A Resilient Woman: Maman Aziz

This is a story to be told for our next generations. This is about an Iranian woman whose life story is incredible. We have to know this. Our next generations will benefit from knowing how our ancestors lived their life.

Her name was Forogh Cobra Astaneha, a.k.a Maman Aziz.  She was born sometimes between 1910 and 1915.  Her real birth date is unknown to us as her place of birth.  My grandmother died in 1987, yet, still today, I keep thinking of this incredible woman.  I doubt if she ever knew how influential she was. I am unsure if she knew that she was different and brave.  Surely, her life influenced mine and many other women in my community.  Her spirit and her legacy remain with all of us who had the chance to meet this woman, even only once.  Part of her life was rich, fairytale, and dynamic, while Maman Aziz never took anything for granted.  She had visions for a better life, although her socio-cultural surrounding was what it was, limited and biased.  In short, it is fair to say that Maman Aziz was a worrier, a resilient woman who did never settle for less, while she was never understood by others.  Somehow Maman Aziz represented an emancipated individual that many Iranian women at that time wished to be. She was a real inspiration for women in her community, women who could not even dream challenging life as she did. There are many reasons for this argument.

Maman Aziz was born in a rural area of Tehran.  By the time of her death, she must have been somewhere around 70, I am not sure.  She died a young woman; she left with a silent withdrawal from this world and with many questions unanswered.

I remember Maman Aziz mentioning a neighborhood called “Shah Abdul Azim.”  This was either her real birth place or a place where she grow up.  I think she lived a great deal of her early childhood in that area. She used to talk about her father, her two siblings, and the friendly neighborhood of Shah Abdul Azim.

In our family, we learned to call our grandmother as Maman Aziz, meaning a very dear and beloved mother.  I think many of us Iranians had Maman Aziz in their families or at least Aziz, as this was the nicest way to relate to someone we love or appreciate.  The word mother would be expressed as “mama” with the alphabet “n” added to produce the Farsi word.

Maman Aziz was fortunate to model her love for life until the very end.  She never gave up using fashionable make up, wearing nice clothes, and smelling expensive perfume, even to the very end. Her respectful attitude, skillfully caring interpersonal relationships, and personal integrity made her look much younger than her age.  Her smile and kind words to everyone were her real art.

What we know from her life comes from the memories of all the narratives and anecdotes she told us about her life.

Story telling was a real art of many grandparents who tried to entertain children in long, dark, and silent winter evenings or the summer evenings when the sky was overwhelmed with shiny stars.

Those evenings Maman Aziz stayed with us, we resisted to sleep as Maman Aziz would take us to the world of princess and prince in the ancient Persian kingdom.

Maman Aziz being articulate, could let our imaginations sense the milieu these people lived in, the act of gentleness, and the justice they practiced in solving people’s daily problems.

Listening to those stories gave us a chance to imagine ourselves being that beautiful princess who married this young handsome man who was not from the king’s kinship.  Stories were always about the knowledge, bravery, and act of kindness that were the characteristics for the main character of the story.

Maman Aziz used to tell about the kind princess and princes who humbly traveled to poor people and gave them gifts of love.  The stories were always about good and kind people receiving what they deserved, the treasure of love for those who needed it the most.  Interestingly Maman Aziz lived her life like those stories. She found her prince in a very unusual way for an Iranian woman who could stand up for herself.

Maman Aziz was raised mainly by her father.  Her mother had mystically died when Maman Aziz was a little child.  Maman Aziz had few recollections of her mother.  The mystified mother was rarely mentioned by Maman Aziz, a reason for us to wish that we knew more of her mother or my great-great grandmother. She knew about her mother through the narratives she had heard, that was a beautiful and kind woman.  The beauty must have passed on to my grandmother because she was truly glorious to me.

Maman Aziz however described her father as a man of hard work, interested of poetry and a man who encouraged his children to live a life with dignity.

Maman Aziz recalled her father as a loving dad who gave her and two older siblings love, respect, and praise.  She spoke of many moments of care, storytelling, and good relationship with her father.   Looking back I realize that, my grandmother always spoke of a good father who did not discriminate her because of her gender, something that gave her the strength to be the woman she became.

Maman Aziz could read and write Persian / Parsi language well.  In particular she was interested to read children’s story books.  She liked novel and the last book I remember lending her was “Papillion” which was a popular movie and book at the time.

In a time of huge restrictions for girls, Maman Aziz had the chance for learning horseback riding and playing cards.  Her childhood developed into adolescence without any huge crisis. Soon into an early adulthood when she at age 18-19 was married to a young man (my grandfather) who was her cousin.

Her marriage started well and she was pregnant soon.  She gave birth to my mother who was named as Esmat.  However, soon she realized her relationship with my grandfather was not going well.  At some point after my mother was born, my grandmother knew that she could not continue her marriage. Maman Aziz had realized that her husband was turning to an aggressive and demanding man.  Ha was a common man who did not know how to a treat a woman.  Although my grandfather was not abusive, yet my grandmother disliked her husband differing significantly from the gentle prince characters in the many stories she knew.

She had more dreams for her life. In a time when women would be not having any idea about their rights, my grandmother did rebel.  She had a deceive mind and she was ready to seek her true self.

I guess Maman Aziz had a model for her life.  She had values and interests for a respectful, healthy, and more romantic relationship, which was not to be found in her marriage.
Certainly Maman Aziz was mirroring a decisive father or mother or someone else who had taught her to respect herself.   Unhappy about her marriage, she consulted her father who supported her in asking for a divorce.  At some point when my mother was about three years old, Maman Aziz finalizes her decision and her divorce was registered in mid 1930,s ; an act that was least spoken about for even decades after that.

Undoubtedly, divorcing a husband for an Iranian woman must have been challenging and an unimaginable act for many women even within the elite families.  Divorce has never been a natural solution for large number of Iranian women who suffer in the hands of abusive husbands.  My grandmother came to this decision for about 60 years ago in Tehran, a decision that still today gives me some Goosebumps.

Still, my grandmother was a regular woman who was about to challenge people’s attitudes, beliefs, and ideas.

When the Iranian society recognized no rights for women, Maman Aziz, my grandmother could get through the divorce process while she was stating her rights to respect and happiness.

She asked for divorce from her husband with whom she had only lived for 2-3 years.  She decided that she had enough of a man who mistreated her and she asked her husband to let her leave with her young child.

The reality and crisis would hit when she had to face the truth about a family law that would not accept women as a divorced custodial parent.  She decided to leave the marriage while fighting for the rights to her daughter.

Maman Aziz has told us many stories of how much she experienced anxiety, fear, and anger at the same time as she worked hard to get her daughter’s custody.   To her, there was no way she could stay in an unhappy marriage, while she would not let go of her child.  She knew this was the taste of injustice due to a society ruled by patriarchy and the submissive laws where women who rebel had to be punished.  Maman Aziz made a painful decision and that was to leave her daughter to the custody of her ex-husband.

Those years few women could work outside their home as women were rarely recognized being part of a society. Maman Aziz was skillful in her own way.  She visited any ministry office she could to ask for help. In this battle she learned to stand up for her own rights when there was no outside recognition for a divorced woman.  Maman Aziz had to fight while she was under pressure from her community to return to the divorced husband and remarry him for the sake of her child.

Years went by.

Maman Aziz recalled those years as devastating and disturbing to the vision she had for a dignified life.  She was working hard to process her new situation, a young divorced woman in a society where gender roles were clearly defined.  A woman had to stay under umbrella of a man called husband.

Despite the defeat, she had the support from her father to whom she could always go for seeking some peace and quiet.  While challenging the existing court system in Tehran, she was awarded some hourly based visitation rights of her daughter.  She could visit the child every other week in the place of my grandfather, the man, Maman Aziz had divorced.
At this point of time my grandfather had managed to build a new family life for himself, so my mother had a step mother now.

Maman Aziz welcomed the chance to visit her daughter regularly, yet she decided to use her charm while approaching life with a new movement.  She comes back in a position no one could deny her the rights to see her daughter. Maman Aziz hated to be limited in time and place, while she liked to impress the ex husband and his wife.

Maman Aziz was a generous woman and she was a giving person.   She used her talents to put my grandfather and his wife in a position they would treat this little child of hers in a nice and gentle way.

From this moment on, Maman Aziz moves on in her life.   Meanwhile Maman Aziz meets a real gentle- man, a man of class and dignity.  Maman Aziz falls in love with this man who became a true love, alike the prince of stories who was a rich, educated, passionate, humble, and good looking man.

Maman Aziz marries this man whom gives her a decade of exciting and joyful life as they traveled around the country quite frequently.  Being married to a rich man opens up a door for her to impact the visitation rights to her daughter.  Maman Aziz visits her daughter or my mother quite regularly and these are moments of surprise for everyone in my grandfather’s household.

These are the hours that everyone in that neighborhood remembered long enough.  As she had access to a quite rich lifestyle, now she would show up with her modern covered wagon which was a horse drawn vehicle.  Besides that Maman Aziz had her own driver, who would stop the horses nicely, leave the drive seat, and come get the little door of the wagon for my grandmother to step down the movable stair.

Although Maman Aziz was a real stylish and naturally beautiful woman, still she made some extra efforts to wear nice dresses she had purchased in some of Teheran’s nicest boutiques and the eye catching jewelry she was in love with.  Upon arrival at my grandfather’s house, while her driver would drop of the boxes of gifts on the front door, Maman Aziz would use her natural charm to pass individuals who were welcoming her to meet her daughter.

In these scenes she remains humble, as her main purpose was to teach everyone for treating my mother well, as children in my mother’s situation would be treated as less than.

The number of expensive and elegant gifts for my step mother and her children along with the gifts for my mother would be forever recalled as exciting yet overwhelming.  Still Maman Aziz was told that my mother would be denied using all those nice clothes that she had received.  She could do nothing to reverse the clock, while she was hoping for a solution down the road.

If she could not live with her own child, yet she hoped to influence circumstances around the child for a happy upbringing. Yet, Maman Aziz was wrong, in those years; a child whose mother had left would be bullied and laughed at because she was a “motherless” child.

Month after month, Maman Aziz uses her visitation day to demonstrate grace, beauty, and sense of integrity.  Obviously, she tried to maneuver her wealth in order to implicitly ask for a good care of her daughter. Social status was now working for her and she was enjoying her lifestyle.

Maman Aziz recalled her social life with her second husband quite cheerfully.  She offered others a taste of this colorful life, by throwing parties, arranging for card-playing evenings, offering good food, and sharing her wealth with others.

Somewhere, Maman Aziz lived her dream life, yet always carrying a deep sadness inside.  A trauma was also about to occur. After 10 or 11 years of marriage, her beloved husband dies and leaves my grandmother as a young widow.

The pictures left on this man whom Maman Aziz called her love shows a middle-age, well-clothed, well-shaved, and handsome man with a nice smile.

It is not known how Maman Aziz manages the grief of a lost love, in a time when she became a young widow in her mid 40,s.  The house she lived in with her husband would soon be claimed by the deceased husband’s siblings.

Without arguing with these people, my grandmother leaves the house that she had shared so much joy in it with her beloved prince.

People had advised her to claim that house however; Maman Aziz did not choose to go that route.

She moved out of the house while knowing that she had to start all over again. She had no money and no savings. She took her jewelry that would offer her some financial support.

Maman Aziz moves in with her older sister whom lived as a widow too.

Maman Aziz and this sister had something in common. Both had divorced their husbands. Her sister had divorced her husband while she had adult children. Quite interesting that the sister had found out the husband had a second wife, an act that is still a right for many men in Iran.

The two sisters lived together for a longer period of time until at some point Maman Aziz finds her third husband; an entrepreneur, another rich man, whose collection of suites, hats, and shoes cost a great deal.

A few years of living with this man offers Maman Aziz more chances to continue her quite different life style.  Somehow the third marriage had become a way for Maman Aziz to escape the reality of living a widow life with no support.

The sadness over how she did not have control over her daughter’s life never let Maman Aziz live her seemingly busy life.  All the parties she was invited to by all the rich people she knew were quite fascinating.   Maman Aziz had any plan for what if she would become lonely again.  And it happened.

Her third marriage was gone in one winter night early 1960’s, as this quite nice husband dies of cancer.   Maman Aziz was left lonely again and she kept asking herself why she would lose people whom she loved the most.

The next two decades she lived a quite, lonely, and simple life, while her large habits of giving gifts and sharing love continued.  She managed to receive a little pension through her late husband; however she came to find new ways of supporting herself.   She was a real survivor and her next movements in life are sings of enthusiasm to do the best under circumstances.
Her habits of playing cards were now something that came to her life with a new blueprint.

There were people who would hire her to arrange card clubs for rich ladies who liked to do something new.  In these events she would use her charm to tell fortunes through cards when she would put numbers and figures together to tell something about the person sitting in front of her.
In a little while, she became a psychic whom people trusted because she was quite articulate, smart, people person, and intelligent.   All those years she told us stories about princess and princesses, she was filling her life with a rather different lifestyle.
Maman Aziz had learned to live with her extraordinary senses in a world where she had to survive using some tricks involved with magnetism.   Maman Aziz was rather talented at offering hope in her role of a woman, a friend, a neighbor, a grandmother, and now as a psychic.

I do not believe she ever planned to become a psychic; rather she came to find herself in a role where she could use her long life strengths.  After all, she believed in the value of goodness and kindness when outer world was not offering much.  Her interaction with a fairly rich community was a reason she could be paid as people were interested of what she had to say.  Maman Aziz managed to develop her creativity in her new and very different life as a psychic, although she never identified herself in this role.
It was quite remarkable that people would pay her for her services which were about giving them hope.

I guess she managed to encourage people living their life, once uncertainly and ambiguity was pushing hard.

Maman Aziz was criticized by others whom had hard time comprehending an independent woman she was.   Indeed she was always criticized for who she was.   Now with the hindsight we know that she was an emancipated and a free soul who could not be stopped for what she thought was best for her at that time.
Maman Aziz did survive one divorce, two deceased husbands, and many lost dreams. However one thing she never came in ease was the pain of losing a daughter whose life came to be very different than the courageous mother.  Maman Aziz tried to help the adult daughter who came to have her own family, yet the complexity and severity of the mental health issues that the daughter was exhibiting, was more than Maman Aziz could live with.  Her daughter was that “motherless” little girl who always missed a mother who could offer her love and attention.
The amount of gifts Maman Aziz had showered her daughter and the ex-husbands’ family, had not helped at all.   Maman Aziz died knowing that her daughter deserved much better life; still she had not received it.   The sadness over a hurt daughter was deep, although Maman Aziz did what she could to be the loving mother she was.
We know she is watching over us.

October 22, 2009

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