“Why do I never fit in?” That was the one question that had always been there in my life, that was, until I met my Iranian friends.
Now, I’d better explain. I’m not Iranian, I’m English. I was brought up in a middle-class English household in the south of the UK. But, I was different. I had a disability. This meant I walked differently (and still do) because the messages from my brain to my legs are wrong, because I was born prematurely.
But, I’ve never thought of myself as “disabled” and never will. When I see others with difficulties, I feel I can sympathise, but I don’t always feel I can relate to them. Likewise, able-bodied people notice I’m different and are not sure what to do. So, where do I belong?
It wasn’t until I met my colleague that this unease began to lift. In 2008 I was the “new girl” along with just one other new person in a large office of extremely busy people, all experts in their field. As “newbies” we stuck together, but for a long time I still felt out on a limb, a bit lost, a bit intimidated. I was just an assistant after all.
I was just starting to think, “oh no, I’m on my own again” when a chance encounter over coffee one morning in the staff canteen led me to strike up a friendship with Saeed. It turns out we both shared an affinity with the south, having both been to school in the same town and we were both music aficionados. He took me under his wing and became a mentor to me. We traded music via email. It was like an on-going game of virtual, “musical swap”. I did not even know he was Iranian at the time. It didn’t seem important. After all, who needs labels.
Then the 2009 election happened. I watched the news at home every evening after work and saw people my own age standing up and calling for change. One photograph stays with me to this day. It was the face of a man, probably only a year older than me, wearing a green bandana and pushing his hand, painted in the Iranian flag, into the camera lens, whilst behind him were flames. I felt his anger. I hated the injustice. I wanted change too.
Saeed and I had never talked politics before, but I soon found myself asking questions. I wanted to know more. I wanted to understand
But, it was then I heard my contract was going to end. It’d just started to feel like home. I had a group of six friends, they were from all over the place and all different ages. We were quite a crew and had many laughs together. Why did I have to leave now?
Little did I know, it was only just beginning. We all met for lunch hour on my last day and I was given a large card. Everyone had written something. But, there was one contribution I couldn’t read. I asked around. No one would help. It was in Persian script.
Saeed and I had pledged to continue our “musical swap” even though I was leaving. So, I wrote in my email to him: how do I read it? Right to left? Yes. Would he help with it? Could he give me a clue? No. It was my “challenge”.
I searched the internet for Persian resources and bought a book and CD’s. I taught myself the Persian alphabet using a Persian QWERTY keyboard on my laptop. I searched for Persian language classes. There were none, so I went to the only resource I could think of after watching all the 2009 election coverage: BBC Persian. I devoured the channel’s output and used the online news streaming on a daily basis to help me with new vocabulary and pronunciation.
Eventually, I found someone who could provide me with Persian language tuition. I now have two great (and, I hope) lifelong friends who share my love of poetry, music, photography and the outdoors, and I have found out about the history, politics and the cuisine of Iran as well.
Along the way, I have been shown how to drink tea with a sugar cube between my teeth. I have developed an addiction to Sohaan. I have read poetry by Sa’di and gained philosophical wisdom. I have listened to the melancholy voice of Shajarian and been moved. I have been privileged enough to have my friends share family pictures with me.
I can’t imagine my life without Iran amongst it somewhere now. If the music on your iPod is supposed to a lot about you, mine wouldn’t be the same without Babak Riahipour, Hessam Hessamyan, Bidad and Behnood Fadavi alongside Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
I hope Iran will see freedom and a stable political system. I also hope that one day, I will be able to see Iran.
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