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 am about to walk into. My eyes flick to the digital display on the dashboard.
3:58pm. Two minutes early.
I nervously glance to the notepad and pencil-case on the passenger seat. Butterflies flap wildly. 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. Standing at the front door, I knock timidly. Footsteps. A 30-something Iranian man opens the door and extends his hand. Tall, slender, dark hair, dark features. All in all, he looks Persian.
'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 out of nowhere. I'm relieved we at least know one word. On his laptop, he’s watching a game of beach soccer, between his native Iran and a second country I neglect to notice. We watch in silence for at least five minutes. It slightly eases the tension. Tension that maybe 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. I like it. And after all, isn't that why I'm here? To experience something different, and help someone different.
A young woman walks in, trailed closely by a tiny girl, instantly greeting me with warm smiles, as if they already recognise me. Neda is in her late 20’s, and her daughter Isun is almost four. Ehsan’s wife and child? I wonder. 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 phrase, but try my best to absorb the conversation. They occasionally glance in my direction apologetically, aware that every syllable is sailing well over my head.
Another male arrives. I quickly learn his name is Ash, Neda’s husband, and cousin to Ehsan. Okay, everything’s coming together. His English is remarkably better and provides a much more comfortable entry into the world of Persia. 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 beaming smile covers her face. She runs back to her mother. Her English is better than the three adults combined. But none of them have been in Australia very long.
I learn that Ehsan and Ash arrived as #refugees 18 months prior, surviving a horrific boat trip that could have easily ended up on the 6:00 news. Ehsan smiles as he recalls having to furiously scoop water out of the boat with his hands, while praying they didn't sink. He laughs nervously 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, laughing loudly.
Ash turns to me.
'So Mike, tell me. What do you know about Iran?'
The question catches me off-guard, but I answer honestly.
Ehsan grabs his laptop again and he swivels it in direction. Through YouTube, I see the beauty of their homeland. Ancient architecture, rolling hills, intimidating mountains, and dusty urban landscapes. I glance around the cramped kitchen and realise they all miss home. In the silence I can see the reminiscent cogs turning in their minds, but I can also tell they are grateful to be here in Australia, safe, and with endless opportunities ahead.
'Mike, how is my English?' Ash asks with a big smile on his face.
Ash laughs and tries to repeat the word ‘mate’, a true staple of the Aussie language. He 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 my partner 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.
I appreciate their unexpected, but extremely welcome entry into our lives, and not only have they become great friends, but Sel and I consider them family. And that family continues to grow. Through them, we have met a wider community of Iranians who we see regularly for dinner, parties and whatever other events come forth. We also had the recent pleasure of seeing Neda & Ash welcome their second little girl, Isla, into the world, further cementing the family's link to Australia.
I pulled up to that house in August 2013, not knowing what to expect. I volunteered to help Ehsan with English speaking for just 3 weeks. Over 3 years later, we’re about to spend our second Xmas day with them.
You never know who is around the next corner in your life. The next stranger you meet could turn out to become your best friend or part of your family. There is a billion+ people in this wide world. Embrace and respect others, and always keep your mind open to endless possibilities.
More articles from this author can be found on this blog.