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I learnt to try and disguise my Middle Eastern appearance until I became Spanish or Italian or Greek. Not any more.

Soraya George
March 10, 2005

I am overwhelmed this morning waking up to more e mails from Iranians from different counties and reading their experiences. I am so pleased I found your web site and have found myself now sharing my experiences with others who actually empathise and understand [See: "Kind of kinship"]. I have replied to them all and thought that two of my responses might be of interest to you. Hopefully now we have tools like the internet, the world will hear the voices of the Iranian people who are struggling in Iran and who, for so many years have not had a voice.

My memories of Iran in 1990
When I was in Iran I was amazed at how beautiful it was. I went up into the mountains, to the beaches by the Caspian sea visited so many wonderful ancient buildings and mosques in Isfahan and was stunned by the well kept parks and fountains. Most of all I was overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality of it's people.

I know that when my Father tried to sell me as a bride he was a man in desperate times but it is one reason I am too scared to go back. My dad joined the Iranian navy when he was a young boy and served all his life. He had known no other way of living. When the war with Iraq broke out in 1980 he was put in army uniform and sent to the front line. As soon as he survived that, he bought his way out of the navy. I think this cost him dearly. I sound like I am making excuses for him and I suppose in a way I am.

I met some lovely Iranian girls on the flight over who were from a wealthy family and I spent a lot of time with them. All the children from their family were educated in England or America and the two cultures mixed well inside their home. They had a hidden disco with a bar behind a bookcase where they played a mixture of Iranian and Western music. I felt that Iranians know how to enjoy themselves even with the restrictions on them.

The two sisters told me of a time when the government first brought in the law that women should cover themselves. They were at school and paraded in the streets with banners in protest. They were all arrested and put in prison for weeks. They and three others were the only school children that survived in their class, their family had money and the others didn't. I cried when they told me and so did they.

One day we were walking down a street in Tehran and one of my companions told a joke. I laughed. Both girls grabbed me and one put her hand over my mouth. They looked so frightened, really frightened. They whispered to me and told me I must not laugh in public! What was that about ?

I remember feeling really awkward because I walked into a post office and on to a bus through doors for the men's section. Wanting so much to understand it all -- because I felt I sorta belonged but not really (that's the only way I can describe it) -- I don't think that Western society has it right either, but the mix of culture that I saw in the girls' home was wonderful for me to see. They celebrated their own culture but enjoyed another's as well.

If I hadn't met them I may have left Iran with a different opinion on the country all together. Their family was so proud to be Iranian. They took me to one of their orchards in the middle of nowhere. An old man, with no shoes and clothes that were torn, worked the orchard. He used to walk the ten miles every day to get there. He invited us back to his village. He lived in one room with a wife and 8 children, he had no furniture. He had nothing, and yet he insisted we stay for something to eat. We had yogurt and bread.

There was one tap in the village where everyone washed there clothes, plates and themselves. They were simple, loving people who didn't really understand politics or governments, just that life was very hard. That was a very special day for me because until then I thought my dad was a poor Iranian. I wanted to embrace that family...

We left there and went to the other extreme: one of the former Shah's palaces. I cannot remember what it was called but it was round and all the furniture in it was round too. I also went to see Khomeini's tomb which was still being built. It was a huge golden mosque with the biggest chandelier I'd ever seen. The floor was covered in beautiful Iranian carpets and the whole building had air conditioning.

I saw the "blood" fountain at Tehran's main cemetery, the place Khomeini first spoke to the people and walked amongst the many graves where martyrs had photographs on stands... there were so many young faces, some looked barely 16-years old.

I think I managed to see the diverse Iran in the short time I was there. I could go on for hours about my experiences, probably because I've never felt anyone wanted to hear it before. I am amazed at the responses I have had from Iranians living in the West and am so proud to be able to say that my dad is Iranian

My experiences living in England
I have never spoken to anyone about my Iranian half, until I wrote "Kind of kinship". I learnt to try and disguise my Middle Eastern appearance until I became Spanish or Italian or Greek which was much more excepted in England when I was young.

Growing up I had a very dark "moustache" (best way to describe it), my eyebrows met in the middle and my skin was darker than any of my school friends. My mum is very English and looks nothing like me. She has no knowledge of Iranian culture and neither did I. My dad was a man I had read about in flowery love letters.

I was labeled Pakistani at first. I went to school with chants of "paki paki paki". I found that I had more in common with children from Jamaica or Africa then I did with English kids so I started mixing with them. I was then labeled a "nigger lover", and that went on for years. I could only safely get home in one piece if I had friends with me, otherwise it was a 15-minute run home.

Our country went to war in the Falklands against the Argentians in the 1980's. Suddenly I became an Argentinean and was called "argie argie argie". The thing is no one knew where Iran was. We had no Middle Eastern children in my school, college or university at the time. It wasn't just my appearance that confused everyone, it was the way I was as well.

Now I have been to Iran it all makes sense: my sensitivity, my high emotions, my love for poetry and the way I cry (I wail) and when I love, I do with so much passion. I know I am generalising but most English people are just not like that... even my mum couldn't get it. My trip to Iran sorted a lot of things out for me. It gave me an identity which I am proud of...

I am so very Iranian in so many ways, the laughter in me and the want to celebrate. The generosity in me has been mistaken and I have been taken advantage of because of it but it is in my nature. I am proud to say that my dad is Iranian now but even in my adult life people don't really understand where Iran is or that Iraq is a different place.

People around me just think that Iran and Iraq are full of mad people who want to destroy our Western way of life and because I am the only person they know with any connection to the Middle East then I become Khomeini or Saddam in their eyes. My peers wouldn't want to hear about my trip to Iran or how wonderful and beautiful the country is... they believe everything they see on the news!

I will not say I am half Greek, Spanish or Italian for an easy life now. I know that the Iranian culture is rich with history, love and compassion and I will never deny that I have an Iranian father. I have travelled extensively, subconsciously looking for a place I feel I can belong to. Fell in love with Asia, Africa and South America but you are still a foreigner in someone else's country. I am now going off to New Zealand for 6 weeks... researching another country for a place I can call home.

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Soraya George



Book of the day

Stories From Iran
A Chicago Anthology 1921-1991
edited by Heshmat Moayyad

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