I am 16 years old. Three months ago, I was sent by my parents from Afghanistan to Iran to be married to a young Afghan man. Since then, I haven’t been able to leave the house because of the coronavirus.
My husband, Rahim*, is a janitor in a big apartment block consisting of 36 units. We live in the basement of the building. He tells me that our apartment is an average Tehran apartment, but to me it is above average.
Rahim has to work in a second job elsewhere to be able to provide for us, even during the lockdown. During the first month of our marriage, I stayed inside our apartment the whole day, waiting for him to come back and worrying about what would happen to us if we caught the virus.
He was a stranger to me and I was scared of him at the beginning. One night, I finally worked up the courage to tell him that I had never cried in my parents’ house, but that I had cried too many times since arriving in Iran.
He is a good man. He works a lot. But I just did not imagine what married life would be like. I have no friends to talk to and I don’t want to upset my parents, especially my father.
Rahim has a friend who is also Afghan. He is undocumented, but has lived here for a long time. He helped Rahim find his job, and helped me find a safe route from my home in Mazari Sharif to Tehran.
But he contracted COVID-19 and was unable to get treatment in the hospital. He was told to quarantine himself. His situation got worse, so he had to go back to Afghanistan where he has family to look after him. I heard that many of his friends also got COVID-19. It pains me that we couldn’t do anything for him.
"I dream of finding a friend and going to school."
I am from a small village near Mazari Sharif. My father told me a lot about Tehran to make me excited about emigrating to Iran. He described big bazaars, clothing stores, parks and restaurants. But I have seen none of these.
I miss our village, our little farm, my cow, and how sometimes snow falls on the trees when they are already covered in blossoms during the spring.
My father tells me there is no COVID-19 in our village. He also asks me if Iranians treat us badly. Frankly, how would I know – I haven’t been outside.
I dream of finding a friend and going to school. I dream of discovering the bread store in the neighbourhood all by myself. Rahim tells me there is one.
Mrs Nowzari* is an old woman and one of the residents in our building. She lives alone and also doesn’t go outside. Her children don’t visit her because they fear they might pass the virus on to her. Rahim does her daily shopping.
Lately, she and I have become friends. We walk in the yard together and talk about plants, trees and flowers. I know a lot about gardening – much more than she does, and more than Rahim too, I’m sure. We play a little game we came up with to fill the silence between us: finding plants in the yard whose names are pronounced the same for us. For example, there is a flower that she calls “abshar e tala” (golden waterfall) – so fancy! I call it “nastaran”. We both like the “anjir” (fig) tree; it’s the same in her Farsi and my Farsi.
* Names have been changed.
[As told to Shima Vezvaei]
Iran was one of the epicentres of COVID-19 earlier in the year. But its infection rate peaked at the end of March and has been declining since then, in part because of a brief lockdown and physical distancing rules.
More than 2.5 million Afghan migrants live in Iran with very little opportunity of getting Iranian citizenship. During the first few weeks of the pandemic, there were reports of Afghans being denied treatment or being charged extremely high rates. In early April, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani issued a decree that medical services for coronavirus should be free, including for foreigners and refugees. But some people are still being charged. Iran is easing the restrictions on movement in Tehran and other cities, and Golnaz will soon be able to leave her home.
Join the COVID-19 DemocracyWatch email list
Sign up for our global round-up of attacks on democracy during the coronavirus pandemic.