PART I – Since your love became my calling

I was finishing my third grade and I had already made new friends. However, because the sanctions against Iran had caused massive inflation, I couldn’t keep up with my friends financially. Inflation didn’t have a significant effect on their lives—their parents were entrepreneurs who could simply increase the price of their goods in response to the rate of inflation. My father, on the other hand, was a simple university lecturer whose salary had remained the same for the last two years: Rls 120,000 was worth US$1,700 the year earlier but had now sunk to a mere US$800; and the value of the rial was dropping daily. Two years later, his salary would be worth only US$200. Meanwhile, prices steadily increased and the government was too busy to think about the salary of its employees.

I had to get used to the change in our lifestyle—we could no longer buy anything we wanted. We lived in a smart part of town whose inhabitants were pretty well off but even though the rent was exceptionally low we couldn’t afford to live up to the standards of the area. Nor did we dare move out. I realized I couldn’t afford to keep in touch with my friends and I busied myself with activities that didn’t involve socializing: reading, swimming, experimenting with chemicals or my microscope.

Just before the summer holidays, after Mum had finished her second semester nursing exams, she came home from university with tears in her eyes. Dad tried to console her while they discussed the new situation in whispers. Something was wrong. Determined not to be left out of whatever it was, I asked her what had happened.

Mum explained that the much-anticipated Cultural Revolution had finally begun. At the beginning of the year, Khomeini had declared that the universities must be ‘cleansed’ from Western, imperial and communist influences. He said that we should not be afraid of the sanctions and military invasions but rather of the pro-West attitudes of the universities. No one believed he meant what he said until, in June 1980, it was declared that students could not go back to the universities for the next academic year. They had to wait until the Cultural Revolution and the ‘cleansing’ were complete.

‘Every time I think I’m finally following my dream, something horrible happens,’ Mum told me, sobbing.

‘Ever since I’ve been a child I’ve wanted to become a doctor. But then I was pulled out of school and forced to marry!’ She would never forgive her father for this.

‘And when I wanted to begin again, I got pregnant,’ she went on though she made sure I wasn’t offended.

‘I don’t mean I didn’t want you but I did have to wait a little longer. When I finally managed to begin again it was too late for medicine. And now I can’t even study nursing!’ she said, and burst into tears again.

‘Mum, they might open the universities soon.’

‘They won’t—they’re following the example of the Cultural Revolution in China.’

She was right. She had to wait two years before she could go back. Mum fell into a deep depression from which she emerged only when the Ministry of Education announced that students could apply for jobs as teachers while the universities remained closed. This hope of a new career was the only thing that saved Mum.

To make things worse, on 22 September 1980, the Iraqi army, led by Saddam Hussein and backed by almost every country in the world, attacked Iran by land and air.

Childhood was over.