As we walked down the alley the wind picked up and rain started to fall, it felt like a sandstorm was brewing. A car stopped nearby us with a middle-aged couple and their child in it. They called to us and asked where we were from. We told them and the man started to talk to us. Communication was difficult given that they did not speak much english and our farsi is limited to basic travel phrases. We gathered that the man was a doctor, and something about a girl (or was he just confusing genders?), and then he said "home, me" which we took as an invitation to their house. Given our frayed tempers we smiled and declined and kept on walking.
A minute later the car pulls up beside us and the man hands us a cell phone. I take it and a female voice says to me in fluent English "Hello, you have just met my parents and we would like to invite you to our home. Please get in the car and they will drive you here." Andrew and I look at each other and figure that given the difficulty in finding food on a public holiday like this it might be a good idea to accept. Next thing we know we are bundled into their car and driving out of the city to the scraps of urban development on the fringes. Whilst we are driving it occurs to me that the man was not telling us that he was a "doctor", but instead trying to tell us about his "daughter".
As it turns out, Mohammad (the man) is a judge and also holds some position in the mosque. His rented house is made up of a large carpeted room with bedrooms and a kitchen ranging around the central room. There is no other furniture in the room. We sit on the carpet and meet his two daughters and two sons. Eila greets us in english and explains that she is learning english both at school and also at a private institute. The rest of the family speak very little english and so all conversation goes through Eila. The women wear scarves in the house and so I leave my manteau and scarf on as well. I chat to Eila as the members of the household organise themselves and Andrew plays with Eila's younger brother Amia who is four years old.
I very quickly get the impression that Eila is one smart, switched on and motivated woman. She tells me that she really wants to improve her english and that she has instructed her parents to bring home any english speaking foreigners that they see in the street. Which further explains our abduction!
Eila wants to become a doctor and ultimately she would like to live overseas, she likes the idea of moving to Italy as one of her passions is soccer. She tells me that she plays soccor in an all girls team and that they play in matches around Iran. In Iran there are no mixed sports teams - only women can watch women's sporting matches and only men watch men's sporting matches.
Her mother chimes in and says they have already tried to help Eila get overseas but the Iranian officials refused to give her permission as they said she must be married to be able to leave the country. Eila assures me that she does not want to get married as she wants to be a working woman. She says that in Iran it is deemed desirable for women to have a bachelor degree but then when they are married they give up work and look after the house and family (which perhaps explains why the majority of women have less vocationally focussed degrees such as art, poetry and design?). "Do you have any trouble with marriage and work?" she asks me. I pause, so strange is the idea that being "married" to Andrew would in anyway impact on my choice to work. I tell her that it makes no difference. "Well that is good, and you are lucky" she says. "For me, I will just not get married."
At around 10 pm the family gathers for dinner. A plastic mat is placed on the carpeted floor and everyone sits around the mat with the food in front of us. It is at this point that Eila tells us that it is her birthday. We wish her a happy birthday and ask how old she is. 15. I pause surprised. I knew that she must be in high school, but Eila does not look or talk like she is 15.
After dinner Mohammad excuses himself as he must go to work, Eila explains that for his work as a judge he often has appointments with people late at night. Once Mohammad is gone Eila, her mother and myself enter into an intersting conversation about women in Iran. This is one of the first times I have been able to speak openly with women about their situation here, it is also interesting to be in the home of a family outside of Tehran. It seems that whilst Eila and her mother do not like wearing a scarf that they believe it is necessary. They are curious about how free it is for women in Australia and when I tell them they both shake their heads. "oh no, it is not like that in Iran!" They say that in Iran the men are "bad" and that it is not possible to go out for a coffee with a single man as a woman would not be comfortable. They say the man's thoughts would not be good and that the woman would be perceived badly by society.
Eila's mother then talks about problems with women marrying young and then the marriage ending in divorce. We discover the following day that Mohammad is Mitra's second husband and that the two women are Mitra's daughters from her previous marriage. Yet Eila's sister, who is 16, is engaged and will be married in 18 months.
We leave just before midnight. We are exhausted, but the family don't appear at all tired. We arrange to meet again tomorrow as they would like to take us site-seeing around Kashan. A taxi is called and after many thankyous we hop into the taxi. As we pull up to our hotel I offer the taxi driver money for the trip. "Befarme" (you are welcome) he says to me pushing away the money. I insist and again he says "Befarme". Finally at the third insistence he pockets the money and we hop out. I stand on the curb laughing, in what country would you hop into a random strangers car like that! and where else on earth would a taxi driver refuse your money!