Published: March 2nd 2011March 2nd 2011
NB: This post was originally written on Sunday, October 31st, 2010.
'Well, it’s the end of my second full day in Shiraz, embarking on my second visit to Iran. Yesterday, after having slept for a much-needed 12 hours on Friday night (I spent a total of 48 hours in-transit to get from Melbourne-Shiraz, with only max 5 hours’ sleep in between), I was befriended by a quirky 28 y.o. man by the name of Mostafa, who is one of the approx. 12 workers in the hotel at which I am now employed as well. He showed me around Shiraz on foot, saying that he would’ve liked to have taken me around on a motorbike (and indeed, I love riding on the back of motorbikes!), but he wanted me to get to know my surroundings properly first, which was considerate of him. We went to get some Shirazi ice-cream (a very sweet, whipped, creamy kind…a bit too sweet for me…but Iranians love things that are sickly sweet!) and some carrot juice (with a glob of ice-cream at the bottom!) which he insisted on paying for, which was very refreshing, since it’s still very hot in Shiraz during the day (26 degrees
Celsius, but it seems hotter when you have to wear Islamic dress and coz it’s such a dry, dusty heat), since it’s autumn…and won’t be getting cold til around December (winter). Mostafa is exceedingly direct: he said straightaway that I need to lose 20 kilos, because I am very fat, saying “You are very beautiful, except you are fat - your belly is like pregnant – and, you know, women always get fatter once they get married, so it is better for you to be thin before you are married!”, and he even asked me how much I weigh! (!). Despite this though, he is very hospitable, saying that he is at my service at any time: to help me learn Persian, to assist me in my new job in the hotel, and to show me around the city or on his motorbike (except he said not to tell the boss about the latter part, since the boss is a devout Muslim who does not approve of close relations between unmarried males and females…even though we are talking about a platonic relationship here, not an intimate one!).
Anyway, today I had my first ‘trial run’ of the work I
will be doing in the hotel: my job will be to serve the guests during breakfast, lunchtime and dinnertime: mainly doing waitressing work, but also keeping the courtyard (where the dining area is) neat and tidy and finding out what the guests like and don’t like i.e. being a ‘bridge’ between the mainly foreign clientale of the hotel and the Iranian management/staff. Starting from tomorrow, I will be working for 8 hours each day Mon-Sat, with one day off on Sundays (in Iran the weekend is only one day). The boss chose Sunday as my day off because he assumed that I was a Christian (Muslims have Friday as their day off), so he told me that I can go to the services of a nearby Orthodox church on Sundays if I wish…I thought it wise to not tell him that I actually have no religion! *wry smile*.
So I tried out the work today, and I tell you, it’s much harder than you think! The kitchen is in a cramped basement and it’s as hot as a boiler room, with huge cooking vats and flaming stoves…and when you’re stuck with wearing a headscarf and long sleeves and long
pants as a woman, you feel like you’re gonna suffocate in there! And it was all rather bewildering, since only two of the the kitchen staff know a few words of English, and I only know a few words of Persian in turn! So we had to communicate using lots of hand gestures and pointing…and what’s more, I can’t write in Persian (Persian uses the enigmatic Arabic script, writing from right to left), so when writing down the orders, I just had to say the orders in Persian, since my handwriting in English wasn’t gonna help anyone! Lol. One 18 y.o. guy wrote down for me how to write some of the main menu items in Persian, thinking that would help me…but to me, Persian looks like an impossible set of scribbles, lines and dots…so I think it will take me a long time to learn to distinguish/recognise all the different renderings of letters that can be written in Persian, since in Persian, the formation of the characters depends on whether the letter/sound occurs at the start, middle or end of a word.
But hey, I got there! The staff are all very friendly, communicating in smiles and praising
me when I reply in Persian or speak any amount of Persian, and they help me with pronouncing difficult Persian words and they will point at different objects and say their Persian names to me so that I learn quickly.
At the end of my shift, I paused in reflection and thought about how my experience today was probably very similar to the immigrants who came to Australia en masse in the 1950s and 1960s: they came to a country where they did not know the language (and, in many cases, this new language was extremely different to their native tongue in script and sound), so they had to begin with working in menial jobs and having culture/language clashes and simply learning by making mistakes, trying hard, and learning the new language by necessity…yes, of course it’s gonna be a bewildering experience at times, where you long for the comforts and ease of home…but the early days of moving to a new country are always the hardest, where everything seems confusing or difficult, and you miss your friends and family from back home because you are alone in this new country with few friends yet. But I am a
strong person with a fearless and defiant spirit, who has a great love for learning languages and experiencing how people live in different cultures, listening to people’s stories/perspectives and sharing my own in turn to see how they differ/mesh. Therefore, I trust that in time things will become easier for me, as my Persian language skills improve and I make more Iranian friends.
Tonight was an enjoyable night: after my mini-shift finished, I mingled with my Iranian friend Reza and his Intrepid Travel tour group he was leading, who are staying in the hotel where I work. (This was the same Intrepid Travel tour I took with Reza back in March for 15 days, when I first visited Iran, but this time they were only a group of five, not twelve like on my tour). They are three Aussies, one Kiwi and one Brit, all men except for the British girl. It was really nice to reminisce about my own experiences on that tour, and to ask them what their motivations for visiting Iran were, and to relax and laugh with them. Because I am lonely at the moment, I asked if I could accompany them out to dinner
(even though I am obviously not a part of the tour), and they were happy for me to come along. We went out to a big modern shopping mall where all the young Shirazis go to mingle, flirt, parade, shop, eat and play games. The women especially are dressed up to the nines: with their beehive hairstyles (big hair is king in Iran) with their headscarves perched as far back as possible on their heads, often with a fake hairpiece peeking out under their headscarf, full-on heavy dramatic makeup, often with rhinoplastied noses to look more European, tight-fitting brightly-coloured belted manteaus (obligatory trenchcoat for females to wear in Iran) and sky-high heels. It was certainly fantastic for people-watching in the mall!
Oh and, at the end of the night when our group was just preparing to leave the mall in taxis together, a lovely broad-smiling young man by the name of Ramin who looked no older than 20, came up to us and exclaimed that he was so happy and surprised to see us as foreigners in a shopping mall, since it’s not a normal touristy place, and that we were very welcome in his country. I couldn’t resist
asking him for his number and email address, since as mentioned, I am very eager to make friends in Shiraz. This was to great amusement by my onlooking friends, who even took a photo of me and Ramin exchanging details and teased me about it…but heck, what can I say, but that I am a sociable creature who also maintains that men and women can be just friends – there doesn’t have to be sex involved!
Anyway, the hour is late, so I better get to bed…it’s my first full 8 hour shift tomorrow, so I need to be on the ball to try to perform as best I can!
Khodahafez! ('Bye!' in Persian)"
There are more photos below