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Day 543 #FreeNazanin – Seeing in Stages

Richard Ratcliffe
London, United Kingdom

Sep 27, 2017 — Last month we had another anniversary apart. Last one we marked with ribbons on the Millennium Bridge, the same day Nazanin was on trial.

This year I was in Edinburgh watching a play tell the story of our year. Thanks to Emi and the cast for their amazing job. They are fundraising to take it on tour.

Typically I don’t watch interviews back. It feels too big. So it was a disconcerting experience to watch us our lives on stage – strangely out of body, uncomfortably familiar.

I found it hard to watch (I was there all week). Ours is a sad story. Watching Nazanin in that room, isolated in cruelty, was a reminder of things I don’t like to think about – their full range of manipulations, the weight of time. Reliving trauma also revives it, reignites the embers of old pains. I struggled to acknowledge that level of feeling again.

I found I had half forgotten some of the moments played back. Some things I try to forget. Sometimes that’s the wish to erase the crazy to life before, like one of those sticks from Men in Black. But even campaigning is built on selective remembering, a need to look forward. I do not cope by hoarding injustices, but by keeping alive ideas of a different day.

That can make anniversaries hard. Sitting seeing the reactions of others in a room full of tears was particularly unsettling. But it allowed me to see our life through different eyes.

With repeated viewings, what came through was not the cruelty – but the power in Nazanin’s words. Each night I found something new in them – gradually I heard what was always there. That strength is something I can miss. In phonecalls (now weekly) I often hear Nazanin’s fragility. Watching on stage, it was the resonance of Nazanin’s love that came through: her love for Gabriella, her love for me, the deep well of her will to come home.

Unlike me, Nazanin looks back a lot. It is how she holds onto life outside across the uncertainties, reliving the best bits of the past not as a requiem, but as refreshment. The play reminded me of one of Nazanin’s one day dreams – to get married again – which captured the imagination of the little girls in the audience.

Perhaps because it was the anniversary, the play felt a love story of sorts, a reaffirmation of together again. This past year we have been given a new kind of marriage. In the play I saw my role: to do things that can cross prison walls. For us these days love is a verb, not a noun; it is a doing word.

Part of this is very simple – to stand by her side. Watching the interrogators’ whispers in windowless rooms – that her husband is taking her child from her, has found another woman, their play on the erosions and uncertainties of separation. My role is to remind her: they lie. Her home is waiting.

But also it is to keep hope in sight. Amidst the staging of sadness and suffering, the dangers of public stage husbanding and storytelling when the trauma is real, my role is to keep tomorrow alive. Songs of redemption cannot be played only on a violin.

But ultimately the play also showed me something else – the power of what the audience gave us night after night, their witnessing, not watching but seeing. They brought an understanding with the heart, saying to Nazanin: We see you, we care.

I realised how different an audience is every night – people bring of themselves. Our story shows a truth about the Iranian and our own government, and fears for family – each audience recognised in its own way: those who had themselves had been imprisoned in Iran, or who had loved ones lost overseas, or had their children with them meant the room moved different nights in quite different ways, they shared a richness of one day dreams.

It showed that witnessing is the essential gift. For Nazanin, sitting in that cell, knowing there was a play at an international festival, for the other women in her ward whose families cannot speak out, whose stories can seem silent: They know there is a world outside, they know they are seen.

That night they danced in prison. While we were watching, the other prisoners gave Nazanin an anniversary party. They shared a dinner of chicken, and danced together. Until it was time for cleaning duties, and Nazanin became Cinderella of her ball.

That night Nazanin also wrote me a letter: I promised to share - her renewal of our together, now and tomorrow.

I woke up to the light peeking through my curtains. It took me a couple of seconds to realise where I was. The past 500 mornings without you have been difficult to face the reality.

I have tried hard to fill up the hole inside me ever since we were apart, and each time it proves to be impossible. How could I survive all this time without you? Your voice echoes in my head, and throws me to the past – to the first time we met, our first date, our first trip to Iran, when you proposed, when Gabriella was born, and to the last time we kissed goodbye at the airport on 17 March 2016.

Have I ever told you that Gabriella is looking more and more like you? She loves putting her head in the nook of my neck, and humming into my ears. She is the fruit of our love, a very sweet fruit.

The love you and Gabriella have given me in the past 17 months has kept me going, and I have never felt stronger than with this. Your loyalty to our love astounds me, and the world. St Augustine says: God is not just – he is justice. I am confident that his justice will prevail.

A year ago today I was standing at the trial, and swore that I had always been faithful to my country. One year on, I still stand by it. On the same day, now 8 years ago, we tied the knot, and promised to stand by each other in happiness and sorrow. You have been faithful to that. Thank you for standing by my side, and not leaving me alone for the toughest part of my life.

I was lost, and led astray when you found me 10 years ago and led me to the right path of truth. You always told me to walk cheerfully over the face of the earth, considering that of God in everyone. You have been my light in the darkest nights of my life, and to reveal the love of God to me. You’ve made a different person from me, through your patience, care, wisdom, support, and most of all, love. You haven’t given up hope, and nothing tires you out. You’ve been determined to battle this strife through, and compromised your right of having your child back for the sake of my emotional peace and security.

Even in my least hopeful days, I know deep down, that despite what it looks like now, there will come soon a day that we will keep our heads high, and walk with dignity as God’s justice will prevail, and the world will get to know the truth.
Happy 8th wedding anniversary sweetheart.

Thank you for choosing me as your life companion. I have never been more proud. Keep up hoping and fighting for this injustice. They may have taken 500 days of our married life away from us, but the future is ours. Stay mine. I love you to the moon and back.

August 2017
Evin Prison

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