Potluck of Cultures

Atefeh

This is Atefeh. She’s from Iran. She brought saffron and pistachios to have a little taste of Iran in the US.

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When Atefeh and her husband Amir first moved from Iran to the United States 4 years ago, she was very surprised by the hot humid weather and the endless stream of cars in the streets of Atlanta. The couple left Iran because they felt moving abroad would offer better opportunities for Amir. Now, after spending 2 years in the Netherlands and another 4 years in Atlanta for Amir’s education, they are getting ready for their move to California. “Moving abroad was very difficult, but I soon learned to adapt myself. My friends ask me when they text: ‘how do you adjust and leave your family?’ I don’t know the answer.. Maybe I just love my husband very much, I left my job, family, everything.” She says the hardest part of leaving Iran, was leaving her family. “In my city, of course I hang out with my friends, but mostly we spend our time with family. Now, I miss my family, because it has been 2 years since I have seen them and I would really want to go back and see them.”
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In Iran, Atefeh worked as a teacher for disabled children, but she knew she would not be allowed to work if she joined her husband. Even though moving abroad was a mutual decision, Atefeh likes to joke with her husband about her decision. “He gave me the choice to choose whatever I wanted to do, and I chose to come with him. I really loved my job, the children, teaching, but I told my husband: it’s okay, I will sacrifice myself for you (laughs).” Initially, she was worried she would not be able to find useful ways to fill her time, but she quickly realized there was so much she could do. Now, she loves to spend her time hiking in Georgia’s natural parks, volunteering at Gigi’s Playhouse, an achievement center for individuals with Down syndrome, and spending time with her friends. She says s14572900_661677837314013_6510376783401125847_nhe loves the diversity of people in Atlanta, the mix of different cultures and countries she has been able to get to know since coming here. However, becoming close to them has not always been easy. “In the Georgia Tech spouse group, I have made really good friends. Because we are all in the same situation, we can share our feelings; but if I have a problem, I want to be honest, I will tell it to my husband or my Iranian friends. Sharing feelings in your own language is easier, but I also feel more connected to them, because people from my culture understand me better.” Although Atefeh describes her culture as totally different from American culture, she has found a balance between the two. “For example, when we have guests, we still entertain the Iranian way; we bring tea and serve them food, because it is more respectful to the guests. Maybe one thing I have changed is that I ask them what they want to drink, just that. We still celebrate certain festivals like the Iranian New Year in the traditional way, but I also bought a Christmas tree and we hang stockings with our name on it. Right now, I think it is a good mix.”
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Compared to her home country, what Atefeh loves most about the US is the freedom; not only the freedom of speech, but more importantly the freedom of choice. As opposed to Iran, where the wearing of the hijab for women is still compulsory, here she is free to choose. “Hijab is the most personal choice a person can make. When you’re in a situation where everyone wears it, you think it is good, but then you see other cultures and you realize it might not be as they say. A good person is not dependent on whether they wear the hijab or not. When you wear something, you should believe. When your children ask you why you wear it, you should be able to give them a good reason.”

Atefeh realizes that living in another country has changed her, but feels that change is a natural part of life. She compares it to the flow of water in a river: once water stops flowing, it becomes stagnant, but to stay healthy, it needs to keep flowing; just like a person needs to keep growing and learning. “Changing is good. When you talk to different people, your mind is more open. For me, everything has changed.”

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Interview and writing by Tineke Van Varenberg

Make up by Denise Batista

Interview and Photography by Sonal Sukheeja

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