Not Without My Daughter
Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
Not for reproduction on other websites or in any other publishing format without author’s permission.
In 1987 Betty Mahmoody publised her true story “Not Without My Daughter”, which was turned into a movie by the same name in 1991. The Internet Movie Database plot outline reads: “Moody” is an Iranian doctor living in America with his American wife Betty and their child Mahtob. Wanting to see his homeland again, he convinces his wife to take a short holiday there with him and Mahtob. Betty is reluctant, as Iran is not a pleasant place, especially if you are American and female. Upon arrival in Iran, it appears that her worst fears are realized: Moody declares that they will be living there from now on. Betty is determined to escape from Iran, but taking her daughter with her presents a larger problem. But she won’t leave Iran – not without her daughter.
In june 2005 hardline former mayor of Teheran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, age 49, won the Iranian presidential elections in two rounds becoming the first non-clerical president after the 1979 revolution. Among his domestic plans are banning of “western” music and sex segregated sidewalks, to complement his propositions as mayor of segregated elevators and to construct new appartments to conform to an islamic society.
In this futuristic story, the fate of another mixed American-Iranian family, going to Iran after ten years with president Ahmadinejad, is told.
WARNING: People die in this story, but there is no explicit violence.
Bo_Emp, March 2006
Not Without My Daughter 2016
– history does not repeat itself
Thursday, August 10, 2016. The plane from Palestine to Iran is about half an hour from Imam Khomeini International Airport when Moody says to his daughter and wife “You better get dressed.” The women having crossed half the Middle East to reach a country having flights to Iran, were both conservatively dressed: A thin long sleeved white shirt topped by a plain sleveless dark dress reaching just above the ankles. Betty’s dress was dark green and Mahtob’s dark blue. They both entered the same lavatory. Betty tries removing as much of her makeup as possible. Then they both pull on a pair of black opaque pantyhose to completely cover their legs. Next they wound a small white scarf around their foreheads and knot them at the back. Following a large plain scarf mathing their dresses are wound around head and neck and knotted under the chin. Last they both done a veil by wrapping a black scarf over the lower part of their faces from nose and down and tying it at the back of their necks. Mahtob look at herself in the mirror and says “Must I wear this veil, I feel hot and breathless just by putting it on.” Her mother says “You know that the modesty laws of Iran from 2012 allows only hands and eyes showing for all women in public, including tourists and other foreigners. And being fifteen you have long passed the Iranian definition of a women, which is puberty.” They go back and fasten their seat belts.
In the airport terminal Moody shows their passports at the control, and they go directly for the exit, as they don’t bring any suitcases. Moody has been informed from his family that they will stand out as foreigners everywhere, if dressed even just partly in western clothing. Because of this they have sent their measurements to the family, which has arranged for some appropriate clothes.
In the arrival hall they look around for the entire family, which has promised to show up. Three quarters of the people are men. Nearly all the rest are black ghosts, covered in large chadors or abayas, some showing eyes, some part of eyes and some have covered eyes. They can’t count five women dressed like themselves. Then Moody spots his brother Nader, waves and they start walking toward him. As they get close they see that his son Farzad and Moody’s brother-in-law Ali is there as well. But where are the women? Moody embraces his brother and the other two. Betty and Mahtob say “Hello.” but only receive a slight nod from the men. Turning toward a group of women standing at a table ten meters behind them Moody’s brother says in English “Let’s go and meet the women”. The women do not go towards them. They form an unmoving circle with their heads bowed slightly towards each other. When they stand next to the women Nader says still in English “Here we have my wives, your sister, her co-wife and their daughter.” The five women slowly turn towards where the voice is coming from, and now Betty see that the face opening of their heavy black chadors is completely covered by an opague black piece of cloth. Further the front of the chadors is completely closed, as opposed to most chadors, which are open down the front and held close by a hand or the teeth. Moody’s brother takes some clothes items from the table. “I know you’re not used to dress like that, so we just brought the minimal to make you look like properly dressed women.” Saying that he unfolds a large semi-transparent black square scarf, and centers it on the head of Betty covering her down to her elbows. Next Mahtob is covered likewise. Then he takes a large chador, similarly to the other women’s, and puts it roughly over Betty’s head. Betty has to use her arms inside the chador, to place it with the face opening aligned with her face. Mahtob gets a chador as well. Their sight is now severely limited, the surroundings have turned grey, and as they start walking towards the exit, they both soon find out that they have to be careful each time they move their feet. Falling behind they see that the other women are guided like blinds by the men.
While driving to the house of Moody’s sister, Mahtob, who is squeezed in at the back seat of Ali’s car with his wives and their daughter, asks Ali “How far do we have to go?” He answers sharply “Women do not speak unless given permission.”
Arriving at Ali’s house all women are guided to the women’s section of the house. They all take off their chadors and face veils. Betty and Mahtob see that the other women are still completely covered, not showing any part of their skin. Everything except the face is covered by a thin but opaque chador with printed flower patterns in white, grey and black shades. Each woman has a different decoration. The chador is closed at the front except at the neck, where a buckle under the chin closes it around the head. When taking their outdoors clothes off the women had showed their arms, entirely covered by thick black gloves, pushed through slits in the indoor chadors. Now Nader’s two wives and the sister’s daughter Shirine, nine months younger than Mahtob, sit quietly on some rugs arms inside chadors, while the two women of the house has gone to the kitchen. Betty and Mahtob sit down facing them. At close range it is seen that their eyes are covered by slightly transparent black cloth, while the rest of the face is further covered by opaque black cloth. Betty says in English “We are happy to meet you.” The woman facing Betty pulls out her right hand and place it on Betty’s mouth. Then Shirine leaves and returns shortly after with a note block and a pencil. She writes a couple of lines in Farsi and hand the block to Betty. She shakes her head, because she can’t read Farsi. They all just sit quietly for some time. The women from the kitchen cross the room with food and drinking for the men. Shortly after they go back to the kitchen and return placing glases with lemonade in front of the women. From inside their chador the women unbuckle under their chin. Then the scarf covering the lower part of their face and neck is pushed until an edge shows in the triangle opened by unbuckling. A hand comes through the slit and pulls at the scarf edge from the outside until there is room for the glass under the scarf. They drink, still without showing skin. Betty signals Mahtob to drink likewise by pulling a little at the bottom of their veils. After a while there is a knocking on the door to the men’s section. One of the women of the house puts her scarf inside the chador, buckles it and goes to the door. She returns immediately with what the men has left of the food. A pile of white gloves are placed between the women. They all put one on their right hand and start taking food from the dishes up under their scarf to the mouth. When finished eating the white gloves are taken off and discarded in an empty dish. The scarves are put inside the chadors, which are buckled. The women of the house and the daughter leave to do the dishes.
The wives of Nader just sit quietly doing nothing. After fifteen minutes the women in the kitchen return and sit down quietly as well. An hour later a woman goes to the kitchen to make tea, which she first brings to the men and afterwards a seperate pot to the women. After thirty minutes more the call for prayer is heard. They prey. A quarter after the prayer there is a knocking on the door to the men’s section. Moodys sister Soraya goes through the door. The door has hardly closed as she returns, and goes to the outdoor chadors and points to them. The wives of the brother rise, both make a bow towards each of the other women, go and put the veil and chador on, and are then guided out through the door to the men’s section.
Ten minutes later Ali enters the room of the women and says in English “Betty and Mahtob come. We go to your new home. Bring the outer garments, but there is no need to put them on.” They follow him to the men’s section, where Moody waits. They go outside the house in the walled yard between the house and the street. A door in the wall to the right is the entrance to another house. Unlocking the door and handing the key to Moody Ali says “This house is part of my property as well. As with my own house, there is only this outer door to the common yard. This means our women can see each other without going out in public. But remember to come from one women’s section to the other, you have to pass the men’s section of both houses, where male guests may stay. Moody, we haven’t decided if I may see your family after they get properly dressed. Come over for breakfast, then we can talk until going to the friday prayers. Good night.” He returns to his own house.
As soon as Moody, Betty and Mahtob are alone, the women take of their veils and start shouting at Moody “Do you know we never saw any of the women, and they didn’t say a word all day, and they did hardly move except when eating.” Moody says “Try to be patient. It’s a different culture. I know, they are very conservative people and they are firm beleivers in president Ahmadinejad and his lead towards a more pious society. They are probably not like that, when you get to know each other a little better. There is a language barrier. And then I might guess, they are not allowed to speak, when there are male strangers in the house.” “I feel like going home already.” both women say. Moody says “We can’t judge from half a day. We have promised to stay for a month remember. This is our home for the time being. It’s been a very long journey. Let’s all get some sleep.” With that he takes a thin blanket from a shelf and lies down on a rug pulling the blanket on top. After some minutes of consideration the women go for the same, and Betty turns off the light.
They wake the next morning by the call to prayer. “Hurry!” Moody says as he runs to the bathroom. “I think they might have expected us right at the start of the morning prayer. Just wash as neccesary for prayer. And remember your veils.” Betty and Mahtob wash in two minutes, not doing their hair or anything else. Then they tighten their headscarves and put on the scarf veil. All three cross the yard and enters the other house. Ali is as expected praying. Moody quietly joins him, while the women enter the women’s section, where the women are praying as well. Moody and Mahtob line up behind the three women and starts praying as well. They immediately see that the women now are wearing a prayer gown in plain soft cotton, coloured very lightly in red, blue and green respectively. It is a one piece dress covering from the top of the head to the toes. No arms are seen, but the chadors used yesterday didn’t have sleeves either. As they stand behind them they can’t see how the faces are covered, but it is strange that no feet are seen. The cloth goes all around their feet, like they have stepped down into a sack. Betty has forgot time, when there is a knocking at the door to the men’s section. The blue prayer gown goes for the kitchen. She has to take small steps, as she can only move by stretching the fabric around her feet. The breakfast must have been prepared in advance for a minute later she returns with a tray with two glasses, a thermos and some toast. As she goes toward the men’s section they see the tray is carried by holding it through the fabric stretching to follow the outline of the thumb. The gown has no face opening, but as they turn to look at the other two, who have stopped praying and are now sitting on the rugs facing them, they see three small black spots, one at the mouth and one for each eye. They appear to be veiled inside the gown. Returning from the men’s section the woman goes to the kitchen and returns with another tray, containing five glasses, a thermos and a few pieces of toast. In one of the glases are a number of straws. After pouring the tea each of the gowned women take a glass and put a straw in it. Then there is a movement at the chin inside the gown. Betty notice the mouth hole is uncovered. They start drinking through the mouth hole. The toast apperantly is only for Betty and Mahtob. They eat politely by putting pieces of bread up under their veil. After about ten minutes tea break the tray with its content is returned to the kitchen, and they start praying again.
They have totally lost track of time. After what must have been hours Betty thinks she hears the front door slam. Twenty, thirty minutes later the prayer call sounds again. The men must have left for friday prayers at the mosque. About three quarters of an hour after the prayer call the green gown goes to the kitchen. The other keep praying. After twenty minutes the woman returns from the kitchen and continue praying. Probably another half hour passes, then there is the usual knocking. The green gown brings the lunch to the men, then goes to the kitchen for five cokes with straws for the women. At the next knocking a gown gets the mens leftovers and bring them to Betty and Mahtob. Prayers.
Afternoon tea break. Prayers.
Afternoon prayer call. Prayers continue.
Dinner for the men. Cokes. Prayers.
Leftovers for Betty and Mahtob. Prayers.
Evening prayer call. Prayers continue.
Ali enters saying “Moody’s waiting.” They go to the other house and sleep immediately.
It’s saturday morning – a normal working day in Iran. Moody, Betty and Mahtob pray in their own house, dress as the days before, and goes to the other house for breakfast. The other women do not eat, apperently they have eaten already. Betty and Mahtob eat quickly. The wives, Soraya and Maryam, are dressed in indoor chadors as on thursday. But the daughter, Shirine, now wears her school uniform. Soraya goes to Mahtob and starts removing her clothes. Mahtob doesn’t understand, but doesn’t mind, as she thinks she’s been wearing too much ever since arriving in Iran. When she’s only wearing panties, the woman opens a closet, where she takes a pair of white pantyhose, which Mahtob puts on. Then she takes a red shalwar kameez set – wide pakistani trousers and a matching shirt to the knees with long sleeves. This she puts on as well. Next her hair is combed before it is covered by small white scarf going down to her eye brows and knotted at the back of the head. Then a larger white scarf is placed over the lower face up to the eyes and knotted at the back of the head as well. And finally a thinner semi-transparent third white scarf is tied on top of the two other scarves covering the entire face and front of the neck. Her sight has a white blur added, but is not limited much. Now Mahtob only has to put on white gloves reaching to the elbows, a dark blue chador with arm slits and a pair of black shoes, and she is dressed exactly as Shirine ready for school. That is of course inside school. The school uniform is not a sufficient covering in the streets for girls as old as Shirine and Mahtob. Now they both put on the opague black veils and thick black chadors all the local women were wearing during the airport trip. Mahtob has never been blinded before. She’s afraid of bumping into something or tripping. A light push from the back on her left shoulder make her step forward and soon she’s in the men’s section. Ali says in English “School is only five minutes walk away, but since Mahtob is not used to walk completely covered, Moody and I will drive you”.
They guide the two girls out into the street and into the back seat of the car, then drive the short distance. As they stop at the curb opposite the school gate Moody starts opening his door. Immediately Ali says now in Farsi “Stop, stay here. It is a girl school. We’re not allowed to enter. And see the yellow line painted on the other sidewalk. It’s a woman sidewalk. We’re not even allowed to cross the street.” Then he rolls down the window and shouts towards some girls standing at the gates “Girls! Two of you!” Two girls, eight to ten, in blue school chadors and even unveiled eyes cross the street, while Ali goes out and open the back seat doors. The girls each guide a blind girl across the street and inside the school yard. The men drive home.
Shirine has removed her black chador and veil and has lifted Mahtob’s chador signalling she is allowed to do the same. Mahtob looks around at what must be several hundred girls all dressed the same but having different heights. It’s quite noisy nearly like an American school. An overwhelming sound after the complete silence at the house. Shirine is standing right beside her, when a girl of their own height passes by, a voice says in Farsi “Hello Farideh. Come and meet my cousin.” Mahtob is shocked. Shirine speaks. She doesn’t directly understand, but as the girl turns towards them, the meaning is clear. Shirine and Farideh show their arms and embrace each other. Then Farideh embraces Mahtob. This is a surprise as well and her arms are still inside the chador surprising Farideh. Shirine says something in Farsi, Mahtob guessing she’s explaining who she is. But how did Shirine recognize Farideh? They are all identically covered, not showing any skin. Then she notice a number below the school badge at the left side of the chest. Shirine and Farideh have different numbers, 1537 and 1512 respectively. She looks at her own chest, and reads 2854. 1537, 1537, 1537. Remembering this she’s able to follow Shirine without having to cling to her back.
A bell rings, and the three of them along with maybe fifty other girls enter a large room and find a desk at which they stand, arms inside chadors and heads slightly bowed. At the wall in front of them there is a large blackboard. The wall above the blackboard is covered in black cloth, and on both sides of the blackboard stand, what Mahtob beleive is teachers: Women in blue chadors but their faces are covered in black – not white as the girls around her. Suddenly a male voice fills the room. It’s coming from behind the blackboard. The black cloth is covering an opening to another room. Mahtob immediately recognize the speech as Arabic – the man is reciting the Quran. After reciting for five minutes, there is a short interval. Then he speaks a few Farsi words and continues with a new verse of the Quran. Suddenly all the girls around her starts repeating the verse. The voice starts speaking in Farsi. He’s explaining the verse. Then a new verse in arabic continues the Quranic lesson. It lasts ninety minutes. Then one of the teachers goes to a girl in the front row with a note. The girl goes to the blackboard, face the class and starts reading loud. Mahtob doesn’t understand what is going on, but after a few minutes the girl stops and looks around. Shirine pushes hard at Mahtob and signals her to follow her to the blackboard. Everybody looks at them, while the girl reads a little more from the note. She has been introduced to the class, and they go back to their desk. Everybody sit down and put a block of paper in front of them along with a pen. The girl at the blackboard now has a book in her hands. She reads one sentence. Pauses. Reads the next. Pauses. During each interval the girls writes down. They are training spelling. After more than two hours inside the class the bell rings. They all write their numbers at the top of the sheets and the teachers collect them. Then they silently walk out into the yard and the hundreds of girls line up behind a line of teachers near one end of the yard. They all stand in silence, most of them in the sun, with their head bowed for more than five minutes. Then the prayer call is heard from the local mosque. After fifteen minutes the teachers stop praying and walks inside. It’s noon break. Shirine immediately goes to a girl nearly in front of them. After catching her attention saying her name, Mahtob understands the name of Shirine and herself. The girl embraces Shirine and Mahtob, then says in English “You are from America. May I help you?” Mahtob feels a great wave of releif going through her. Now she may have some answers to the hundreds of questions her first days in Iran has presented. But the first thing she says is “Where is the lunch room? I’m very thirsty and quite hungry.” Nahid says “School is not considered a safe place to unveil as much as needed for eating and drinking. School chadors cannot be opened at chin. You have to wait until end of school between two and half past two.” Mahtob pities herself, but then poses her most burning question “Why don’t women speak?” Nahid says “The Quran teaches us to remain covered and silent not to tempt the men to think of sex, but using their mind to work hard allowing them to support and protect their family, which is the purpose of men. We beleive in great scholars from Qom saying it is not good for the men to be tempted even at home, because men even at home must think of improving life of their family. Even those men having regular jobs may occationally return home unexpectedly. This should not lead to sex. Scholars decided it is best that all married women are covered and silent always, except when husband wants to sleep with them or when bathing alone. We girls have passed puperty and are women in most ways. We are to be married in a few years, and then it is best for us to learn the life of married women, and do like them as much as possible.” The bell rings, and Mahtob soon realizes she won’t get more answers today, as there are no more breaks, and they are all headed for home directly after school.
The aftermoon is nearly identical to the morning. Quranic lesson and writing. Mahtob understands the importance of writing, when they’re rarely allowed to speak.
After school it takes a while to empty the yard. About half the girls are old enough to have to cover in black chador and blinding veil. They have to be connected with a male outside to guide them home. The girls below puperty are busy crossing the street with a block of large paper. The men waiting tell them a number to write down, then they go into the school yard showing the number around. When an older girl sees her number, she stops the girl carrying it, and put on her black veil and chador. Then she’s guided across the street to the man, and the young girl can accept a new number. Exactly like retreiving clothes in a wardrobe after the performance in a theater in the West. There is no car waiting for Mahtob and Shirine. Their fathers have send a young boy from the neighborhood. Going home, there is plenty of time for Mahtob to learn walking blinded in a thick chador.
4. Betty becomes a proper woman
As soon as the men return from their drive to the school, Ali knock at the door to the women’s section. When opened he tells to bring Betty covered in black veil and chador. She gets an opague veil like Mahtob and is guided to the men’s section. Ali says in English “Some proper Iranian clothes has been made for you. Now we take you to the dressmaker, to allow her to fit it right.” Moody guides her to the back seat of the car, and they drive.
After a short drive Betty is guided into a shop or house. A hand lift at her chador and she takes it and the black veil off. She sees a woman dressed as usual in a light printed chador with face entirely covered in black. The woman shows her a room with a bath and points to some clothes lying on a chair in the bathroom. The woman leaves and Betty happily takes a bath. After toweling and combing her hair she starts dressing. First there are black pantyhose, a shalwar kameez set and black long gloves. This set is mainly green. Then the chair is empty – there are no scarves to cover the head and no chador. She goes back to the other room, where the woman is waiting with a pot of tea. They sit on the rugs and the woman pours two glases. The woman unbuckles her chador, while Betty takes a large sip of the hot tea.
Betty finds herself lying on the rug. The woman and the tea is gone. Her head is still uncovered. She goes to the door not leading to the bathroom. It is locked. She knocks rather hard on the door. Nothing happens. After waiting a minute, she gets angry and forgets that women are not to be heard. She knocks wildly at the door and shouts at her full lungs. Then she discovers something is totally wrong. She can’t hear anything. That is, she can hear her fists at the door, but she can’t hear herself shouting. A shiver of cold goes through her body. She is afraid. She tries with a normal low voice to say Betty. Not a sound is heard. Then she repeats Betty, BEtty, BETty, BETTy, BETTY ending with what she feel is the loudest voice, she can produce. Only a flow of air is heard, no sound. She has been muted. Perhaps all the women are mute. And what about Mahtob! Then she sits down on the rug again and starts crying. She wants to get away from these insane people, out of Iran, as soon as possible. After waiting maybe an hour the door is unlocked and the woman enters. Betty has calmed down at least for a while, realizing the woman is not to blame and probably mute as well. The woman grabs her head and pull it gently back looking at the front of her neck. She nods as to say everything looks ok. Then she leaves the room shortly and returns with the clothes for Betty. She puts on the black scarf around her forehead and over her hair, then a black scarf over nose, mouth and neck, and then for the first time she is covering her eyes. The scarf covering the entire face seems very thin and transparent, but as it is knotted at the back of her head, she is surprised how much her vision has been reduced. The room becomes dark, she can’t see the details of the other woman’s chador. Is this how the world will look for her from now on? She puts on the indoor chador and buckles it at the chin. She understands the coming minutes will be totally dark, as the woman hands her the outer veil and black chador. She is guided out to the men, and the car drives back to the houses.
Entering the woman’s section of Ali’s house and taking her outer clothes off, she is immediately embraced by the other women in turn, last Mahtob. Then she is given a present to open: It’s an indoor chador same design as the others, but different patterns and colours. After a knocking at the door, the woman opening returns and pulls her to the door. Moody greets her, hands her another present and closes the door. She opens it in front of the other women: It’s a prayer gown, as they were wearing friday, but this one is light yellow. Then she is shown to the kitchen, where she has never been. She see a special dinner is in preparation. Going back to the sitting room she understands: They are celebrating that Mahtob and her are turned into decent submissive Iranian women. And she realizes that because the clothes are personal presents, each woman may be identified by that, as they all know, who got what pattern and colour, when. But at the first moment she’s alone with Mahtob, while the others are in the kitchen, she grabs a block of paper and a pen and write “I’M MUTE.” Below Mahtob writes “I CAN SPEAK AND SHIRINE CAN SPEAK.” Betty is somewhat releived and accepts she is being celebrated. Returning late in the evening to their own house, Betty immediately gets paper and pencil and writes “WHY AM I MUTE? LET’S GO HOME.” She hands it to Moody, who says “My family is very happy now, because you have adopted their dress code. Your voice has just been temporarily muted. It is a quite new invention of Iranian scientists. A small microchip has been inserted next to the nerve fiber controlling your vocal cords. The chip, which is selfpowered from the chemicals sourrounding it, surpresses the nerve signals activating the vocal cords, which means the air flow from your lungs is not transformed to sound. It is completely painless and free of risk. It has been tested on a number of women for more than six months, and they all regained their voice, when the microchip was removed. It is of course impossible, with a device designed a few years ago, to tell if the body will adapt to its function over many years, by stop sending nerve pulses for the vocal cords. I think it is a very clever and secure way of protecting the honour of the family. And this is not just my honour, but more important the honour of Ali and Nader as well. This device and the strict clothing is a small prize to pay for you to get to know my family and learn a modest and pious way of living, much closer to the ideals of our religion, than where we came from. And Mahtob likes Shirine and the new friends, she met at school.“ Mahtob nods. Betty is totally confused after the long explanation and what she has been through today. She just takes a blanket and lies down to sleep.
5. Not without my daughter
A month has passed. The time Moody said he would like to spent with his family before returning to the US. As Betty writes this to him, he just says “We don’t need to go back. We’re doing fine here. I’m a doctor. I can get a job here immediately. Here we are living as good muslims should do. We’re on the way to paradise.” Betty doesn’t think, they are doing fine. In fact they do close to nothing, except praying of course. Nothing much have changed from the first days. She spends most of her day at Ali’s house, where she share the house chores with Ali’s wives, but they rarely communicate. When finished cleaning or cooking, the women either pray or just sit silently down, waiting until the next meal needs to be prepared. Well a little has changed: Betty spend some of this time reading, trying to learn Farsi. Mahtob helps her, as she learns much faster, partly because she can be helped at school by Nahid, who speaks English. And she is going outside seeing. The women are allowed to go to the local bazar each day to buy food, most important fresh bread. For this thirty minutes trip taking place in the middle of the afternoon, their normal opague outdoor veil is replaced with a semi-transparent veil, like Betty and Mahtob had been put on at the airport. Because of the indoor veil beneath, they are only just able to see what is going on a few meters in front of them outside in the sunlight. The first couple of times Betty was at the bazar, she was of course accompagnied by one of Ali’s wives, but now that she has learned, where to go and how to do veiled shopping, she is alone. Apart from being alone with Mahtob, these are the best minutes in a week. And perhaps her best chance of escape. But of course she will not escape alone. Not without her daughter. She has discussed the escape with Mahtob. Betty has taken an extra semi-transparent outdoor veil and outdoor chador and hid it behind some clothes in their own house. Next time it is Betty’s turn to go to the bazar, they will try.
Two days later, while Mahtob is sitting and writing with Shirine, Betty tabs her on her shoulder showing a shopping bag. She is going to the bazar. Betty leaves. A few minutes later Mahtob signals Shirine she will fetch a book in their own house. She hurries out in the yard, where Betty is waiting with the hidden veil and chador. Mahtob puts them on and they hurry out in the street. The worst part is over. Here they look like any other women going shopping, home from a visit or even home from work, which some of the not so strict men allow their wives. Mahtob will be missed within minutes, but all the women can do is find a neighborhood boy, and send him to Ali’s office. Their plan is simple. They will walk to the outskirts of the city, steal a car and drive to Turkey. Betty has brought the shirt from her day of arrival. With that and her head uncovered, they hope anybody seeing her driving simply assumes, she is a man, as women never drive. As this trick will only work, if others only get a glimpse of her driving, they have to wait to the outskirts, where the traffic is flowing smoothly. Mahtob cannot do anything to help. It is her first time outside, without being totally blinded. They start walking towards the sun. They must find a car or somewhere to hide for the night before sunset, as it is unthinkable women are walking unaccompagnied in the evening. After an hour they reach a main road, Betty thinks is going out of the city. They walk for another quarter observing the traffic is running smoothly. At a cafe they stand up against the wall, where they can’t be seen from the inside. After a number of cars just stopping shortly, they are lucky. An old red car parks right in front of them and the lonely driver goes inside. They carefully look inside and see him sitting down lighting a cigarette. They look inside the car: The key is there. Betty tears her outer chador and veil off, while Mahtob enters the passenger side. Betty drops the chador and shopping bag in Mahtob’s lap, as she enters the driver’s seat. Still with indoor veiling she starts the car and drives without looking back. After a few minutes drive she stop at a deserted building site with the motor running. Without leaving the seat, she pulls off her indoor chador, the scarves on her head, her gloves and her female looking shalwar kameez shirt, and puts on her white American shirt. Mahtob stay as she is completely veiled, as her only alternative would be lying down on the floor at the back seat. Betty looks at the gas supply. It is half full. She smiles at Mahtob pointing at the meter. Soon they are outside the city and driving towards Turkey. At sundown they stop at the side of the road. They empty the shopping bag, which contains two cokes. It is the best cokes they ever tasted, and it makes them dream of America. They continue their drive, while the sunlight disappear completely. Driving out of one of the larger towns on their route, suddenly a police car with horns and flashing lights are passing them and force them to stop. Oh no, they were so close. Had Betty been seen while driving through the town? Or has the report of the stolen car reached this far that fast? Immediately seing Betty, the policemen orders them both out, order Betty to put on her veils, and they are driven back to the town. Waiting for Moody and Ali in a locked room in the police station Mahtob says “As I understand the police men, the back lights of the car was out of order. But it was a good plan. Let us try again as soon as possible. I love you mom.”
Moody and Ali were of course furious. All the way to the police station and back again they discuss how such an act should be punished. But hiding the incident to preserve their honour was even more important. Moody payes an amount to the police men to file the report as “Driver taken to police station not accepting ticket for lights out of order.” And for not telling about the incident to anyone else. Men having American wives are few. If the story gets around, Moody will soon be suspected.
Mahtob must continue in school. At least for a while. Taking her out will start the talk, comprimising their honour. But when not at school she is to stay with the women in Ali’s house, except when sleeping. No walks to their own house for school books. To avoid she will just run out, her ankles are cuffed and connected with a short leather strap only allowing half a foot steps. And then Moody has new plans for her future. In Ali’s car outside the police station Betty’s hands were tied behind her back and her ankles tied together with pieces of rope. Coming home late at night, she was left like that on a rug, fully dressed in her outdoor veil and chador.
Next morning Moody reaches up under her chadors and unties her hands. She is placed on the toilet only allowed to lift her chadors and push her trousers and pantyhose down to the ankles. Moody watches her through the door. When finished and clothes back in place, he ties her arms again. Betty is guided to Ali’s house for breakfast. Ali’s wives are instructed to remove the black chador and to fold the black veil back on the head to leave her mouth free, but the eyes covered. Then they must unbuckle her indoor chador and pull out the scarf covering her mouth. Then they are able to hold a glass of tea with a straw up under her scarf, and to feed her by using their own white gloved hand to bring food to her mouth. When the woman feeding her thinks she is finished, she is covered again. Moody guide her back to the women’s section of her own house. Place her on the middle of a rug and leaves, locking the door. Ali instructs his wives that one must go to Betty after finishing their own lunch. The same procedure of unveiling as breakfast, but she is given just a coke with a straw. The wife holds it, while Betty sucks, and as soon as the can is empty, the dress is put in order, and the wife returns to Ali’s house. The breakfast procedure is repeated at dinner. But Moody has bought cuffs with clips for Bettys ankles and wrists making it easier and more secure to handle her. To avoid having to fold the outer veil to keep her blinded, while there is access to the mouth, he has bought a sleep mask, which is placed on top of her indoor chador. Now the outdoor veil is just removed completely for eating and drinking. In fact it has no function for Betty’s view, but Moody insist she is wearing it, to keep a neat appearence for other to look at.
Betty is handled like this for thirty days. Except each friday morning, she is allowed to remove all her clothes and take a short bath. While Moody is looking of course. The relief of the bath and some minutes seeing is so intense, that she forgets her anger, and just redresses in identical fresh clothes afterwards. She enters a new week in darkness.
Nearly a year has passed. After the punishment everything was back as it was before. Except Betty was not allowed shopping trips, and Betty and Mahtob were not allowed to leave the women’s section of Ali’s house at the same time without Moody present. Both Mahtob and Betty have become pretty fluent in Farsi, and Betty enjoys reading Persian poetry and the newspaper as well.
It is sunday evening and Mahtob’s sixteenth birthday. They are having her favorite dishes, and she has already got a new pair of gloves from Betty (bought by Moody) and a new indoor chador from Ali’s family. Just as they have finished eating both Ali and Moody very unusually enter the women’s section, making all the women turn their back to them. Moody says “Mahtob, happy birthday. Today is a very special day. You are now sixteen, and according to Iranian law you can get married. Because of this I got a special birthday present for you.” He leans over her, and places a parcel in her lap. Mahtob opens and recovers a mask. A blank black mask, made of plastic or a similar compound, molded with all facial features, but no openings. Except five small holes. One in the middle of each eye, one for each nostril and one at the center of the mouth. Moody goes on “This mask is a modern continuation of the masks worn in the south of Iran for centuries. Yes Mahtob, you are going to the south. I’ve arranged a marriage with a very distinguished sheik in Bandar Abbas, who like us beleive in the virtues of strict veiling and the use of modern technology to get closer to the ideal life. He is sixty-four, and needs a second wife, because he has no children. We have agreed on a marriage on thursday, to let you start your life together on the holy friday. I’ve informed the school of your marriage, and the remaining three days you’ll stay here and do most of the housework, to let Soraya and Maryam value your skills. At the same time you can get used to wearing the mask.” Moody and Ali leave the women’s section. Mahtob and Betty are shocked. Married. They both understand it as separated. The worst that could happen, added to their already miserable situation. The party was over. For the rest of the evening Betty and Mahtob just sit with their heads on the other’s shoulder, not caring about what is happening around them.
Moody has set the alarm clock one hour early. He tells Betty and Mahtob to use the bathroom in a hurry and Betty to get dressed as usual, Mahtob is only to bring her dress – not put it on. Betty is told to take Mahtob’s indoor chador, remove the buckle at the neck and sew the opening shut with thread. Mahtob is told to dress in black pantyhose as usual, but then put on her gloves next. Then the usual shalwar kameez set, and the scarves that veil her head comletely. Then she is told to fetch an extra pair of gloves and knee high black socks. The socks are pulled over the wide legs of the trousers and the gloves over the sleeves of her shirt. Now both hands and feet are covered in two layers, and her fingers are not easy to move.
Meanwhile Moody has got a knife and goes to Mahtob. He puts a hand up under her veils until two fingers touch her nose. Then he makes a cut in the veils between his fingers halfway between her nose and upper lip. Next he takes the mask. “Put it on. You must be able to do it yourself.” She lifts it in its leather straps and pulls it against her veiled face. Then she buckles the straps. Her dark and blurred vision is turned to two indepent small circles of dark and blurred. Her peripheral vision has been limited to an extent, where she can’t see directly in front of her. Moody’s voice interrupts “Betty the chador.” Betty hands the chador to Mahtob, while Moody finds a straw. While Mahtob puts the chador on, Moody says “Take this and try to get it into your mouth,” while he hands her the straw. She has one hand under her chador pulling at her veils, and the other outside the chador through the arm slit. With the outside arm holding the straw against her veils through the mouth hole of the mask, she tries to stretch the veils to pull the cuts above her lip down to the mask hole. As she succeeds Moody says “Our veils are not made for wearing with a mask, but my improvisation worked. You’re able to drink.” Then he hands her a bottle saying “But as the mask is not to be removed during the day, you’re not able to eat. Here is a bottle of liquid nutrition for your breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have more, if you get hungry later. Now go to Soraya and Maryam. They will show or write you what to do. And be very quiet when crossing the men’s section of Ali’s house, he’s probably sleeping. Breakfast must be ready before the morning prayer, I beleive.” Dressed like this Mahtob for three days has to do everything all the women normally did, except going to the bazar, while at least one of Ali’s wives supervises her every move especially in the kitchen. If she used too many leaves, when cooking tea, or put too few bread slices on the tray for lunch, she was immediately stopped, shown what was wrong, and had to repeat the task. Between meals she is ordered to clean everywhere. She is hot and sweating all the time. There is no airflow under her clothes, as it is closed with socks and gloves. But the worst is her face, which is covered by a material totally blocking air.
Thursday morning, her wedding day, is totally different. She is allowed a long bath and to spend some time doing her hair, with Betty helping her. Even her face is done applying a small amount of makeup. When coming out from the bathroom, an unknown woman has arrived with lots of clothes – all white. First Mahtob is dressed in a very sexy lingerie set – g-string, top, long stockings and long gloves – just a little transparent to let the fantasy roll, and tight to enhance her curves, especially the breasts. Then an all white shalwar kameez set, with delicate embroidery and unusually wide legs and sleeves, is put on to hide the lingerie except hands and feet. These are soon covered with opaque white socks and short white gloves just covering the narrow part of the shalwar kameez at ankles and wrists. The woman finds a piece of paper and writes “PLEASE LEAVE FOR MORNING PRAYER AND BREAKFAST, WHILE I CONTINUE DRESSING. WE JUST NEED A POT OF TEA.” Moody and Betty goes to Ali’s house. After five minutes Betty returns with tea and leaves again. The woman takes two glases, she has brought, and pours the tea. She covers Betty with a large sheet, which she ties behind her neck. With a gesture she shows it is to avoid tea stains on her delicate clothes. Then she lift the glass to her mouth and let her drink. A minute later Mahtob is lying on the rug. The woman place a device on the front of her neck, which automatically locate the nerve to her vocal cords and insert the microchip. Now she can drink tea for an hour, while the drug loses its power. As Mahtob rise to a sitting position, the woman goes to her, and twist her left arm to an agonizing position. Mahtob’s face shows the surge of pain and her mouth opens wide, but there is no sound. The device has performed another successful muting. Now the dressing can continue. She steps into a skirt which is closed at the bottom. It is pulled up to her waist and fastened with a belt. A white underscarf covers her hair and her forehead down to the eye brows. Next a gag with a long plastic tube is put into her mouth and buckled with a strap at the back of the head. Then a bottle of liquid nutrition is placed in a strap on the waist belt, and the tube is connected to the bottle. Next a long khimar reaching her knees leaves only her face uncovered. A slightly transparent white scarf reaching from forehead to chest is used to cover her face and tied at the back of the head. The scarf gives just a hint of the beauty hidden behind. The woman then takes a white mask, similar to the black Mahtob has been wearing for the last three days, except this one has only holes at the nostrils. As the woman fits it on her face Mahtob’s last white blurred view of her parents home disappears, and she realize, that when her mother brought the tea hours ago, it was the last time she saw her for a long time to come. Now that her legs, arms and face is properly covered only a few items remain: A standard large opaque veil, but of course in white, is put over her head, covering the masks facial contours and the head in general, and a thick white chador reaching the ground leaves only the veil to be seen in its face opening. To give her a special beatiful outer appearence for her wedding, and protecting her more than usual, which is appropriate for the most important day in a woman’s life, the dressing is topped by a white silk burqa with exquisite embroidery and a decorative headpiece. The clock has just passed eleven. Mahtob is ready for her wedding. The woman goes to Ali’s house to signal the bride is ready.
Betty and Ali’s wives come to Moody’s house to make sure everything is in order in the men’s section of the house. The best carpets and cushions are layed out to make it comfortable for the men during the ceremony. In the darkest corner of the room a cushion is placed, and Mahtob is guided to sit on it. The women lift the bottom of her burqa to make sure her chador is folded nicely around her, and touching the ground all the way round. Then the burqa is arranged in the same manner.
It’s a small family wedding. The participants all arrive shortly before the noon prayer. The bridegroom is alone, leaving his first wife locked up at home. Then there is a mullah representing the authorities, and finally Moody’s brother, Nader, who will be official witness together with Ali. The men go to Moody’s house, where the bride is, while all the other women go to the women’s section of Ali’s house. After the noon prayer the men sit down and sign the marriage contract. Then everybody congratulate the bridegroom and Moody. Mahtob is married. Moody is happy, because he found a man, who will give Mahtob a protected life according to their traditional beleifs. And the groom is happy, because he found a young woman, living almost as a woman should do, to give him an heir. And further the bride prize was very small, because a woman living many years in a decadent society, has low value.
After the ceremony all the men goes to Ali’s house, where a delicious lunch is ready. The bride is left alone in the locked room. In the women’s section nothing much happens. They all wear their normal clothes as they are drinking cokes and waiting for the leftovers from the men’s meal.
In the middle of the afternoon tea is served, and soon after the groom prepares to leave. The men all go to Ali’s house and assist the groom in guiding Mahtob out to the back seat of his car. He then takes the passenger seat, as he has hired a driver for the long ride to the south. For the following hours he sits dreaming about how it will be, when he removes the layers of cloth on the subject behind him.
Shortly after the newly married has left, the other guests leave as well. Besides more dishes to clean, it is just a normal thursday. Except for Betty.
Almost a year has passed since Mahtob left her parents house at her wedding. Moody did not like to interfere with the life of the sheik, and further Mahtob should learn to make it on her own. He did not want to visit his daughter so soon after the marriage. And the sheik send him a note every month, saying that Mahtob is doing well and in good health. Betty is daily thinking about how she can escape the country. But not without her daughter. So the first step is, how to reunite with Mahtob.
In the newspaper she reads about a case at the local court, where a newly married woman, without parents or brothers and sisters, have no immediate guardian, when her husband dies of cancer. The mullah in charge describes that a woman must always have a guardian. Most women live guarded by their father until married to their new guardian, the husband. If he dies, or the father dies before her daughter’s marriage, there is a sequence of relatives to take over: Back to father, adult sons, adult brothers, guardian of daughters. Betty thinks about her own family: Her father is dead, she has no sons and no brothers. This means the next in line after Moody is Mahtob’s husband. He is a man with all his influence in Bandar Abbas, which means Betty will be taken there, close to Mahtob, maybe even with her.
Two days later Moody stops working in the early aftenoon to drive to a golf course fifty kilometers away, as he usually does once a week. He does not return for dinner, but Betty is not aware of that, as she as always is eating with Ali’s wives, and she is not the one serving the men this evening. But an hour later, she’s asked to enter the men’s section immediately, without putting on her outer veil and chador. A policeman is present. Ali says “There has been an accident. Moody’s car was found at the bottom of a canyon. He was dead, when they reached the car. I’m very sorry. He was like a brother to me. You may sleep in my house today.” Betty wonders if Allah is on her side, or Moody was distracted by his cell phone ringing with a call from Ali’s house with strange noises, just as he was on the narrow mountain road. Ali is home for lunch the following day. He performs the noon prayer with the women. Afterwards he says “I talked to the mullah at the funeral. He says Mahtob’s husband is your new guardian. I have talked to him, and he is on his way to bring you to his home.” The sheik arrived of course alone. Late at night, she was at the sheik’s house. Mahtob and the co-wife were sleeping.
The following morning they took turns in the bathroom. They were not allowed to see each other naked. They had slept in their clothes from the previous day, took what they wanted to change from the closet before entering the bathroom, and came out covered as before in fresh clothes. Betty is handed a complete set of fresh clothes by the co-wife, as her own clothes is not unpacked. She has the first turn. The dressing is straight forward, as she is used to, but it is like Mahtob’s dress in the days before her wedding: Extra gloves, extra socks and the mask. Totally unaccustomed to the sight through the mask, she walks out of the bathroom as a blind. She hardly looks at Mahtob standing outside the door, waiting for her turn. After some minutes Mahtob comes out walking only a few steps out of the door. The co-wife comes and guides her to a cushion at the wall. Betty takes a close look at her. She is dressed identical to herself, but her mask has no eye holes. Betty sits down beside her, resting her head on Mahtob’s shoulder. They are together again. When the co-wife has brought breakfast to the sheik, and returned with tea and liquid nutrition for them, Betty gestures to her pointing at Mahtob’s eyes. The co-wife fetches paper and pen and writes “THIS WEEK MAHTOB NO HOLES, NEXT WEEK ME. SHEIK DECIDED ONLY ONE NEEDED FOR HOUSEWORK.”
With the paper at hand, Betty now carries out the next step in her plans. She writes “I WOULD LIKE TO BE YOUR THIRD WIFE.” Then she goes to the sheik and hands him the paper. With a very surprised look he says “I’ll let you know my decision.” Betty returns to the women’s section.
The next day just before noon prayer the sheik comes to the women, and says “I was at the mullah this morning. Betty you are now my wife. Let’s wait for the prayer call, and thank Allah together.” Betty was not surprised. She had found out he had three options: First he could marry her to someone else. As not young anymore and with non-muslim parents and upbringing, it would be hard to find someone else. And with someone else she could behave badly, ruining his honour. Second he could kill her. That would make Mahtob mad, and she would not give birth to his children. Third he could marry her, and Mahtob would please him more. Further she was in his custody, where chances of unappropriate behaviour was less, and such behaviour getting known even less. After the prayer the sheik says “To celebrate the new family, I’ve bought something we all can enjoy for lunch: Freshly squeezed orange juice. And for my new wife I got a present.” He hands Betty a parcel, which when opened contains a new mask without eye holes. The sheik says “I’m sure you’re longing to avoid the sad sight of earthly life. But as you need to be accustomed to how things are done in this house, you’ll wear the mask with eye holes until two turns with my first and second wife has passed.” Betty is positively surprised. She will get two weeks, where Mahtob and her can see and write with each other, before communication will be reduced to hugs and squeezing hands.
9. With the sheik
A year passes and nothing happens. Mahtob doesn’t even get pregnant, even if the sheik tries every thursday evening. Then one day, in a week where Betty is seeing, there is a knocking on the door late in the afternoon. Betty opens to see a policeman. He announces that the sheik has suffered a heart attack. Their husband has died. He will lock the outer door and return the following day with a man from the Ministry of Widows. Betty has kept the old newspaper about the line of guardians. She reads the column once more, without finding an answer, as she believes the co-wife has no brothers. The next day at two o’clock the policeman arrives with another man. They are all assembled in the men’s section. The other man says “We found a solution. But it will take a little time. Would you make us some tea?” When Betty has brought the tea, the man continues “All you have to do is to confirm you read this legal document, by printing your thumb with this ink at the bottom of the page. I knew the sheik and his efforts to keep his wives modest and covered at all times, even between you. So I suggest you go into the women’s section one at a time, take off your mask and eye veil and your gloves on the right hand, read and sign the document, cover and then return. Let the first wife begin.” Betty guides the first wife through the door and returns closing it. After five minutes the first wife knocks on the door. Betty opens and guides her to sit facing the wall.
Mahtob is guided to the other room. After five minutes more Mahtob knocks on the door. She is guided to sit at the wall as well.
Betty goes to the other room. She removes her chador, mask, eye veil and the two gloves on her right hand. Then she reads the paper, which contains juridical clauses, she don’t understand. She puts her thumb down in the open ink bottle and presses it at the paper to the right of the two other prints. Then she puts on her gloves again, but has to put them both on top of her sleeve. Then she veils and masks herself, puts on the chador and returns to the other. As they are all back the man from the ministry says “We’ll have to wait maybe half an hour, please sit down.” Betty goes and sits between the two other women facing the wall. They all have their heads bowed. Nothing happens for twenty minutes. Then the first wife suddenly rises her head and lies down on her back. Betty cannot hear the men react. After five minutes more Mahtob rises her head and lies down on her back as well. Betty isn’t sure that everything is allright, but as the men does not rise, she beleive it is. After five more minutes Betty feels her head getting very light.
The man from the ministry tells the policeman “You may deal with them now.”
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