My name is Mana Ahmadi. I’m originally from north of Iran but we moved to Tehran when I was twelve years old.

The region has a lot of political unrest and upheavals and I’ve experienced and seen that from my childhood. My family was against this Islamic regime, the Islamic Republic of Iran. My aunt was an activist and she was so political. So, I remember as a child of six or seven, the police would come to my grandmother’s home. I used to open the door and I’d see these police in plain clothes because they didn’t want other people to know what they were up to. But, even as a six or seven year old girl, I knew because I was used to it. I knew that, okay, these guys are police and they want to take my aunt away to jail to ask her questions. My aunt used to narrate stories to my family and I used to be sneaking around and listening to what she said.

They arrested her, actually. My aunt lost hearing in one of her ears, I mean, one of her ears doesn’t function because they slapped her so hard that she lost it at the age of, I don’t know, maybe 25 years old.

When I grew up my family were so protective of us and told us, “Don’t be involved in politics, it has no future, especially in this country because there is no freedom of journalism.”

And then, maybe seven or eight years ago, there were protest rallies in Iran due to the presidential elections of Iran. My younger brother was participating in the rallies and protesting. I was so protective of him because he didn’t perhaps realise that a change of president doesn’t mean it will change the regime. They will rule under the same roof, in the same rooms.

He was so innocent and there was this tension. People were so excited, they were so wishful for some changes in the country because the politicians were under pressure. So, I remember that I took Ali [my husband] and we just ran into the streets and the streets were on fire. The rubbish bins were on fire, I mean, the bus, the cars.

The police were shooting tear gas. It was terrible. I just wanted to find my brother to make sure he was fine, and take him away to safety, because I was afraid.

And we couldn’t call him or anything because they just cut the communication lines. So, we just ran into different streets where we thought he may be, near our home and we found him. We found him.

I was crying madly and badly. He said, “You should stay as well, you should protest as well.”

It seemed like I was against it, against him, but I said to him, “I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to. And my problem is not just the president. I don’t want the whole regime. It’s not worth it, to lose you over that.”

So, we took him home and from the day after I remember that then my family, my mom and my aunt, went along with him everywhere to take care of him and make sure that he still he came home.

And it was exactly the same year that we left Iran.

Ali, my husband, is from Iran too. We got married in Iran and then we moved to Cyprus to study for our masters. We lived there for three years and after that we moved to New Zealand. We worked for a couple of years and now I’m studying and working.

English is not our first language, but it’s the only language we know other than our language. So we had to decide on an English-speaking country that we could move to. New Zealand seemed like the most, I don’t know, it’s tough to say, seemed like the nicest one. It looked more like – from outside it looked so fascinating and when we came in it was even more surprising and exciting for us. Especially maybe we felt this way because of our country’s [Iran] social situation and the complications that we had in our own country. I mean, the things that we were promised from New Zealand, that you can enjoy in this country, it did deliver.

The first difference is, whenever we stepped out of our homes in Iran, or went to any public places, I mean outside, literally outside the door of your home we had to cover ourselves as women. We had to wear a scarf and we don’t have to in New Zealand. In Iran, you could get arrested because of the way that you wear clothes or if you had certain hairstyles or makeup. It is one of the most striking differences. And, the other interesting fact that I noticed, and I didn’t know that until the time that I moved here and didn’t realize it in Cyprus either, is that in Iran, religion is injected in every aspect of day to day life. By that I mean even when you walk on the road, you drive anywhere in the streets you see the whole … presence.

There are many striking contrasts between Iran and New Zealand.

The things that we have in our religion, Muslims have the Koran, they write it all over the place, but I came to New Zealand and there is no such thing. You couldn’t see that, they didn’t need to promote their religion. They have their church, so anyone who was interested could go there willingly.

For example, I know that in Iran filmmakers have to have this symbol of Islamic words in the name of God at the beginning of their movies. They have to. But I know that here or in any other country like here there is no such criteria.

The director or the producer may not be religious but if they want to produce the movie it’s a rule that the women in the movie must be covered up. Even if they’re at home with their husband, their son, they must have the scarf or a hat to cover-up.

The last time we went to Iran we went there after five years.

The place has changed in terms of some buildings or roads or bridges, but in many ways, it’s changed for the worse. They have this strict fashion police in the streets that check the way people wears dress. So, nail polish has a fine and certain colours have a fine. I may wear them and get away with it, but there is a risk. if they just see you they are allowed to arrest you, they are allowed to fine you legally. And there is nothing you can do about it, you just have to It’s because it’s law and when it’s law you are a lawbreaker, you know?

I’m happy to be here in New Zealand just because of studying or working, because of the whole opportunity of experiencing freedom. For personal liberty.

I don’t just think of this as for myself. I can make sure if, for example, in the future I have a child, he or she doesn’t have to go through the same challenges we had to go through. For example, in Iran women can’t divorce their husbands, only husbands can divorce their wives.

My object is this necklace, it’s Ali’s name in Persian or Arabic – I can’t say because both languages have the same alphabet.

My mom bought this for me! We got engaged and my mom and my aunt were so excited that they wanted to buy me a pendant with his name. So, my aunt went and bought a gold one with the letters, Ali, in Persian, but she brought it home and my mom was like, “It’s so ugly! Why didn’t you buy another one? There was this simple one over there for example, why didn’t you buy that?”

And my aunt said, “Okay, let’s go buy the other one.”

And then the three of us went together and they showed me this one. I liked it and they bought it for me. We were engaged at the time and I had it with me throughout, in Cyprus and then from Cyprus to New Zealand, anywhere else in the world we have travelled. And it’s one of the very few things I carry, because of the long journeys I had to let go of many things.

It is one of the few things that I actually had that didn’t break or I didn’t throw away, nothing happened to it.

It relates to both Ali and my mom.

***

In the first three days we were so badly jet-lagged, but still we were so happy and hungry to see the streets to see, you know, the environment, you know, to experience it, and we were literally sleeping but we were walking in the streets and just looking at people, at buildings, at sky. I think it was during winter as well so it was raining but we were like in the streets looking to find the things that we wanted and we were so excited to take some first pictures of ourselves in New Zealand.

***

I love the freedom, the beauty of the whole country and nice people, friendly people and the opportunities, for example, the subject I’m studying here, I can hardly study in my own country.

In Iran we have no representation of menstruation or menstrual advertisements or in movies or TV series or in magazines, which is what I’m studying. So, when we first moved to Cyprus I was amazed by the menstrual ads and the fact that they had the representation of the topic somehow, in any way. And then I decided to study the representation of menstrual cycle in media and what mainstream audiences think about it and how it affects society in general.

It has of course come from a personal space. I know perhaps all women may have some boundaries around but, especially in a country like ours [Iran], social stigma is much more and the taboos are deeper than in a liberal and free country like New Zealand. And so, because we’ve been living in a traditional and religious society, the topic evolved from my background and from the things that I experienced or my family, friends and relatives experienced.

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