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Ham For Lunch in Tehran
Marina Nemat • Toronto, ON
Marina Nemat was born in 1965 in Tehran, Iran. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, she was arrested at the age of sixteen and spent more than two years in a political prison in Tehran. She came to Canada in 1991. Her memoir of her life in Iran, Prisoner of Tehran, was published in Canada by Penguin Canada in April 2007. Her second book, After Tehran A Life Reclaimed was published by Penguin Canada in September 2010.
I was born in 1965 in Tehran, Iran. Back then, Iran was not an Islamic Republic. I grew up in a middle-class, Christian family. My father was a ballroom-dancing instructor and my mother was a hairdresser. More than ninety-eight percent of the people of Iran were Muslim, and Christians were a tiny minority who lived peacefully and coherently with Muslims, Jews, Zoroastrians, and the Bahai. According to the secular constitution of the country, women could become whatever they wanted, even judges.
I attended a Zoroastrian high school for girls; it was a good school and was close to my house. In school, I rarely felt different for my being a religious minority. One of those rare moments was at lunchtime; most of my classmates brought leftovers from the night before—delicious, aromatic Persian dishes. However my mother always packed me ham sandwiches, which were considered rather exotic in Iran.
Almost every day when the lunch bell rang, a line-up appeared in front of me: everyone wanted my lunch! But there was only one of me and one ham sandwich, so I bargained with my friends and told them that I would give them my lunch if they gave me theirs plus something extra: maybe a pen, pencil, or a scented eraser. I don’t think I had ever considered that being a Christian in Iran could be so profitable!