Half the World – Description
What was it like to live in Isfahan as the foreign wife of an Iranian University professor in the run up to and during the revolution of 1979, when the Shah was overthrown and Khomeini created the Islamic Republic of Iran?
Corri van de Stege a Dutch national lived, studied and worked in London for eight years, married her Iranian boyfriend and moved with him to Isfahan early in 1977.
Initially suffering from homesickness for London she adapts and makes new friends amongst the community of ‘foreign wives’ and becomes a teacher at the British Council. But then she finds herself in the middle of a revolution in an alien country with her husband and baby son, without internet, social media or even a telephone in her house, and where television and radio broadcasts are censored so you never know what is true and what is gossip.
The author evokes the stark contrast between the everyday life on the campus and the escalation of violence both across the country and in Isfahan, the town where she lives. She worries about the increasing demonstrations of hatred against foreigners, in particular Americans, and the English language. You feel the tension grow between friends and colleagues who will have to decide whether they can live in an Islamic Republic, their unease aggravated by increasing uncertainty about what will happen to the American hostages held in Tehran.
HALF THE WORLD is a gripping and unique account by a foreigner living through the turbulence of revolution and the emergence of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Piece from Half the World: At about ten o’clock, after we’ve had some breakfast and reinstalled ourselves in the Iran hotel, we set off once more, Ashir to go to the University to find out more about his job and his starting date, and also to get the keys to the flat that’s been allocated to us on the campus, and I take the opportunity to go out and reconnoitre. Our hotel is near the famous square, the Shah Square with the famous mosques, and not far from the Ali Qapu, the palace. I dress conservatively, a pair of dark blue trousers and a white long sleeved shirt buttoned up to the neck and I take my coat. I wear no makeup, even though in London I usually put on some mascara, some eye shadow and sometimes I add eyeliner. I’ve no idea what my new compatriots in this town will be expecting of me and I don’t want to upset anyone or be noticed.
As I walk along I’m struck by the number of men everywhere, just walking around, many of them with unshaven faces. No one seems to take much notice of me as long as I pace myself and don’t dawdle. The atmosphere feels nicer and more relaxed than in Tehran though. Tehran can be overpowering and a bit scary when you’re on your own, taking your life in your hands trying to cross the streets, not knowing where you’re going let alone arrive in one piece at the other side.
Even though it’s still February, the sun is sharp during the day and the weather is almost spring-like already. After walking around for a bit I actually feel warm and take my coat off, carrying it over my arm. There’s an enormous amount of dust around and shoes and cars have a greyish-white sheen.
I don’t see many women at first. Are they all at home, doing the housework and looking after children? The ones that I do see are all very differently dressed; there are the old women covered in chadors, most of them black, and many of them wear these cheap looking clumpy shoes that look uncomfortable. Are they a sign of western influence? The shoe shops are full of this type of shoe. Then there are the western dressed women, both young and old wearing jeans or trousers and casual t-shirts and long-sleeved shirts or jackets. Two girls are walking towards me, one in blue jeans and a silky long sleeved top and the other in a chador, chatting and laughing like anywhere in Europe, only the contrast between their clothes and their appearances is incredible, this east and west garb worn by their female inhabitants. I’m fascinated and wonder about their different beliefs. Have they perhaps got different types of male ‘guardians’ who’ll tell them what to wear, despite the Shah’s insistence that females should not wear the veil? Are their parents, especially their father, religious and forbid the one in chador to go out uncovered? Do their mothers insist that they must keep themselves pure for a future husband and not even look at a man their parents don’t approve of?
The veil seems to be worn rather casually though especially by the younger women and girls, and often you get a glimpse of a pair of tight trousers and a bright coloured top underneath the black, flaunted as if to deny the purpose of the covering.
If I’m not careful however about where I look, I might suddenly find myself looking into the eyes of a man as he passes by, and he’ll inevitably interpret this as an invitation and he’ll try to pick me up. Several times as I walk along I hear a man making his advances, looking me over even though I’ve dressed conservatively and covered my arms and legs. He’ll say something I don’t understand, and I quickly move on. I take my sunglasses out and put them on, even if it’s not quite necessary to wear the dark lenses in the shadow of the shops.
I cannot help thinking that I’m here only for a short holiday and that sooner or later we’ll leave again for the comforts of London, to see our friends and to resume our lives, my life. This surely cannot be more than a holiday, a temporary relocation, just a short trial period after which we can say that we’ve been and quite liked the place but would now really rather get on with our lives in London.
As I walk along I feel a complete stranger and outsider, despite all the attempts to westernise this country. Still, I feel quite happy being here now but I cannot imagine what it’ll be like to be here on a permanent basis and what I’ll feel about all this in a year’s time.
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Paperback: 203 x 127 mm
Published: May 2014
Published: April 2014
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