A Day in the Life of a Campaigner
Sunday 14 October 2007
By: Nahid Mir Haj
Translated by: Taraneh Amin
9:00 a.m. Park Street
I am so late that I do not dare to look at my watch. I have to get moving. Why am I always late for my mammography appointments? I abhor mammography. Even so, I get ready. I have to walk most of the way. I finally get to the main street, sweaty and out of breath. I wait for a taxi. I holler: “south Felestin,” as each car passes by. Not one even slows down. I am forced to change course. This time I shout: “Straight, Straight….” A beat up Peykan Taxi comes to a screeching halt.
Will you take me to Felestin street?
No lady, didn’t you say straight?
I did, But I thought you may be kind enough…
No, I am busy, I have to run after my own personal errands.
There is a silence for a few seconds. The driver lets out a sigh: “Do you work?”
No, Why do you ask?
I look at him. He seems around 45. He checks me out in his rear view mirror and asks:
“Do you know that a group of women are gathering signatures?” I am startled and stunned. I hear my own voice saying: “No.”
You are a woman and you do not know?!
This time someone else is approaching me to get a signature. I am bewildered by this reversal of roles. I am curious to see how he is going to convince me to sign.
To tell you the truth I have heard that women want to change the laws that which discriminate against them.
How interesting! What laws are those?
He turns around and addresses me in a condescending tone: “You are not with it, are you? For goodness sake, you are a WOMAN?”
Well, don’t mock me. For the past couple of weeks I have been busy with doctor…
He interrupts me: “But this has been going on for months.”
What’s that? Signatures for what?
“They say women want to changes in laws that allow polygamy and temporary marriage, and are asking for equal compensation in injury and a few other laws that are harmful to them. They are seeking one million signatures.”
As he is talking he takes out a paper from his dashboard: “Read this.”
What is this?
This is their computer address. The first paper I handed to you is the one you need to sign.
I will definitely sign it, but I have a question. Where can I find more of these signature sheets?
In the computer. You can print more copies from there.
How can I get in touch with them, since I won’t see you again?
It is all there on their computer address.
10:30 a.m. Doctor’s office
After checking in I have to wait for a few minutes. I finally go in the examination room after the receptionist gives me a nod. The doctor’s repeated questions seem endless and in return are my short and choppy answers, clues to my inner fright. Finally there is a pause and as usual I do not miss a beat: “What do you think about the one million signature campaign? He looks at me astounded and asks: “What about a million signatures?”
I explain the inequality in laws and take out the booklet and hand it to him. I eagerly wait for his reaction. The doctor is more astounded. While trying to avoid eye contact he tells me: “This does not concern me. I don’t even have enough time for my wife and children let alone getting mixed up in social issues.”
You mean to tell me that you don’t have a daughter.
I do lady, but I don’t see the relevance.
You don’t see the relevance? What if your daughter’s life is one day threatened because of one of these laws?
Lady, Give me a break! I am not looking for trouble!
In the waiting room I start mingling with other patients and hand out the booklets. I emphasize to women to take the contents of this little booklet very seriously. The doctor peeks into the waiting room and gives me an unwelcoming look. I am disheartened.
12:30 p.m. Argentine Circle
After examining several broken carts, I settle on one. Like other women there, I too search for provisions in the midst of shelves packed with food. A woman with a black chador and a brown scarf underneath complains to me: “Do you see how much the price of meat has gone up this week? Not to mention that they pack it with meat trimmings underneath.” With these words I too open up to her: “We women got nothing going for us, our husbands are disloyal, their pleasure is always fulfilled outside the home, and then with the little money they give they expect to see gourmet food on the table every night.”
Lady, Don’t get me started for I am bleeding inside. My own husband is an opium addict. But my sister’s husband is even worse. Since he has become well-off he is not content with one or two women….
I sympathetically interrupt her: “You know what? We need to help women who are collecting signatures.”
Signatures? What about signatures?
A group of women have decided to collect one million signatures to petition the parliament to change laws such as temporary marriage, child custody, compensation….”
She abruptly cuts me off: “Wait a minute. Let’s move to the dairy section where there are fewer people, and you can give me the details. This may save my sister.”
I start walking alongside her. As we are walking through the isles, I show her the booklet. I tell her about the unequal laws. And she tells me about her sister’s misfortunes, she talks and she sobs. Once in a while she wipes her tears with the corner of her scarf. Finally she asks what she can do to help. I show her the signature sheet and while she is signing she asks me to give her a few blank ones.
After buying a few groceries I walk towards the street. The crinkling sound of the plastic grocery bags mixed with the woman’s wailing is chafing my soul. A green car with the words, ”Women-Only Taxi” written both in Farsi and English, catches my eyes. I walk towards it. A young beautiful thirty-year-old woman with just the right amount of make-up, smiles at me.
Get in, lady
Without hesitation I get in. I settle down with the grocery bags and hand her a booklet. I open my mouth to tell the story of the women of this land. She laughs and says: “I know about this booklet, and I have signed it once. If possible, I would like to sign it again.”