9/01/2008

For Mahrokh

Mahrokh was my schoolmate from the first grade all the way through fifth grade. Born to a European mother and an Iranian father, she was severely retarded and disabled. Her legs were in some type of braces and though she tried to keep up with the rest of us, even to the inexperienced eyes of her young classmates it was obvious that she wasn't like the rest of us. Mahrokh was my friend. I think I was Mahrokh's friend.
I think the reason Mahrokh was in our school was that our school was the only elementary school in our neighborhood for miles around and all the children went to this school. I don't know whether there were special schools for mentally disabled people in Tehran in the 1960's; so I think that may also have been the reason she attended regular school with us.
Of course, we had signs to know that Mahrokh wasn't fully able like the rest of us. In Iranian elementary schools, there is a subject called dikteh, or dictation, where the teacher slowly reads text from the Farsi textbook, and the children are supposed to write down what she is reading. The pace of the dictation is geared to the abilities of most of the students in class. Mahrokh, however, couldn't keep up with our pace.
The first time I noticed she was falling behind the rest of us, looking confused, was in second grade, I think. I could see her repeat the words the teacher was saying aloud, trying to write it down when the teacher would move along and read new words. Watching her struggle, I kept an eye on her notebook and as we were all progressing with the dictation, I would tell her the words she had missed. The teacher saw me do this, which is normally considered cheating. I had no idea I was cheating.
When the teacher walked to me asking me what it was I thoght I was doing, I simply said: "Khanoom Ejazeh. Shoma kheili tond dikteh migeen. Eeen Mahrokh-e beechareh aghab miofteh" (You are reading too fast. Poor Mahrokh keeps falling behind.). The teacher looked at me and at my con-conspirator and said: "Eshkali nadareh" (That's O.K.). From then on and for several years to come, I became Mahrokh's "dictation coach!" The teacher would do the dictation and the students would follow. Once we were done, I was allowed to go to Mahrokh's corner and read the dictation to her at her pace, helping her finish it. Occasionally, I think I really did cheat with Mahrokh, too! I would point out the mistakes she was making as she was writing, helping her erase and correct her dikteh, but I don't think anybody minded.
Mahrokh had to repeat fourth grade, but I was asked to go help her with her dikteh at recess times, something I didn't mind. I never forget Mahrokh's relieved look when I came into her classroom. She had beautiful brown eyes and the most gorgeous dark blonde hair. The rest of her features were deformed, but those eyes could talk volumes to me.
I can't remember now which grade this was, but I remember one winter day when it had snowed heavily in Tehran, when I was called by the principal to her office. People in the US talk about the principal's office with such fear and reverence! They have seen nothing until they have seen an Iranian principal's office! I went with a heart beating fast and with all kinds of trepidations. Though I was academically a good student, I was a tomboy who feared nothing and would get into trouble all the time. I had been called into the principal's office to get beaten on the palm of my hand with a wooden ruler more than once! I walked into the principal's office and a beautiful foreign woman, a khareji, stepped forward and addressed me. "To Kaviani hasti?" (Are you Kaviani?). There was something really familiar in the foreign lady's face. She said: "Man maman-e-Mahrokham" (I am Mahrokh's mother) with a thick European accent. I don't know why but suddenly I was relieved! Mahrokh's mother pulled out a gift-wrapped present and handed it to me, saying: "Noel Mobarak!" (Merry Christmas!). I had no idea what Noel was. I couldn't understand why I would be called into the principal's office and be handed a present! I can't remember now if I asked her any questions or if I thanked her. The present was a beautiful doll.
Some days I wonder whatever happened to Mahrokh. After fifth grade, I studied the sixth grade during the summer and went directly to high school one year ahead of my classmates. I never got to say a proper goodbye to her. Wherever she is, I hope she has fared well in the world, that she has had many friends, and that she is living in comfort now.
I watched a video clip of my favorite comedian, Bill Maher, in which he was joking around the Republican Party's nomination for Vice President, Sarah Palin. I was laughing and enjoying Bill Maher's sharp and intelligent political satire, until towards the end he made fun of Sarah Palin's fifth child who was born with Dawn Syndrome. My stomach churned. How absolutely unnecessary for him to make such a cruel joke at the expense of an infant who will have to face the challenges of the life ahead of her. I think people with disabilities are to be respected for the hardships they face living in a world where everybody else is running through tasks and projects and grades and jobs with ease. Physically challenged people have feelings just like us if not more! I know because my nephew, Reza, was retarded and he was full of joy of life, mischief, and jokes. So was Mahrokh. Bill Maher must apologize for his insensitive and unnecessary remarks. The rest of us should try and love all.

11 comments:

DC Surfer said...

that was a very thought provoking story, I have a cousin, Ali, who is disabled too so I find this story very touching

as for Sarah Palin's child there is a great discussion going on on New York times website. I encourage you to read the comments on the page (please sort them based on recommendations) the point is how come she expects others to not bring up this issue at the same time she is taking advantage of her down syndrome child to oppose abortion. Of course someones pregnancy is not any of my business so is someone's sexual orientation, how come they want to FIX every gay in this country while it is a private matter! when I read those comments I see that the US still has amazing thinker.

http://community.nytimes.com/article/comments/2008/09/02/us/politics/02palin.html?s=3

thanks a lot for sharing the story, I need to call my cousin Ali

Hyacinth said...

Nazy jan,

What a beautiful piece...and how lovely that even as a child you were sensitive to the plight of those that were less fortunate.

As for Bill Maher and all others who try to get a laugh at the expense of a disabled child (or disabled adult for that matter), shame on them!

cuckoo said...

nice piece, even though I do not understand why B.M. should apologize ... Life is cruel and is deeply based on natural selection, it is not natural to protect things too much ...

Mohammad Mahdian said...

lovely story, Nazy jan.

Parinaz said...

You just reminded me of an old challenging question of mine which I have had in my mind since I was a kid. Actually I used to have one of these innocent classmates too and I could never convince myself that she deserved it! Then I started to ask myself this question: "why some people are created to suffer like that while being more precious than the other ones?"

And I am still challenging…
Why?

cuckoo said...

maybe because life is random and there is no greater purpose in it ?

نیلوفر said...

I'm in my office and I can't stop crying ...There is something sad-sweet in this story (life) ...

Anonymous said...

filme Hafez
http://hafezebozorg.blogfa.com/

jeerjeerak said...

When i was in 1st grade, we used to have a classmate like Mahrokh in our class. Her name was Olivia, an uncommon name for an Iranian girl. I don't remember much about her, except for the faded image of a quiet girl who had difficulty keeping her head scarf in place... I never made an attempt to become her friend. I wish i had.

ahmad said...

Sweet story Nazy-jan ...

Nava said...

Thanks Ms. Berkeley for another interesting memory.
We have a family-friend, with a mentally/physically retarded kid. He is so disabled that he cannot even do the simplest tasks of life by himself. But he knows everyone, and his reactions are sometimes so similar to other healthy people's reactions that it's difficult to believe that he is fully retarded. We never know was happens inside their little innocent heads...

But there is another thing, and that is using these kids for any intention is not fair, even when they want to use him to show what a "family-person" the mother is.
They should not be the mean of reaching to any goal. It's just not fair...