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J ennifer Klinec never wanted a big wedding. Jennifer, with cropped, blond hair, a wide smile and an endearing air of bewilderment at the twists her life has taken, tells me over a coffee that she knew little about temporary marriages before she decided to visit Iran. In fact, when she arrived in the beautiful desert city of Yazd — famous for its labyrinthine old city mudbrick buildings and ancient wind towers — she was looking for women, not men.
Having already travelled widely, including to Yemen and Syria, to learn new recipes, the former cookery writer was determined to find a housewife to teach her about Persian food. So, when she was approached by a slightly grumpy year-old man called Vahid, she was only interested in hearing about his mother, she says. He was shorter than me and looked angry — he has bushy eyebrows and long eyelashes and always looked disapproving. When I travel I always try and get out of the capital city to somewhere slower and smaller.
I knew Yazd would be very beautiful and the food would be good. In the evenings, Vahid would walk her home. But the scrutiny the couple were under was suffocating. What do you know about her past? While in more socially liberal cities such as Shiraz or Tehran, unmarried couples push the boundaries of the law, Yazd was much stricter, says Jennifer. But in Yazd when we sat next to each other in public I had to face the opposite direction and pretend to read.
The obstacles they faced mean the relationship was immediately intensified, says Jennifer. It was a form of courtship I had never experienced before. But Jennifer says she was always aware that their pairing did not conform to the traditional gender roles of such a conservative society.
But even as a child she was expected to look after herself. Her parents were from impoverished backgrounds in Eastern Europe, and intent on making a success of their business. Their long hours meant Jennifer and her sister would be woken by a phone call in the morning, make their own way to school, and come home again to an empty house. Birthdays were forgotten or dismissed and when the family did eat together the conversation centred on business orders.