Georgina’s first message from Tehran, 3 June 2007
It was a wonderful farewell party for us in Vienna and I thank all of you who were able to come or send your good wishes. The location was a bit haphazard, as the staff were not at all ready for us when we arrived, so we had to arrange the tables ourselves on the terrace, the drinks were just quickly stacked on a table, the afternoon tea was sparse …. but the atmosphere more than made up for it! We thought the Viennese would quickly tire and go home after a few hours, still at 10.30 whilst dancing with balloons and children high on sugar, we begged to leave! We certainly didn’t expect all the presents either! We had to deliver a last box to the removal company as we could not fit it all in our suitcases. Amazing to get so many delicious bottles of wine , which we had to drink up quickly before traveling to our destination where alcohol is equivalent to an ASDL line to the devil. Thank you so much, at the risk of being too sentimental, we really felt loved by our big Austrian family, we won’t leave you too long. And this was a good feeling to take with us as we went to the island of Sylt in Northern Germany where we brought the ashes of Alex’s mother, Ingrid.
The week in Sylt was also very special in a strange way. Just before my parent split up legally we all went on a three-day boating trip as a family, and we refer to this trip as the ‘divorce holiday’. So it was that we spent five days in a village near the church and cemetery of Keitum, for a sort of ‘funeral holiday’. Sylt is a rather twee island of wandering white sandy beaches, dog rose thickets and thatched cottages, which is probably the birthplace of hobbits and pixies. In fact it is the playground of well-heeled Germans, the Hamptons of Hamburg and instead of tacky gift shops selling rude postcards, there were Burberry and Amani stores. Which were nice to look at! It meant a great deal to us that a few of Alex’s friends came who remembered Ingrid when Alex lived in a big house in the northern German countryside. Also from England, my father came and so did Beth for solidarity, which was really important for Alex and me, and did help us to keep strong.
We needed our strength for the onward journey. From Sylt to Hamburg by train, then to Istanbul and landing in Tehran in the early hours of the morning. We were met by the UNICEF team, who brought us to the apartment where we are staying, as we looked out of the window to a vibrant crowd ranging from Barbie doll women to full black chadors, we tasted our first dusty breath of this mega-tropolis. The bugs had taken the week of an empty building as a holiday for themselves and so we were a bit horrified as we found cockroaches in the rooms and even a lizard in Maddy’s bedroom, which Tristan picked up by the tail, bare handed. I hate to kill animals, specially not in self-defence, but I hate to share my shower with a creepy crawly. The sign of wealth here it seems is to have huge dark chunky ornately carved Italian-style furniture that dominates the room, and a heavy dose of net curtains. Bit of a shock for us Ikea types, and we only use half the room. Amusingly the kids quite like the hole-in-the-floor loos, but I am grateful for the European-style throne with the weird flush system.
Despite the rough start we brought the children to their new school the next day! The school is set in the grounds of the British Council, surrounded by a high wall, and barbed wire, with security guards, but inside is relaxed and really British! It was a culture shock for me too!. I felt catapulted into my childhood of custard creams and sponge pudding. The accent is from “up north”, teachers jovial and teasing, everyone referred to “Mr” and “Mrs”, and a choice of cooked or packed lunches, which does not happen in Austria. Still the children dived in and whilst I got to grips with networking the mums. I have brazenly made “Wanted: Summer Buddies” cards to give out to anyone who I said they would stay here over the holidays. There are many more business expats here and one refers to themselves as “Birgit, BMW” or “Masha, MTN,” (the big south African phone company). Madelene and Tristan are totally normal here, everyone has married a German-Lebanese, with children born in Chile and Dubai. I have taken to saying I am from Austria, as saying that you are English is a bit like wearing a loud T-shirt with “I LOVE GEORGE BUSH” on it. Consequently I keep getting asked about kangaroos and teamed up with other German-speaking mums.
So after one week in Tehran for the Nitzsche family we have mixed feelings. Tristan said this morning “Why did Daddy have to find a job here!” He finds the head scarf more annoying than I do. I have two nice long coats and scarves to wear which is no problem and frankly it is nice not to see too many overweight, or too skinny, tattooed or hairy bodies anyway. I expected the condition of the streets to be better somehow, though we can walk single file along the side of the water canals. The traffic is certainly incredible, the white line in the middle is just a guide, red traffic lights mean ‘Watch Out” and the No Left Turn sign really means, “No Easy Left Turn”. This week, there was a 3-litre per visit to the gas station, there is however, no limit on the number of visits, so the petrol station have long queues day and night along the roads. Drivers dare not use up their three litres quickly so they switch off the air cooling, adding to the problem of traffic frustration. Still there are easier times than others and we have managed to get around with our driver, Alija. I think I will have to take driving lessons before I can drive here, though I think the driving style of my mother, would be perfect for the streets of Tehran.
Alex is excited as we have taken advantage of the diplomatic offer to import a car tax-free. We were salivating over the thought of finally owning a Defender, but in fact the choice is much smaller, so he has chosen a monster Toyota tank so that we can travel in the countryside, and I have the double feeling of shame and desire…… Until it comes I will be using the international hand signals with taxi drivers.
So between driving to school and looking at houses, and shops, we are settling in. We have found a good house at the foot of a woodland park looking up to the Alborz mountains. The perfect house we thought we would take turns out to be soooooooo nice, that I dare not live there!! So I will give up the indoor pool for a small heated outdoor one and the garden for a patch of grass, but at least I feel I can relax there. The house is in the dark brown, heavy furniture style, but it is the best I have seen and our furniture will fit in when it comes and fill up the 400sqm quickly. There is also a separate apartment for guests. The decor largely depends on when the families emigrated. If it was in the 70s then it is brown if it was in the 80s then it is pink. Ours in 70s, with a hint of Persian. So whilst there are big sunflower tiles in the bathroom, there is a few stained glass windows too. This week we will sign the contract for our new house and hopefully next week our boxes will arrive, so we can move in and start having soirées!
The children were in the end of term show and we have had a few play dates already. We can count to ten in Farsi and say hello, good-bye and thank you. We have been swimming, shopping, out to restaurants and started extra English. We have noticed that people here eat with a fork and spoon, that they stare at Maddy’s blond hair, that they don’t use the 24 clock and that there are no chain stores so you have to remember where you have seen a shop that you liked. This might mean that the pharmacy, bakery, dry cleaners are 20 minutes drive apart! They are very polite but that’s nothing against my “sorry, thank you , sorry, very nice, thank you” that drives people mad in Vienna. So, so far so good. We are surely going to manage here. The one thing for sure that will make our stay here wonderful, is the people. They are all so warm and friendly, interested and interesting. Perhaps I have been privileged, but I don’t think so. I think that a nation of such people should not be dismissed lightly.
In the meantime we will explore the helpfully latinic-labeled streets, museums and parks. Alex is still learning the ropes, but this job is certainly exactly what he wanted, so I am proud and happy for him, even it means he has to work whilst we play.
We are thinking of you and wondering how you are spending your time, we already plan our next trip to Austria next Easter, so hope we will see at least some of you too.