My life by Parvin Ghaznavi

I am eighty eight years old and when I look back I realize what an exciting and privileged life I have had. It has had ups and downs. Still I am grateful.

I was born in Hamadan, the oldest capital of Iran, which used to be called Persia. I had seven aunts and seven uncles. We lived in a very large three story house, with my paternal grandfather, both grandmothers, great grandmother, who was the mother of both my grandmothers, yes, my parents were cousins. My paternal uncle, and two of the paternal aunts who were not married at the time, one only two years older than me. And several staff.

Although there were two living rooms, one very large for the big gatherings and one medium size, we would most often gather around the long dining room to do homework, listen to the radio or just talk. This room gave a warm feeling to everyone. Often we had some members of the family come for lunch, which was the main meal in Iran.  We went to our bedrooms only for sleeping or when we were sick.

After finishing high school, I had registered at Tehran University  to study fine arts. I had been painting and taking lesson from the famous painters including Arjangi, portrait painter of Reza shah,

In the summer of 1952, we were at summer home and I was deep in the garden, painting when one of the maids came to tell me my friends have come to visit me. with the paint on my dress, hand and face I went to see the two sisters whom I knew from the Baha’i meetings with their mother and the brother, who had come from Paris, looking for a wife, sitting with my mother, having tea. Three days later the two sisters and the brother came and asked me out. After a quick change I went out with them. Apparently he was introduced to three girls. One of them my friend that we painted together, and he had chosen me. I had no intention of getting married. Two weeks earlier, someone who had just finished the medical school asked my parents to marry me and I said I will not get married until I finish college. But now this young man, was telling me I could go to Paris to study. And I could study architecture. He was shy and quiet. That appealed to me and I decided to accept his proposal.

One week after the third visit, we were engaged. A week later we were marries, two nights of celebration one in our home and another in in-law home each with 250 guests. Just families and few friends each time. I designed my wedding dress and several party dresses and the Russian dress maker did them all perfectly in one week. After one week my husband went back to school, in Paris. It took me four months to get passport and visa to join my husband that I had known only for four weeks before his departure.

I arrived in Charles Degaul airport, greeted by my husband that I hardly knew, we went to his abode that was a small room, that a small double bed, a love seat, a cocktail table and a very small table and chair for desk  a sink for washing hands covered the whole area. Only one person at the time could walk. No kitchen(we ate at student restaurant) and no private bathroom. We had to share the outside bathroom with a neighbor. The door of the bathroom left a five to ten inches gap, where the snow was coming in.

The next day, in the morning, my husband took me to the language school, Alliance Français, registered me and wrote the direction of how to go back, taking subway, called metro with three changes, and the address on a piece of paper and left. I was in utter panic. What if I get lost? At his university, his Lebanese friend, had asked what is your wife doing? After hearing the answer, he had said you will never find her. With no telephone or internet, that was my fear as well. I was glued to the window, in the train, looking out, with utter fear, not to miss the stations that I had to get out, holding tight, to the piece of paper with the direction and the Address. We had no telephone to call in case I got lost. . Miraculously I made it home.

After a week we went to see the Charlie Chaplin movie, Limelight. I cried a river. The movie was sad but the separation from my family was added to it

After two months I registered at Sorbonne, one of the three oldest universities, in the world, in faculté des lettre  for people majoring in French language and literature.  The classes were in lecture halls holding 200 students, with each row a little higher than the other. I had to concentrate very hard to understand what they were saying. After fifteen to twenty minutes, I could not concentrate anymore and would go into day dreaming, seeing my family all together around the dining room table, in Iran and me alone living with a husband I hardly knew, who during the week he was studying very hard all night, sometimes through the night for the tests in a program for gifted students who could do four years of courses in two. At nights, except for weekends, he could not talk to me, and I could not read because, turning pages, disrupted his concentration.  I kept telling myself, why did I get married. I wished I had not.

After four months I could understand well and speak French. for the summer we went to Switzerland and I was pleased when someone told me I must be Parisian, from my accent

At the end of summer of 1953, I registered at Beaux Arts to study architecture. Nine months had passed, I was fluent in French got used to the way of life, since all meals we ate at a special gourmet restaurant for underweight students, we did not spend too much time in our room, my husband finished the two year program and was enrolled at Sorbonne for the degree of Doctorate of Electrical Engineering. He had more time, we went to the movies and theater often.

I liked the courses of architecture and was good, ranked 13 out of 100 but

Students from the first year, to the sixth shared the large room, called atelier. The students from higher class were the source of learning for the new students. Each week the project for each grade would be announced and we had a week to finish the project.  I  received, daily  torture, in the name of the hazing perpetrated to me as the first year students. One of the students forced me to sit next to him and draw the grass or any fine drawing on his project. If I worked on my project before ending his, I would get slapped on the face. Another student would ask to take me home on his motorcycle and each day slapped me when the answer was no thank you. One day, they locked me up in the small library of the atelier until evening. Another day they stripped a Greek first year student from waist down and asked the other first year students to watch him.  Coming from Iranian background, I could not watch. For almost an hour four or five students were holding me in front of him, and trying to open my eyes, scratching my eyelids and face. The two other girls in the atelier were telling me if you do not resist you would not be the target. I was suffering but could not tell my husband what was going on.  What would I do in that tiny room that was like a prison, if my husband said do not go any more.

On a very cold snowy morning, as I opened the door to the atelier, a big bucket of water turned over my head.  Drenched, completely, as I could hear the roar of their laughter, I returned back home, crying the whole time.