Saskatchewan·Creator Network

My stolen childhood: A journey to adulthood in Canada, in pursuit of years lost in Iran

Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers grew up in Iran without the freedom to choose her clothing, to play with boys or go for a bike ride in public. In this short film and personal essay for CBC's Creator Network, Kamyabi-Chambers shares here journey from Iran to Canada, and how she's making up for lost time.

A Regina woman reflects on the impact of growing up without certain freedoms in Iran

My Stolen Childhood

3 months ago
Duration 8:05
In this video for CBC's Creator Network, Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers shares her journey from a young girl in Iran without certain freedoms, to an adult in Canada, living her life and making up for lost time.

I stared at the blinking cursor on my computer screen, struggling to start writing my personal story. 

It was a relief to be distracted by the sound of a bouncing ball and giggles coming through the window. Children were passing by, their shadows getting larger the further they walked away.

As the children faded into the distance, a flock of honking Canadian geese flew overhead. The birds flying free took me back to my departure from Tehran's airport.

I was so excited to take off my hijab in the first seconds of my flight from Iran. I ran my fingers through my hair, sat back and took a deep breath.

Seeing all the other women removing their hijabs wasn't surprising. Not everyone was Iranian or Muslim, and not every Muslim chooses to wear a hijab, but one thing we had in common was not wearing one when we had a choice, which we hadn't in Iran.

I knew if my mother was there, she would wear her hijab. And I would respect her, not just because she's my mom, but because I respect her right to choose.

Once the flight landed, I tossed my scarf in a garbage bin and thought about the life that was taken away from me.

I was nine years old. I came home from school and saw my friends playing in the back alley. Without hesitation, I dropped my bag inside, took off my uniform, and yelled to my mom, "I'm going out to play!"

My sister had sewn me a beautiful red skirt with white polka dots on it. It didn't take long before I was sent home and told, "you can't wear that anymore."

It wasn't my parents or siblings who said it. It was a neighbour who complained about me being inappropriate.

Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers as a young teen in her bedroom in Iran. At this age she was no longer able to play with boys or be seen without her hijab, even in her own home if there were unrelated men inside. (Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers)

That was the last day I wore my favourite skirt. Slowly, my other favourite clothes started to disappear as well.

My family wasn't happy talking about this. But I had to sit in front of them trying to understand why I couldn't wear what I wanted anymore.

"You're an early bloomer!"

"That skirt is too short for you! I'll get you a better one! How about buying some new pair of pants?"

"Skirts need to be longer and worn with stockings! You will learn how to run and play in your new outfit!"

"I'll get you some cute scarves, too! Scarves are a must and that's not up to you!"

"Haven't you gotten used to your school uniform? Wearing a hijab is as simple as that! Everyone is wearing it!"

"Stop questioning everything! Listen and act like a lady!" 

The time for dressing up and playing pretend was over. I was short and small with a squeaky voice, but becoming a woman who couldn't buy her own ice cream without permission!

The neighbours snitched to my mom, "your daughter is playing with boys, running on rooftops, jumping on our cars, climbing on the trees, and making faces at us!"

My mom tried to suppress her smile because she knew I was in trouble.

Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers with her classmates at school in Iran. (Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers)

It was unfair that girls in hijabs were less welcomed in games. No boys want to be accused of indecency if they bumped into us.

"Girls with girls, boys with boys" was a common phrase.

They planted the seeds of separation in our innocent brains instead of teaching us unity. Every inch and pound added to my body took me further away from my male friends, my clothes and my happy life.

I could have said a proper goodbye to the boys, maybe with a competitive soccer game. I was fast and always scored!

A memory that still stings is when my funny brother-in-law came for a visit with hands full of snacks.

As usual, all the kids jumped up and gave him a big hug.

"Marzia! Where's your hijab? And no touching!"

This killed the laughter. 

Humiliated, I unwrapped my shivering thin arms from around him. My brother-in-law turned his face away to make sure he didn't look at my uncovered hair.

Nobody was happy, but to avoid gossip, they had to follow the laws.

Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers as a young child in Iran (Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers)

Learning about the body wasn't just a simple anatomy class.

The school told us a girl's body is provocative for a man, so it's her responsibility to protect herself from any physical assault.

They even told us that God doesn't love a girl with an improper hijab, and will seek revenge by hanging her by her hair in Hell.

Fearing men and God created unbearable trauma at such a young age. I forgot how to be social, especially around boys.

I dashed home every day after school. I made excuses and stayed in my room for hours until my brother's friends left the house.

But covering my body from men didn't protect me when a male stranger grabbed my breast in public. I screamed and he ran away.

Years later, I'm still in therapy.

Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers wears a red polka dot dress in a private place in Iran. In that country, wearing a dress like this without a hijab in public could get her arrested. (Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers)

Wearing a hijab wasn't mandatory when my mom was young. Ravishing scarves could be found in any chic woman's wardrobe.

Instead, I used to love wearing hairpins and thought to put a bow-tie clip on my school scarf.

One day, some classmates laughed at me, and I lost my confidence in simple self-expression.

Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers wears a hijab at a beach in Iran. (Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers)

Showing up with confidence is easier said than done. My sister is bold and brave, a professional swimmer, and has won a national car race.

On the other hand, I am fighting with aquaphobia and struggling to succeed with every little task.

It's tough to let go of random judgments and ignorance, but what I try to hold onto in my second country, Canada, is equal respect for everyone's choice of clothing.

I can't fully express how lovely it is, when I'm on a bike ride in Regina, to hear people compliment my new red skirt.

Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers used to ride a bike in Iran, although woman are not allowed to ride them in public. (Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers)

CBC's Creator Network is looking for emerging content creators to make short videos (5 minutes and under) for an 18 to 30-year-old audience. Content creators can be writers, filmmakers, vloggers, photographers, journalists, artists, animators, foodies or anyone else with a compelling idea and visual plan for bright and bold content. Learn how to pitch your idea here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A former theatre artist in Iran, Marzia moved to Canada to study and pursue her dream of filmmaking. She lives in Saskatchewan and crafts short films using the province's unique vibe. She also works as a storyteller to inspire younger generations in her community. Follow Marzia on Instagram @marzia.kchambers

Marzia Kamyabi-Chambers

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