27… 29… 31 Redwood Drive. This must be the house. The scribble on my notepad says so. No cars out front, not that I would know what they drive, or if they drive.
I pull the car over and sit for a moment. I turn the radio down and ponder what I’m about to walk into. My eyes flick to the digital display on the dashboard.
I’m two minutes early. I nervously glance to the notepad and pencil-case on the passenger seat. Butterflies flap wildly in my gut. I give my stomach a gentle rub. To appease my mind, not the butterflies.
In one brave swoop, I take a deep breath, gather up my stuff, yank the keys from the ignition, open the door, step outside, slam the door, and lock the car. I’m standing at the front door, knocking timidly. Footsteps. I’m greeted by a 30-something Iranian man. Tall, slender, dark hair, dark features. All in all he looks… Iranian.
“Eh-san”, I stutter nervously, hoping I pronounced it correctly.
He smiles. I smile. He opens the door and welcomes me inside. He utters the word “soccer” and I’m relieved there’s at least one word I know that he knows. On his laptop, he’s watching a game of beach soccer, between his native Iran and a second country I’m not interested in. We watch in silence for a good five minutes. It slightly eases the tension. Tension that likely only I’m feeling.
He offers me what I think is a beverage. I can’t really understand him. I politely nod and end up with a cup of tea. Another baby step toward comfort. We sit for another ten minutes, not exchanging words, but smiles and laughter. Slightly awkward laughter as nothing is said to warrant it.
The opening of the front door provides a welcome distraction. Ehsan disappears and I hear a language I later learn to be ‘Farsi’. It’s very…. Middle Eastern. But I like it. After all, isn’t that partly why I’m here? To experience something different. To help someone different.
A young woman walks in, trailed closely by a tiny girl. I’m instantly greeted by warm smiles, as if they already recognise me as more than a stranger. Neda is in her late 20’s. Her daughter Isun is almost four. The three talk among themselves in Farsi and I sit there and smile. I listen hard to the words, trying not to awkwardly strain my face at the same time. I don’t understand a single word or phrase, but I still try my best to absorb the conversation. They occasionally glance in my direction apologetically, aware it’s all sailing well over my head.
Last but not least, Neda’s husband Ash arrives home. Ehsan’s cousin of a similar age. His English is remarkably better. We talk for hours. A rare full sentence, an occasional half sentence, but mostly single words and hand gestures. Intermingled with tonnes of laughter, and laughter more appropriate than earlier. Isun shows me her latest drawing and a huge smile covers her face. She runs back to her mother. Her English is better than the three adults combined. But they haven’t been in Australia long.
I learn that Ehsan and Ash arrived as refugees 18 months ago, surviving a horrific boat trip that could have easily ended up on the nightly news. Ehsan smiles as he recalls having to furiously scoop water out of the boat with his hands, while praying that they don’t sink. He laughs as he mimics the scooping but there’s a slight hint of regret and horror veiled beneath his wide smile.
“Never again,” he blurts out as he laughs loudly.
Ash turns to me.
“So Mike, tell me. What you know about Iran?”
The question catches me off-guard, but I answer honestly.
They show me a video on YouTube. I see the beauty of their homeland. Ancient architecture, rolling hills, intimidating mountains, and dusty urban landscapes. I glance around the cramped room and realise they all miss home, but they are just as grateful to be here in Australia, relatively safe, and with endless opportunities ahead.
“Mike, how is my English?” Ash asks with a big smile on his face.
Ash laughs. He then explains to Neda, in Farsi of course, what we were talking about. Judging by the look on his face, and Neda’s infectious laughter, she served up a friendly insult back to her husband.
The one hour English lesson with Ehsan eventually turns into a three-hour conversation with the three adults, and the occasional appearance from Isun, who darts between the kitchen and her own bedroom. They ask me to stay for dinner but I politely decline. I wasn’t expecting dinner and Sel was expecting me home. The following week I take Sel with me and we repeat week one all over again, but with dinner and wine included.
Although they are unlikely to read this post at any stage, this is my way of showing how much I appreciate their entry into our lives, and to recognise that they have not only become friends, but that Selina and I consider them family. And that family continues to grow. The original group of four has now swelled up to around ten Iranians who we see regularly for dinner, parties and whatever other events pop up.
That all started in August 2013. I was only ‘tasked’ with helping Ehsan with his English for just 3 weeks while he was on break from study. As of today, almost 18 months after pulling up to their house for the first time, the photographs below were taken on January 15, 2015. We attended the Iran v Qatar football match in Sydney for the Asian Cup and had an absolute ball.
My second reason for writing this post was to show you wonderful readers that you never know who is around the next corner in your life. The stranger you meet could turn out to become your best friend or part of your family. There’s a billion+ people in this wide world. Embrace and respect others, and always keep your mind open to endless possibilities.
Did you meet your partner, or good friend through an unexpected meeting? Share your story with me!