Maria Fernanda Paes de Barros documents her complex journey to purchase a bag from Bahareh Zaman in Iran.
It all started with a Garland Magazine newsletter I received in November 2022, which brought news that was hard to believe, despite being extremely real. It spoke about the death sentences inflicted by the government of Iran on participants in the protests that were spreading across the country, as a way to denounce violence against women following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old girl who had been detained by the morality police in the city of Tehran for allegedly violating the country’s strict rules. It also spoke about the need for a supply of hope to keep our heads and spirits up, encouraging readers to show support in the comments of the Iranian female makers’ posts and stories on Garland’s Instagram and website.
I was deeply touched. As a woman born and living in Brazil, I tried to put myself in the shoes of Iranian women, but I knew that no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t even get close to the pain, the strength, the fear, the courage, that they were feeling and living. I needed to do something! I always say that our attitudes impact the lives of people around us, also people we don’t even know and live miles away. A smile, a minute of attention, a compliment, a word, when sincere, reverberates and spreads love. At the same minute, I got in touch with two incredible Iranian women to find out how they were doing, Atefe Mirsane, one of the incredible minds behind Craftland Magazine @craftland.magazine , and Samaneh Rostami @rostudio_on, a beloved designer I met during Iran Craft Week when we participated on a webinar together. I wanted them to know that Iranian women are not alone, that there are other women, other people, who even far away emanate their strength and hope. At the same time, I started a search through Garland’s Instagram by liking, commenting and sharing stories about Iran, its art, culture and people.
It didn’t take long for me to stumble across a post about Bahareh Zaman, @baharehzamangallery, an Iranian maker whose story about a bag with a world map in marquetry that highlighted Iran on fire, had already caught my attention in the magazine weeks before. I dove into Bahareh’s Instagram and the deeper I delved, the more I fell in love with her work and her desire to deliver an enlightening message through her art. I contacted her by sending a direct message on November 24, 2022, asking if she thought it would be possible to send a bag to Brazil. That day began a long journey full of obstacles that together we managed to accomplish.
We exchanged a few messages about models, values and measurements, while she checked with the post office the form and cost of shipping. At the beginning of December, Bahareh started to produce my bag, sending me photos so that I could choose the leather tone that would serve as the background for a small tile derived from the faulty patterns of the Islamic period tiles. At the same time that we shared the process of producing the bag, Bahareh told me about the tensions in her country that drained all her energy and I, on the other side of the ocean, looking for a way to pass on to her a bit of my energy to fulfil hers that is flowing away through her heart. It was very touching to watch the reels she posted packing my purse and a delicate earring with so much affection and the phrase: “In a world full of hate be love.”
We were so involved in everything that we only remembered that there need to be a payment that day. It was a public holiday in Iran and we waited a few more days for her to get the shipping quote so I could pay for everything in one go. It was the 18th of December, which is important to point out, since there was still a long way to go her to receive the payment. We didn’t have the slightest idea that it would be so difficult. The fact that she was in Iran didn’t make things easy. I can’t get used to the fact that often those who need more support are the ones who face the most barriers for that support to arrive.
There were 21 days of comings and goings. We initially tried using Web Money, but to make the transfer I needed to open an account on the platform and the system did not authorize me. I asked her about PayPal, but PayPal has banned Iran which made it really difficult for her to get access. I then tried Wise, but this platform also did not allow sending money to Iran.
I started to get worried. Had I given her hopes that the system would thwart, draining her of even more energy? This was definitely not an option, we must find a way.
The next day Bahareh went to the bank to get the Swift code for me to transfer directly from my bank to hers, but she found out that in order to get a Swift code she would need to open an account outside of Iran. It was then that Bahareh had the idea that I could make the payment to the PayPal account of a friend of hers who lived in Canada and this friend would transfer the amount to her. I made the transfer happy and she was already planning the shipment when she received the information that the operation had been cancelled. Something in the sending and receiving currencies was not correct.
We faced obstacles together and, at each step, we had become closer.
I tried again and this time it worked! It was December 23rd, time to celebrate, after all. We didn’t give up. We faced obstacles together and at each step, we had become closer. To our surprise, three days later we learned that PayPal withheld the money because, as her friend’s account was recently opened, the rule is that the money is retained for up to 21 days so that the identity of the person receiving the money can be verified. This is a security issue that is necessary nowadays, as we live in a world of distrust and fear. At that moment I remembered my apprenticeship with the Mehinaku indigenous people, in Aldeia Kaupüna, in the Xingu Indigenous Territory. There I participated in a moitará, a traditional exchange system, where trust and honesty are the basis of everything. Where along the way have we lost such essential values?
As the cost of shipping was high, Bahareh had to wait for the money to be released before sending me the purse and earrings. During those days we still had the feeling that the transfer could be cancelled, after all, we had already tried so many other alternatives without success. On January 8, 2023, Bahareh finally received the payment and meanwhile, here in Brazil, about four thousand people invaded the Planalto Palace, the Congress and the Federal Supreme Court, in an attack that tried to undermine democracy in my country.
As a Brazilian citizen, I felt invaded, depredated, and disrespected. As a citizen of the world, it became even clearer that we cannot stop reverberating love, respect and harmony. We cannot abandon hope, even when we see so many tragic events happening in different parts of the globe carried out by extremist people who in the search for power go over so much and so many.
Bahareh put the beautiful package in the mail that same day, and during the course of 21 days I found out that I needed to register in the import area of the post office in Brazil and pay a tax that more than doubled the value of the pieces in order to receive them. But they are worth it! Our challenge is worth a lot more! They finally arrived at my house on January 30th, 68 days after our first exchange of messages, which we had no idea would lead us through an adventure with so many learnings.
Every time I look at my beautiful bag created and made by Bahareh in Iran, I get emotional. I remember the protests there, in search of freedom, while here in Brazil, part of the people are attacking it. I remember the words of understanding, affection and encouragement that we exchanged and that helped us to move forward, overcoming obstacles and believing that our art, our attitudes, our words and our love can make a difference and somehow help to make more beautiful, lighter and just the world we live in.
Every time I take my bag for a walk, I meet someone who is enchanted with it and says it looks like a jewel. I promptly answer that she is precious and I take the opportunity to tell them a little about Bahareh, her culture, her country and her struggle.
Every time I take my purse with me, I also take a little bit of Bahareh Zaman, Atefe Mirsani, Samaneh Rostami, I take a little bit of all Iranian women, their fight for respect and their courage, and in a way, I fell that like them I’m also opening my chest and shouting out loud: “Woman, life, freedom!”
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