Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I have these memories from my childhood (usually of situations that have puzzled me the first time round) that I revisit at different times in my life and find new meanings in them. This is one such memory.
I’m four or five and I’m sitting on the backseat of my uncle’s car in between my mum and my grandmother. My aunt and my uncle are in the front. All the women are wearing black. My uncle is wearing a denim shirt and has his sleeves rolled up. His left arm is resting on his rolled down window. It’s very tanned and brown. His other arm is much lighter. Every so often he smiles winks at me in the rear view mirror. We’re on a dusty road making our way to prison to visit my grandfather. The grownups are chatting about stuff I have absolutely no interest in. It’s all, blah blah confiscated blah blah executed. It’s grownup-speak.
They all look very serious but as soon as they look at me they smile and pass me orange segments or bread. All is well with me but then suddenly something happens. And this is why my brain decides that it should record and file this incident so I can go over it later. I notice that the biggest blob of snot is making its way out of my nose.
“Tissue,” I say to my mum, pointing to my nose, “I need a tissue.”
My mum starts rummaging through her bag and saying, “Does anyone have a tissue?”
My aunt starts looking through her bag too but my grandma doesn’t. Straightaway she holds a part of her headscarf between two fingers and says, “Blow!”
I’m horrified. I don’t want to blow my nose on someone’s headscarf. But before I can say anything she pushes my head forward and wipes my nose. I pull my head back and see the most enormous blob of snot in all its yellow-green glory dangling from her scarf. She smiles at me and quickly and expertly, folds that area of her scarf and ties it in a knot. The snot is now cocooned in her scarf and dangling in front of her chest where it stays all day dangling in the prison waiting room and in the visiting room and all the way back home again in the car on the dusty road. And no matter how much I stare at it, I can’t work out why someone would voluntarily wear someone else’s snot.  

The next time I visited this memory was as a revolutionary teenager. When I looked back I was embarrassed for having been such a stupid little kid. I had been there with these people whose lives had been turned upside down. They had lost everything and all I was interested in was why did my grandmother wipe my nose with her headscarf!
After the revolution, my grandfather had been put in prison and my grandmother had come out of her home one day to visit her sister and had never been able to get back into her home again because it had been confiscated along with everything else they owned. They hadn’t done anything; it’s just that the general rule after a revolution is that the rich and the poor swap places. Our home had been taken too. As if that wasn’t enough, there was talk of my grandfather being executed. In fact one day his name had been announced on the radio as one of the people who had been killed that morning. It had been a mistake but these were the kind of things that these people were dealing with at the time of the great “snot in a knot” incident! These people were sad and anxious, scared and worried but they still had to give me fake smiles and winks to keep me happy in the car and in other places. That must have been very hard for them. Just the thought of that made me cringe with embarrassment.
When I talked to my grandmother about all this, she would say, “Yes but I’m much happier now than I was before the revolution. I have a better life now,” she’d say, “I never liked living in that mansion.”
But did that matter? It was great that she was happy but what had happened to her was still wrong and very bad. I wished I could go back in time and somehow stop that from happening. When I grew up, I would make sure no one suffered from an injustice. I would even give my life to protect people’s rights.  

The next time I revisited this memory was as a mother. I had picked Dara up and he had thrown up straight down my cleavage and so once more (yes this happened more than once) I found myself trying to make my way to the bathroom while carrying a baby and trying to stop a large quantity of sick from sliding down my top, down my trouser legs and onto the carpet. I looked at Dara and I thought to myself, “You little man are the only person in the whole world who can get away with throwing up on me. And not only that but when you do this my first thought is not, “Oh I have sick on me, how horrible I think I’m going to throw up”, but it’s, “Is he OK and how can I make him happy.”
And suddenly I was in that car again on the dusty road, with a runny nose. But now the memory was no longer about the injustice or sadness or who executed whom, how, why and with what effect. Yes those people were upset and worried and anxious, and yes they had lost everything but the smiles and winks they gave me were real. Most importantly, someone (who was not my mother) had once loved me so much, that she had worn my snot in a knot like a crest on her chest for an entire day in Evin prison. That is COOL!

Finally, this is what I’m seeing now when I take a trip down that dusty memory lane as a woman approaching forty.
People always said my grandmother was the kindest person in the world. They couldn’t understand how she could lose everything and still be happy and be able to laugh until she had to excuse herself and go and change her outfit or say things like, “Our house in the village has been turned into a school, isn’t that great?!” and really mean it. But she herself said to me time and again when I was older that the revolution and losing all her stuff, had actually, if she was absolutely honest, been good for her. Before the revolution, they had been very rich. They had lots of land and lived in a great big mansion with a huge garden. They were far away from their family and friends. People visited them once a week for Friday lunch. Lots and lots of people would come which she loved but she didn’t really get to sit down and have a nice chat with the people she missed; she was running around most of the time, being a good hostess.
After the revolution when she lived in a flat in Tehran, her friends and relatives visited her almost every day. My uncle and cousins lived two minutes away and we went there all the time too.
Her relationship with my grandfather (I don’t want to get into the details but let’s just say it) wasn’t good. After a few years when he was released from prison, he was a completely different person. The two of them began a wonderful relationship and stayed together until the end.
So this is what I’m thinking about now:
If as a direct result of a great injustice, the person who the injustice has been done to ends up begin happier than before, do we still call it a bad thing or is it a good thing now?!
If I could go back in time now and stop that from happening, would I do it?
Is it disturbing that I can’t even agree (on a simple matter of right and wrong) with my own self over the course of my own lifetime?!

Now what I’m really looking forward to is revisiting this memory as a grandmother. I’m hoping that I will then find out the true meaning of Snot in a Knot. I’m secretly hoping to find out that grandchildren’s snot has some kind of healing power and can be sold for a good price at a special grandmothers’ bazar in downtown Tehran.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Multiculturalism. It's a beautiful thing. But are we using it to its full potential?
I am very pleased to report that lately I have had the pleasure of helping many of my fellow citizens in my host nation by sharing with them the knowledge and wisdom of my other culture. Yesterday I bumped into one such helpee and he thanked me profusely for what I had done for him five weeks prior.
You see my neighbour wanted to take his family away in Easter but he wanted to leave a few days before the holidays started because tickets were so much cheaper then. He had filled in a form at his son’s school and asked for two days off for him.
I saw him getting out of his car one morning, waving papers in the air and foaming at the mouth. “They refused,” he was yelling, “Can you believe it?”
I said, “Children aren’t allowed to take days off any more. You know that right?”
“Yes but I was honest with them,” he spat, “I told them that if we didn’t leave early we couldn’t afford to go on holiday. They still rejected my request.”
He was absolutely furious. He said he was going to take his son out of that school because he was so angry with them.
I said to him, “Listen. I can fix your problem but you must do exactly as I tell you, no more, no less. First you go home and bin those papers. Scratch that, recycle them. Then book those cheap tickets for you holiday. On the day of your departure, take your family to the airport and just before getting on the plane, call the school and tell them that your child is sick.”
Now five weeks later he was back here thanking me for my help. They’d had a lovely holiday and he had not taken his child out of that school or had a fistfight with the head-teacher.
Unfortunately Mr Farage does not see these positive impacts that we foreigners can have on the society. All he sees is foreign pickpockets coming here and stealing jobs from British pickpockets. How many children have now been able to go skiing in term time or sun themselves in Canary Islands because of my sound advice to their parents? At least six.
British people find it very difficult to lie. They are forever owning up to things and telling the "truth".
"I broke that. I'm very sorry. I take full responsibility."
"I'm very sorry but I might have scratched your car."
"We seem to have invaded your country for no reason whatsoever but don't worry we're leaving now. You're OK clearing up right? Excellent! Bah-bye now. Bah-bye.”
An Iranian can and will take her child out of school for a week to go skiing and then sends her back with a sick note from a doctor friend that the child will give to her teacher with a tanned face and goggle marks around her eyes.
An Iranian does not feel guilty about lying to the authorities. We have a lot of rules that don't make sense so we have to decide for ourselves which ones we accept and which ones we ignore.
For example the number one rule of drinking in Iran is that you never admit to it. Deny. Deny.Deny. Always. Even if you’re too wasted to stand up straight and you’re having to hold onto something to try and steady yourself and that something turns out to be the beard of the police officer who is trying to arrest you, you still do not admit to drinking.
“No shir, I have never had a drink in my whole entire life. Hic”
There are special situations however in which a British person will as a rule, always lie. In Britain no one's bum ever looks big in anything. "You look great," they keep telling each other, "you look great!"
When I first came to England, a young lady of eighteen, with a head full of dreams and a face full of facial hair, I did not know about these nuances of culture. You see I am not a big fan of looking at myself in the mirror so usually when an aunt or a friend said to me, “Seriously, do something about your face or I’m not going anywhere with you” that was my cue to mow down my moustache. But here in England everyone had been all, ‘What hair? Where? I can’t see anything. You look great!"
I was under the impression that since moving to England my moustache had become invisible. Six months had passed like this until one day I met up with an Iranian friend who set me straight. She told me that I had become a victim of a reverse case of Emperor's New Moustache and that this in fact was the reason shopkeepers were calling me sir. Thanks a bunch British people! I looked like Clark Gable. Thank you for your “honesty” and “sincerity”!
Iranians never lie about the important things in life. An Iranian will tell you if your bum looks big in something, sometimes when you haven’t even asked.
You see Mr Farage, there is so much we must learn from you and there is so much you can learn from us. We know this. Why else would we leave behind our families and friends, our dry countries, and most importantly, the safety and security of our metric system to come here? I’ve been here for twenty years now and I still have absolutely no idea how much my friends weigh or how tall they are or how much grape I’ve bought. And although the separate scorching hot and freezing cold taps have been absolutely brilliant on those rare occasions when I’ve wanted to pasteurise my hands, I still don’t fully understand them. It’s a daily struggle but we soldier on because we have a dream; a dream to make a new breed of superhuman beings with impeccable queuing ethics and the ability to take their children out of school in term time without breaking out in a rash. Who knows maybe one day they will even use the metric system. But let’s not set our goals too high now. One step at a time.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Our PC is probably the least smart of all our electrical goods at the moment and I’m including the toaster in this. The toaster is not smart but it does what is asked of it. The PC is not smart but it thinks it is. It’s like a teenager. It thinks it knows better than us. It even has that, do-I-have-to air about it. Every time I ask it to save something, it comes up with questions like, “Are you sure you want to include all the layers?” So the Iranian in me starts taarofing and I go and delete some of the layers and merge a few together and then ask it again politely to save the file, if it’s not too much trouble. Then it does it finally, reluctantly. And I can’t work out what its problem is. It’s not like it has better things to do, other places to be. It just can’t be bothered. And it’s constantly denying the existence of things, “File does not exist”, “Scanner cannot be found” I’m looking at the file on its desktop and the scanner is five centimetres away from it. Luckily I’m quite good at fixing computer problems. I turn the scanner off and on again. The two of them meet. The computer sighs. 
The only subject our PC is actually interested in is virus protection. Every time I turn it on, there is a new virus it needs to be protected from. It’s a complete hypochondriac. So I get AVG on the case, who always recommends a full body scan. Then I have to sit there while the PC tells AVG all about its various ailments. I swear there is something going on between those two. 
My phone is definitely my favourite of all our gadgets. The only negative thing I can say about my phone is that it doesn’t speak Farsi. Even that is not a problem actually, it’s the fact that it doesn’t speak Farsi but insists it can that gets on my nerves a little. I keep saying to it, “You don’t speak Farsi and that’s absolutely fine. Please just don’t autocorrect me when I’m writing something. For example when I wrote that email to that Iranian publisher and you autocorrected my Bemoom (stay) to Bekoon (to my bottom) that was not funny.” And it wasn’t. 
But I love its enthusiasm. It’s like a puppy dog. Even when I’m writing something with a pencil (pencils never have any idea what you’re writing and won’t even attempt to guess) I can see my phone on the table with its hands up going, “I know! I know what you’re trying to write! Pick me! Pick me!” 
My iPad is evil. I’m pretty sure it’s planning a coup against us or something even more evil and twisted like hijacking the television and locking all the channels onto Iranian Press TV. It’s smart. Maybe a bit too smart. And cheeky. 
It has gone and given me a nickname for example, off his own bat, without my say-so. And now wherever my name appears, underneath it says, “Dark Tower”. 
“You are Shirin,” it tells me, “but because we’re buddies, I get to call you Dark Tower.” 
I’m pretty sure it’s alive. One time Dara said to it, “If I put a book in front of your screen, will you read it to me?”
The iPad replied, “I’m sorry but I seem to have misplaced my reading glasses in another dimension.”
We thought this was brilliant. Our iPad is so witty we thought, wonderful. Sometime after that we had a few friends over and we were telling them about this. Then we thought why tell them when we can just show them! So we brought the iPad out and we asked the question again. Do you know what it said? 
“I will do a web search for that, Dark Tower.”
We were like, “No no no, don’t do a web search! Say that funny thing!” 
But it just flat out refused to say it and made me look like a complete idiot. You see what I mean when I say it’s evil. 
My phone too calls me Dark Tower. But I don’t mind that. I know that is the iPad’s doing. It probably told my phone that this is what I wanted. My phone is very gullible. The iPad was here way before my phone arrived. My phone looks up to the iPad.