(A Street Journalist) | March 8, 2010
by Setareh Sabety

To mark international women’s day I decided I should write about three Iranian women whom I came to know well when living in Iran just before Ahmadinejad’s first term. The three of them worked for me as housekeepers/babysitters and my knowledge of their lives is limited to our employer/employee relationship and class differences. But we spent a lot of time together and often our talks and interactions were more intimate than those I had with women I knew socially. For whatever it is worth I thought that I should expose the lives of three very ordinary Iranian women from different backgrounds and different sensibilities. This is for them.

Shahin khanoom was a portly and feisty woman in her forties who loved to eat and talk. She lived in Karaj with her husband and two children. Her husband who used to be employed in a factory was now too old and sick to work. Shahin khanoom was a good cook and experienced housekeeper. She was literate and looked forward to her Koran classes. She wore a black chador which was always dirty, was an active member of her mosque and was devoted to the Mahdi whom she swore to every other sentence. Shahin khanoom was not overly devout, at least around us, never really proselytizing and more concerned about making a living than the nuances of Shiite Islam. She was very friendly and managed to charm any guest in our house into giving her a good tip. Shahin khanoom knew everyone in our neighborhood of high rise apartments and was the one everyone came to when looking for help. She found jobs for many of her friends and relatives. She feigned love for my children the way only Iranian nannies do with shameless conspicuousness that may be partially fake but is comforting nonetheless.

Shahin khanoom came to me in tears one day. Her daughter had just finished her high school and was taking English and a computer literacy course. She had found a good suitor, a rich boy from the neighborhood but did not have enough money for a dowry and could not possibly agree to the match for fear of losing face that the lack of a proper dowry would surely cause. So, I set out to collect money from friends and family to add to my own contribution and gave it to her. She told me she would buy a fridge and other household musts for her beloved daughter. I told her I would love to attend the ceremony. She promised to invite us all, to the delight of my own eight year old daughter.

Read the full piece in A Street Journalist.