tender age of 15, Yasman was coerced by her father into marrying her cousin (son of her paternal aunt), thus beginning a new life marked by violence. Her husband, Esmat, was no stranger to a culture of beating and verbally abusing women in the village. He soon turned his aggression towards Yasman, subjecting her to numerous beatings and eventually sending her back to her father’s house. However, instead of providing support, Yasman’s father turned her away with the admonition: “We are relatives. Do not cause trouble among relatives. Go back to your husband and bear it.” Yasman was left with no choice but to return to her husband’s home and patiently endure the hardships of living in a crowded household with her in-laws.
Fifteen years ago, Esmat made the decision to emigrate to Iran, leaving Yasman feeling upset and despondent. Not only was she being separated from her parents, but also the fear of being left vulnerable and without protection if Esmat was to ever become violent with her added to her distress. Yasman made attempts to persuade Esmat to reconsider his decision, but her efforts proved futile. In response, Esmat threatened Yasman with divorce, saying: “If you go, fine, if you don’t go, let’s go to Mullah so that I can divorce you.”
Yasman ultimately agrees to Esmat’s plan and embarks on a treacherous and fear-filled illegal journey. After crossing the Afghanistan-Iran border multiple times, they finally reach Iran and settle into a farmhouse, starting a new life in a new country full of its own set of challenges. Yasman recounts having to work alone to support their household expenses while Esmat spends his time on the phone with unfamiliar women. Sometimes he suddenly leaves the house for several days and nights without explanation. At home, Esmat drags Yasman and their children out of their room and watches pornographic movies until late into the night. This behavior only adds to Yasman’s already challenging circumstances and makes her feel even more vulnerable and alone.
Whenever Yasman voices her concerns about these problems, Esmat threatens her with divorce, saying, “I’m not the only one responsible for providing for our children. You also need to work hard to support them. Otherwise, the door is over there, please leave the house!” Yasman was left with no choice but to keep calm, suck it up, and bottle up her feelings.
As years go by, Esmat denied his daughter and two sons the right to an education. He obliges everyone to work and at the end of each month, he takes their entire salary, leaving them with no money to buy clothes or food according to their own desires.
Yasman’s eldest son, now a teenager, has injured his spine due to the hard work imposed on him by his father. Besides physical harm, he is also suffering from psychological damage and lacks the courage to make even the smallest decisions. He is unable to express his opinions in social settings and meetings, appearing withdrawn and uncommunicative. His behavior is reminiscent of a person who has been traumatized or suppressed. Yasman attributes his condition to the mistreatment and oppression he has experienced at the hands of his father.
According to Yasman, her younger 12-year-old son requires assistance to move between rooms. “When he was three years old, we left him unattended at home with the television turned on to keep him entertained,” Yasman recounted. “He ended up watching TV for the entire day, which led to his vision deteriorating and necessitated us purchasing glasses for him.”
Yasman’s sole daughter, who likewise experienced a childhood marked by outbursts of rage and violence, has withdrawn from society and adopted a reclusive and timid lifestyle. Having witnessed her mother’s tears and screams as well as her father’s fury and aggression, the young girl now shuns all public appearances and lives a life of solitary silence. Yasman fears for her daughter’s future, uncertain which individual her father will force her to marry, potentially condemning her to a similar fate of victimhood and suffering as Yasman.
“Despite owning a house, land, and greenhouse, as well as a car, we still lack peace, good health, and comfort,” Yasman laments. “Our grueling, daily work in the greenhouses causes us to suffer from constant back, leg, and bone pain throughout the night. I watch in despair as my children waste away before my very eyes due to their unrelenting labor, and I feel powerless to ease their suffering”.
As a guest at Yasman’s home on Nowruz night, I couldn’t help but notice the pain and suffering underlying her short, silent laughter. I attempted to engage her in conversation, hoping to learn more about her unspoken struggles, life’s hardships, aspirations, and dreams. Regrettably, my efforts proved unsuccessful, and I was unable to draw out the deeper depths of her experiences.
In the morning, I noticed Yasman donning her work clothes and preparing to head out for work while the other guests and residents of the house were asleep soundly. “Please don’t go to work today,” I implored her. “As we celebrate Eid and embrace the joyous festivities, the cold weather outside makes it a perfect day to take a deep breath and enjoy the comforts of home.” She let out a deep sigh, responding, “I don’t have an Eid. I have no choice but to go to work, as my husband would be furious if he discovered I had skipped a day of work”.
“Why don’t you spend all this time on yourself?” I said to Yasman. “Work for yourself for a while. Save your money and buy newer clothes, comfortable shoes, and other things you need. You had the most unfashionable clothes at the party last night.” She replied with tears in her eyes, “When I come back from work at sunset, my husband grabs my money from my purse like a thief. I can’t save any money.”
Most nights, Esmat confronts Yasman with violence, saying, “Why are you coming home late from work? Where were you? I’m hungry and your hands aren’t moving fast enough.”