- (2020 Grant recipients of Pulitzer Center)
Roghayeh, a 65 year-old woman, is practicing an Islamic ritual at her sister's house during the Night Of Ahya (Night of Decree) while trying to maintain social distancing. "There is an Islamic belief that during three nights of the holy month of Ramadan, the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad,” she says “This night comes with blessings and the mercy of God in abundance; sins are forgiven, and supplications are accepted." Instead of attending mass at the mosque during the COVID-19 outbreak, Roghayeh and her sisters honour the night by placing the Quran over their heads and watching the remote ceremony on TV. The economic situation of Iran during the past four decades left Roghayeh no choice but to become one of the breadwinners of her family. In the early years, she made money by sewing. But in the past 15 years, she became a small importer of women's clothing from Turkey.
During her last trip to Turkey, the border between Iran and Turkey was closed due to the pandemic. Her merchandise remained on the other side of the border, and even after two months of hassle, she still hasn’t been able to get the goods delivered to her small shop in the city of Tabriz. Despite the quarantine days in Iran, Roghayeh kept her shop open to be able to manage her economic conditions and pay the installments of her bank loans and rent.
It has been two years since her husband died of cancer. The cost of cancer treatment and the cost of funeral ceremonies in Iran are high enough to cause any average family great economic hardship. Roghayeh has not been able to get rid of the debts that were imposed on her in those days. "If things get better, if Coronavirus doesn't come back, if the borders are reopened, and if I get rid of all my debts, I won't work anymore, and I will manage my life with my husband's pension," Roghayeh said. She added: "When I think about my past, I see I've never had a chance to think about my dreams. I've always been working and running. My life has been ruined on buses, behind sewing machines and waiting at the border. I don't know, maybe that is life. Now that things are getting better in my life, I'm not in the mood for anything. Maybe the love of my children and grandchildren has kept me going."