One July day- A lesson in tolerance

It’s Saturday morning and I have hair appointment this morning at Gauci hair stylists at Mitcham and a speaking engagement for my book From France With Love at 1pm.

The beautician at Gauci is a recent arrival from New Zealand and offers me a free facial. “We have a new organic range and a beauty therapist is here this morning to demonstrate the product,’’ she says.

The idea to be glamorised for nothing for the gig at the West Beach Novita’ fund-raising afternoon tea  at 1pm is too tempting.

Soon I am perched on a stool before a softly-spoken gorgeous woman, who introduces herself as Miriam, from Iran and that she has migrated here seven months ago. Her thick accent reveals a good command of English and I am fascinated as she powders me up telling me how she and her husband Shahran decided to come to Adelaide through the Internet.

My husband is in IT and we are sponsored her by the State Government because he has a skill which is needed,’’ she said.

“I am an architect and I practiced for 6 years in Iran, but you don’t need architects here, so I studied to become a beautician and did my 12 months practical work in Iran.

We also took English lessons for two years. It took us three years to prepare to come here and to be accepted.

“When we had everything ready it took eight months and we were accepted.’’

Her husband is looking for more part-time work because he needs to fulfil the immigration requirement to work full-time for two years here in Adelaide. He now works part-time in Mt Barker as a networking engineer.

I tell her my son Tyson is in IT and that he is 30 years old.

“My husband is 36 and I have just turned 30,’’ she replies.

To keep conversation flowing to this quiet beautician, I ask her birthday and I cry out in delight when she says “June 12th, just last month’’.

“Wow! I cannot believe it. That’s the same birth date as my own son.’’

And I look at this beautiful, serene young woman, and I absorb the meaning of this exchange, the universality of humanity and I say “Welcome to Australia!’’.

It triggers her to tell more. “After the Revolution, religion came into Iran and then politics and politics has ruined my country,’’ she said.

“We are forbidden to be seen in public without a scarf and fully covered,’’ and she shakes her head in a kind of sadness.

“There is no freedom and we must have freedom to be happy.’’

Did she miss her family? “My mother phones me every two days and we talk for an hour. I miss my sister, too. But we have spent three years of our lives planning to make Australia our home.’’

It is now 7pm and we meet our friend from France, Dominique Bievre, to dine at Le Riad, a favourite Moroccan restaurant in Pulteney Street, City.

We have eaten there before and soon we have colourful  Tajine pots in front of us piping hot with chicken bubbling,  while husband orders chicken hearts and livers with couscous as an accompaniment.

A big television belts out Moroccan programme with  music and exotic girls and sexy men dancing on stage. We enjoy our time, and are about to leave when the owner exhorts us to stay because a belly-dancer is about to perform.

She is Australian and shakes and shimmies in her skimpy embroidered bra top and hipster skirt flowing with chiffon. She dances with a sword on her head and wriggles like a snake.  She pleases us all with her performance, but only my husband, who served in the French army in North Africa knew the custom to slip money into her skirt.

We move on and join a rowdy mob of revellers at the
Comedy Cellars to watch fledgling comedian “the old fella’’ Rodney Gregory,  make us laugh. He is a  big bloke of a certain age, from Yorke Peninsula, a former farmer who has metamorphosed into a comedian.  

However, before his turn, we sit, sip wine and watch a handful of young comedians, who are introduced with slick style by  Mickey Dee as MC.  White Anglo entertainment by 19-year-old comedian/ footballer, Amos Gill hits the spot with jokes about Cougars and the downside of footy culture, but then we cheer Ajit, a traditional Sikh, who may or not have been born in India because his Aussie accent is true blue. His head swathed in a bright orange turban and his swarthy features, black eyes, black moustache and long black beard are dead give-aways of Indian roots. He wiggles  his head in Indian style claiming “Indians really do do this,’’ he says before sending up  Indian telemarketers. He makes cracks at Aussies  who can’t spell his simple four-letter name and reckons he is sick of people calling him “towel-head’’. “This is five metres of wrapped fabric,’’ he says swirling himself down the stage to reflect his point. “Imagine five metres of towelling up there’’, he adds, pointing to his head. He cloaks racism in humour and makes us laugh at ourselves.  Tall, handsome Mahmoud, tells us he is of Egyptian origins and confidently shares that he is studying architecture at university. 

It is fun to watch these young aspirants, some of whom have  done Dave Flannigan’s 10- week comedy course, which includes a gig at Comedy Cellars. The course was also the entrée for Rod Gregory, who at 66, has us roaring with laughter at his self-depricating jokes on the downside of age. (The full story on Rod’s metamorphosis  next month.)

For now, one ordinary day has proven to be a powerful lesson in the success of multi-culturalism, in a hairdressing salon and on stage – young people from other cultures move effortlessly into Australian society and make themselves at home here.

Almost a million people arrived here in the 2000s, bring the tally of 7 million immigrants since 1945. Mirian and her husband were  accepted under the skill and family stream of the migration program which saw 171,000 migrants arrive here in 2008-09, while 13,500 refugees were admitted in the same year.

Whether an Australian girl wants to bellydance in a Moroccan restaurant, or a young Sikh wants to entertain, they are free to do it in Oz.  As Miriam, who forsake all to come here legally, said: “We came here for freedom.’’

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