I'm in Iran now, trying to readapt to regular life after spending two weeks in Peshawar, Pakistan, one week in a refugee camp close to Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and one week in Afghanistan itself. I'm having a bit of a hard time re-entering my old world, and have a lump of sad in my throat that can't be swallowed.
I pity the people who are around me, because I'm being even more difficult than usual. I've taken up walking everywhere — cars are too decadent for me right now — and what I call voluntary simplicity is driving my family bananas, since I'll walk forty minutes under the midday sun rather than spend 10 cents on a taxi, and wander home alone at midnight through the streets of Tehran rather than climb into the car with my Dad and step-mom (even though they are going to the same destination). Hello, re-entry shock.
It's madness, I know. It makes me laugh and smack my head to type this, but my current mad-ness also led me to punch a poor unsuspecting guy in the street a few days ago.
You see, I was walking in the streets a few days ago when a guy started following me and asking for my phone number etc, etc, ad nauseum. I didn't give him the time of day. Then another guy began trying to arrange a date with me, and I told him to get lost. By the time a third guy began hounding me, I was pretty annoyed. Men in Tehran can be pests, but this was ridiculous! It was only a bloody fifteen minute walk, and I seemed to have chosen the street full of idiots. So I just ignored this third guy - he wasn’t even worth the bother of speech.
But he was persistent. He followed me for a good half-kilometer or so, muttering things at me the entire way despite the fact that I was almost sprinting to get away from him. Then he fell behind, and with a sigh of relief I began walking across a small park towards a shopping complex.
But of course, since I no longer had an idiot, I had to find me another idiot. And this idiot was in the form of a tall bearded man who told me to put my headscarf on properly. So I whipped around and said "what business is it of yours?!!", gave him the finger, and walked on, taking my headscarf off my head completely and flipping my hair in his direction. I was now fuming.
As I walked into the shopping complex, I replaced my headscarf loosely, hackles still raised. And it was at this unfortunate moment that idiot number three decided to catch up to me and whisper sweet nothings in my ear. I don't remember much, other than him saying something like "I've found you now" and then my sensing a hand touch my waist, and then
my fist shot out into his kidney. When he turned a completely shocked face to me, I pointed my finger in his face, said "don’t touch me" in a quiet and intense voice, then marched on. He disappeared.
I don't know who was more surprised by the punch...he or I! I'm generally non-violent: I let non-malaria mosquitoes drink freely of my blood, and even cockroaches have nothing to fear from me, other than the occasional screech of terror and disgust. (I do beat up my brothers sometimes, but only because I like them, have their best interests at heart, and the stinkers deserve it.) I never ever ever hit for real.
But you know what? I'm glad I hit this guy. Once my sense of humour returned, I became more and more pleased with myself. In fact, I was grinning the entire way home because I realized that I've wanted to do this for a very long time but always held myself back.
I've always felt that it's unfair to lash out against men and women when they stifle me with gender restrictions or diminish me into a sexual object. After all, the society they live in allows the things they do, and they themselves likely don't know any better. I said nothing when my buttocks were squeezed in the crowded marketplace in Afghanistan (I was fully covered in the burqa); I walked on when the police officer, rifle in his hands, told me to cover my hair properly in Iran; I turned away when the fruitseller told me to cover my breasts with my headscarf in Pakistan (I was dressed appropriately in a salwar kameez).
The dirty old man with the goggles crouching underwater in the pool, watching me (watching me) swim in Hong Kong, the idling car stalking me (stalking me) down the streets of Los Angeles, the guy grabbing me (grabbing me) as I'm dancing with friends in Canada. They live on in my mind, imprinted.
My feelings on these incidents make no rational sense. I can't explain why I feel humiliated when young men flip through Hustler magazine in front of me – I think nudity is beautiful, but quite a few types of porno make me feel bad (perhaps I'm repressed?). I can't explain why I am moved to tears of fury when I see women with veils covering their faces walking behind their husbands — I respect different cultures and ways of being, but can't accept that women should be covered and secluded (perhaps my mind's not open enough?).
Somehow, I always tell myself that I don't have the right to make a fuss — that I'm living in a society that is governed by a culture to which I must conform. And somehow little humiliations pile up and I am silent, because really, each incident is so little and unimportant, and making a scene won't solve anything.
But ah! But then I punch this guy. Unfairly. And I don't care. I'm happy!
I punch him because I'm frustrated at the big goddamn amorphous blob called Society called Perceptions called Attitudes — enemies I can't see don't understand can't fight; I punch him for all the times I didn't act because I was afraid or thought it would be wrong or thought I would disrupt; I punch him because there is a beautiful talented 24-year-old woman, my Afghan sister-self, lady E, chained to her house, a refugee in Pakistan while I am so free that I can hold her hand then leave (and I know she is still there weaving beautiful works of art so she doesn't go crazy and that HURTS); I punch him because there are intelligent fabulous competent women in Afghanistan who are imprisoned by fear, slaughters, beatings; I punch him because there are more intelligent fabulous competent women all around the world who are free and do NOTHING; I punch him because every time a little girl is denied schooling, every time a woman is forced to stay at home, every time a woman is seen only for her body and not her mind her soul her spirit, a little piece of beauty dies; I punch him because inside I am roaring goddammit SEE US!
And the poor guy bears the full brunt of my anger against societal restrictions, women and men bound by farcical and impossible laws in Afghanistan, and sanction through apathy in one swift, angry, unthinking lashing out of my furious fist.
God. It makes me so angry.
He's lucky he got away with just a bruised kidney.