Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


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By Ava Homa
I grew up seeing lash scars on my father’s back. I was a toddler when he was incarcerated and tortured. Why? For possessing banned books, for being Kurdish, for not approving of the nefarious Iranian government. Since the only documents against him were his books, he was not executed; instead, he was left to deteriorate gradually, left to struggle with the never-to-be-healed and invisible traces of torture. The abhorrence he felt toward the injustice consumed my father; the damage turned him into a person he would not like had he met him before the imprisonment—irascible, reclusive, insufferable. Unless one has been tortured for one’s beliefs and stayed the same person as before that incident, one is not in any position to judge my father.
I was the neighbourhood’s “bad” girl in Sanandaj, in the Kurdistan province, located on the border of Iran and Iraq. I was a bad teenager because I liked to put on colourful dresses and shoes, wear perfume, walk with my friends and sing popular love songs, laugh with them and enjoy the magical nature of Kurdistan. But those actions would—God forbid—make me visible and attract a male stranger’s “attention”: what a sin, what a scandal! Good girls hide themselves from men, they do not leave home unless they have to and only when accompanied by their mothers, they keep their heads bent while they walk, and they wear dark, loose manteaus and headscarves large enough to conceal their curves. It did not matter that my bosom had not developed until well into the last year of high school; ever since grade one, I was required to comply. But I did not. I was warned repeatedly in school about wearing white shoes, a short manteau or a pony tail that would show under my scarf. I was, of course, horrified by men; why wouldn’t I be? The law would not forbid them from harassing females of every age on the streets. In fact, it is the woman’s fault if she is harassed. But good girls prepare only to become a good servant for one of these scary marauders who would turn into a husband one day.
So, it should not be surprising that I did not have a boyfriend until I was a graduate student, in 2002, and that I chose an unthreatening man: a shy, “dickless,” confused virgin who would masturbate like a maniac and feel guilty, but who left me untouched, as I wanted to remain—chaste and pure. He was kind and caring but because I was not sexually attracted to him, we assumed something was wrong with me. He later suggested that I should try women, just in case!
In 2003, I became a correspondent for Asia Daily Newspaper, the only newspaper in Tehran that published in English and Farsi. The paper was shut down for publishing the news of Maryam Rajavi’s release from a prison in France. She was the head of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), an Islamic group in opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). I had only translated the news and had no say in what may or may not be published. But when the paper was closed, while the editors were being arrested and the computers confiscated, I knew that the English version of the news was saved under my name in the intranet.
Arrests continued. Since I was living at a residence at the Allameh University in Tehran and my family was back in Kurdistan, I left for the distant small city of Zanjan. The government of Iran became so busy closing down more papers and arresting more and more journalists that they did not have the time or a plan to track down every single person working in every single newspaper.
After almost a month, I returned to Tehran to catch up with school. It was at that time that the dormitories were raided and students beaten up by unidentifiable religious groups made up of men who were twice the size of an average Iranian man. These combatants had been specially picked and trained by the government to beat up protestors. It was IRI’s way of quelling the students’ movement. For years, university students have been subtly but strongly resisting dictatorship; they had to be punished every now and then. Thanks to “Islam,” female residents were unscathed. But that did not mean we did not spend every night living in fear.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.