It’s been a while since my last blog post, but that’s purely because I prefer quality over quantity. Since the Persian New Year (Norouz) is nearly upon us…I thought I’d take this opportunity to kill two birds with one stone! Firstly I am going to introduce you to the wonderful charity organisation ‘Kahrizak’ and tell you a little about what they do, and also about the event I had the privilege to take part in and help to the best of my abilities!
Secondly, I will tell you a little bit about Norouz. Unfortunately, under the shadow that media and politics have cast over the way Iran is portrayed, some beautiful and ancient traditions tend to go unnoticed by most of the world. I feel it is my duty to bring this joyous and colourful occasion to your attention, so that you may celebrate it with me, and for a few minutes while reading this blog, leave the cruel portrayal of Iran aside, and be a part of my world 🙂
A Little About Kahrizak Charity Foundation
Kahrizak is a non-profit, private charity organisation where the elderly and physically handicapped patients are cared for, free of charge. The organisation was founded by Mr Mohammad Reza Hakimzadeh in 1971, who single-handedly founded Kahrizak, starting with one patient and one room, in a poor area in the south of Tehran. Nowadays, the foundation can accommodate 1600 patients, has its own campus, a faculty of nurses and doctors, and male and female patients.
I find the success of this organisation admirable, considering they don’t receive any help from the government, and rely solely on the generosity of people and other charitable organisations (one of the integral contributors to Kahrizak is the Ladies Charitable Society that has supported the charity since 1972).
Some of the main objectives of the organisation are taking care of physically handicapped people of all ages, who cannot afford to lead a comfortable lifestyle independently. The volunteers at Kahrizak not only strive to make these patients’ lives as physically comfortable as possible, but they also seek innovative ways to see beyond the disabilities and discover the talents and potential of each individual, young or old, in order to achieve a creative and lively environment, where everyone can have a chance at an ordinary and fulfilling life.
Kahrizak foundation’s support expands to those who have lost their homes to earthquakes, fire and war, as well as those who have endured an unexpected disability through one of these or other similar incidents.
Asia House In Association With Kahrizak
I was fortunate enough to meet a group of lovely ladies, who work at Asia House in London. WHAT A PLACE! The aim of Asia House is to connect Asian businesses, artists, academics etc with the UK. They truly are an inspirational organisation, in terms of educating the public about all aspects of Asian traditions, film and art industries by bringing together artists, creatives and other influential figures.
I was honoured to be invited to sell macarons at the 25th annual Norouz Bazaar at Asia House, which is the largest and the oldest Persian Bazaar in Europe, where Iranians from all over London come together to sell homemade Persian food, handmade crafts and all things related to Norouz, such as painted eggs and live goldfish! YES! You heard it right…Which brings me to the second part of my blog…telling you a little something about how Persian people celebrate Norouz and what it consists of!
Before I forget, I should mention that all proceeds from the sales at the Bazaar go to the Kahrizak foundation. This is to offer its residents a comfortable and happy Norouz and a prosperous year in general.
Words cannot describe how happy it makes me to be able to make a difference in someone’s life, as they enter the new year. I sometimes find it insufferable how so many people ‘share’ and ‘like’ posts about charities, or nod their heads to the news in the morning paper, complaining about the injustices in this world but no one does anything to stop poverty, abuse or other issues. There is A HELL OF A LOT of talking, and not nearly enough DOING in my opinion. Awareness is necessary to some extent, it’s true, but imagine if each and every one of us, used even 1% of our abilities, financially and creatively, to make a difference, to actually DO something about what we preach…I feel blessed to find myself in a position, where I can help make someone’s life better by simply doing what I love. If selling my macarons means someone now has a higher chance at receiving better care, better education or a better quality of life in their final years, I am going to keep doing what I’m doing and hope I can encourage you, the reader, to discover you can turn something you love into a gift, which both you and someone in need will benefit from, in different but very complimenting ways 🙂
What Is Norouz?
Norouz is the celebration of the first day of Spring (Equinox), which also marks the beginning of the year in the Persian Calender. A slightly less commercialised holiday than Christmas (!) due to it not making a big appearance in Western media or calenders (or even being considered important enough to change the ‘Google’ logo for a day!), Norouz has been celebrated for over 3000 years, but unfortunately only officially recognized in 2010 by the UN as a ‘Spring Festival of Persian origin’.
This holiday partly stems from Zoroastrian roots, an ancient religion dating back to 2nd millennium BCE. Norouz (which directly translates to ‘A New Day’) is also believed to be created by Zoroaster himself, marking ‘A New Day’ where the sun leaves the last zodiac sign ‘Pisces’ and enters ‘Aries’, indicating the first day of Spring and equinox when the sun is directly above the equator.
Norouz is the most important holiday in the Iranian Calendar. I would love to talk to you about the history behind Norouz in detail and ponder its origins, but this is not a history lesson! (Not the boring kind anyway!) There are a few key characteristics in the modern day Norouz, which I will share with you, because they link with the theme I chose for my macarons for the fundraiser…so it all merges nicely from one topic to another 🙂 They are as follows:
. Haji-Firouz . Haft Sin . Caharshanbe Suri
Is the name of a fictional character who emerges in the month leading up to Norouz, with a face which is painted black (A symbol of good luck in ancient Persia), and plays a tambourine, to which he sings and dances. He is the messenger of Norouz as much as Santa Clause is for Christmas!
Directly translating to Haft (Seven) Sin (The Letter ‘S’) ‘Seven S’s’, it has a very interesting history behind it. Haft Sin is the traditional way of decorating one’s table during the festive period, just like Christians decorate their homes with a Christmas Tree and stockings. Before the rise of Islam in Iran, the traditional pronunciation of this practice was ‘Haft Chin’, which translates to Haft (seven) and Chin (Meaning ‘to place’). This was used to symbolise the seven Zoroastrian divinities ‘Earth, Sky, Plants, Animals, Fire, Water and Humans’ . A specific item was used to symbolise each of these elements, which were placed together on a table, to pay homage to ‘Ahura Mazda’ the Zoroastrian God for all the blessings in the new year. These items were as follows:
Apple : To symbolise the Earth
Painted Eggs: To symbolise Humans and Fertility
Mirror: To symbolise the Sky
Rosewater: To symbolise Water
Sabzeh (Wheat or Barely Sprouts which grow into green bundles): To symbolise Plants
Goldfish: To symbolise Animals
Candles: To symbolise Fire
After the Arab invasion, and with the emergence of Islam, many Persian traditions were marginalised ,and the language and dialects changed drastically. Since in the Arabic language, there is no ‘Ch’ sound, ‘Haft Chin’ was replaced by ‘Haft Sin’, where they would literally place seven items on a table, which began with the letter ‘S’. This meant that when the tradition was reintroduced to the Persian culture after 200 years of Arabic rule, the term and practice had evolved into a slightly different version of itself. The new arrangement of ‘Haft Sin’ is as follows:
Somaq –sumac berries – symbolising (the colour of) sunrise
Serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing age and patience*
Many households nowadays combine elements of both pre and post Islamic versions of Haft Sin to produce a more varied and diverse composition.
*Extract from Wikipedia.
Chaharshanbe Suri is the official Persian bonfire night. It translates to ‘Chaharshanbe’ (Wednesday) and Sur (Party/Festivity). It is celebrated on the last Wednesday of the year, and considered a festival of light, where good (light) wins over evil (dark). Traditionally, people celebrate this by creating small fires, and jumping over them while singing a traditional song that translates to : ‘My yellowness is yours, and your redness mine’ , which is a symbolic way of saying ‘I shall give you my pain/sickness and in return take your strength and health.’ This tradition along with a few others on this night, symbolise a farewell to the devil and darkness and embracing the coming year with new health and strength.
Traditionally, raisins and nuts are served on this day along with other specific desserts, in order to give thanks to the prosperous year gone by and to welcome a new fruitful year.
In order to keep with the Norouz theme, I tried to use an element from each and every aspect of this colourful occasion to come up with some flavours. The results are as follows:
Happy Norouz to all my readers 🙂
I do hope I have managed to give you a feel of the Norouz festivies, as they are experienced in Iran. It is a shame to see such an ancient celebration get so little recognition in the modern world. I wish you all a year full of prosperity and health, and would like to say a big thank you to everyone at Asia House who made it possible for me to be involved in such a wonderful event.
HERE IT IS! My first ever film project! It only took since February, when, hearing my brother playing a beautiful tune, I Shazammed Thunder & Lightning and was mesmerized by it from the very first second!
Listening to the album Life Goes On, became my safe haven in the most trying time of my life. It helped me in the journey of rediscovering my self worth and independency. It has been my companion for nearly a year and I have put my heart and soul into creating a piece, which can hopefully do it justice.Thunder & Lightning resonates my own journey, with every word, every beat and every note. The album ‘Life Goes On’ helped me through a very dark period. It also helped channel my pain and translate it into something that lasts. It seemed only fair to try and tell my story through this timeless work of art and to close a somewhat unfulfilled, unpleasant chapter.
I am forever grateful to Azedia for letting me use this song, in order to immortalise the most important part of my life with it. So…from the bottom of my heart…Thank you guys!! Life goes on 🙂
Cast and Crew
I don’t know if I should put it down to beginners’ luck or not, but I had THE most fantastic cast and crew on board! After weeks of stressful auditioning and weighing out my options, I ended up with a dream team! Despite the sad nature of the video, and despite the lack of sleep for two days, we were a surprisingly upbeat bunch! We ate, drank, laughed and worked, and got on like a perfect little family!
Last but not Least: I would like to give a special thanks to my brother Aryan, who was the wheels behind this production. Not only did he help me produce the majority of the project, he was also there as my runner, editor and extra on set! I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for me without sounding cheesy!
Inspiration behind the video
This video is about a girl who risks it all and loses herself for a man who fills in the visible gaps in her life, by studying her likes and dislikes, in order to mirror and own her. She throws away a relationship, which has lost its spark, and is lured in by the glistening promises of things she thinks matter the most…until what matters the most happens, and she realises, only too late, who was there for her the whole time.
This project reminds me of a quote from the book ‘The White Queen’ by Phillipa Gregory, where she says: “A man will always promise to do more than he can do, to a woman he cannot understand.”
The subject matter relates to many people out there who are victims of hasty promises of everlasting love, false hopes and misplaced priorities. It questions the lengths some people go to in order to make sure their immediate urges and desires of “forever” are met. How strong is a person’s sense of entitlement to ‘the here and now’ with no realistic thoughts for the future?
Is there a way of knowing ahead of time, if we are just guinea pigs in someone’s experiment of finding true love? In theory, are we merely someone’s ‘one and only’, someone’s ‘forever’, until we seize to be what they want us to be, which is the best version of ourselves?
Who will be there for you in the end? Are the things that we think make someone special and worthy of being let into our sacred space, the things that truly matter in the long run? Have we got our priorities straight? Whom should you risk everything for? Someone who mirrors your hobbies, interests and happiness in order to become an extension of yourself so they can see a decent image of themselves in your reflection? Or should it be for someone who is there when that perfect image is shattered and reality kicks in? Someone who will share your sorrows, tragedies, shortcomings and is there to empathise without judgement or ulterior motives?
Love yourself and you will never let the wrong person in. If someone is meant to steal your heart, may you love yourself enough to give it up to the right person!
Today I want to tell you about the long overdue visit to my country of birth, Iran. After nearly 8 years (that’s almost a decade!!), I finally booked a ticket to go back to Tehran to revisit my home, friends and all the things and places, which were turning more and more into a shady memory of a city I spent half of my life in, than what they really are.
It amazed me, how much, even I, who grew up there, had let years of media propaganda and word of mouth from the Iranians who come over and only tell negative stories about the darker side of things in Iran, make me forget the more beautiful stuff. You know…that place in middle earth you always hear about in the news?! Near Afghanistan, Iraq and all those scary war countries, where terrorists, gunmen and camels lurk about? That is NOT the place I’m going to talk about today…Today I want to tell you about the beautiful gems, which I can only now recognise and appreciate when revisiting, because of the length of time I have been away. I really do hope I can get you to see and enjoy my journey and experience, through the half tourist/half native lens of this humble traveller!
I thought I’d start with the topic most dear to me, regardless of the country or place in question: ‘FOOD’
I could write a separate blog (Hell, even a book) about my love for Persian food. The phrase ‘live to eat not eat to live’ screams from every corner of this town. People in Tehran may be poor, stressed, angry or restless from the October heat and harsh economic conditions, but their love of eating brings them together, at breakfast, lunch, dinner and every hour in between!
The mixture of traditional/modern and western/Middle Eastern cuisines, is such a beautiful sight when you walk down the streets of Tehran. You can walk past a Pizza place, which is next door to a Kabab house, which is next door to a modern patisserie, which is next door to a ‘Sangaki’ (A type of Iranian bakery). You get what I mean!
(See how Sangak is made in this video I filmed with my dad at a Sangaki in Tehran)
Street food in Tehran can vary from area to area! For example, there are shops dedicated solely to selling barbecued liver and heart called Jegaraki. Don’t make that face, they are absolutely delicious! I am a big fan of liver in general, but I don’t know anywhere that has got it quite as right like these folks with their perfectly barbecued livers!
Another popular street food is ‘Haleem’, which is a delicious, hot porridge cooked with lamb, with a hint of wintry spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon! If I were to explain the pleasure of eating Haleem, I would say it’s the food equivalent of a nice fluffy blanket one wraps around oneself on a snowy winter afternoon! But you MUST eat it hot! Once cold, it loses its edge and the pungent flavours!
Snacks, drinks and nibbles! These are the three kings of street food as far as eating out is concerned! There are endless cafes, juice stations and street snacks in Tehran! What are street snacks you ask? Well…pretty much anything extremely sour, extremely sweet or extremely sticky! From fruit bars to sour tamarind to pickled plums! There is also an abundance of nuts! Fresh, dried, smoked, salted or raw!
Health and safety usually go out of the window in such places, but there is such a joy in browsing through different bowls of goodies, even though you can see how EXTREMELY homemade they are (and not in a good way!) … It’s gritty, raw and simply wonderful!! I think having spent the first half of my life in Iran, I have developed a stronger immune system to bacteria in food in general than your average European person who has grown up in the safe arms of ‘health and safety’ regulations their entire lives! I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, but I am ok with it, seeing that I can’t remember the last time I was ill or suffered food poisoning!
Now, let’s talk business! As I’m sure even the most geographically, culturally challenged of people knows, Iranian cuisine is all about Kababs!! Shish, lamb fillet, chicken breast and wings! You name it! During this trip, I went to Tehran’s kabab Central, ‘Darakeh’, where you can find some of the best kabab houses! Situated in the hilly skirts of the mountains, every restaurant has a traditional setup, with wooden boards to sit on, without shoes, and wool cushions to lean on. There is a river that goes across most restaurants, which sounds beautiful and makes for an ideal spot to spend one’s summer evening. Shisha, tea and Ajil (mixed nuts) are also served (optional!) after every meal, or you can skip the kabab all together and just go for nibbles and a smoke! All in all, it is SUCH a calming, soothing experience, made even better with great company!
When you go to someone’s house in Iran, regardless of whether you have known them for 2 days or 20 years, three things are guaranteed: freshly brewed tea, a fruit bowl and nuts! Now you might think this is nothing out of the ordinary, and you know a hundred other people who do the same over here! What makes this reception so different is that each household treats this welcome as an art form! Each family tries to top the other in the way they present these things! This treatment of the guests and the creativity that comes second nature to every Iranian household is called ‘Pazeerayee’, which directly translates to ‘Hosting’. I also discovered that when you visit people for lunch or dinner, you have pudding twice! First, you are offered pre-dinner snacks to line your stomach, this could vary from home to home. Nuts, dried fruit, baklava, Koloocheh (Iranian sweet from the north-west region), fruit (goes without saying) and possibly some form of cake, biscuit or ice cream!
Pre Meal Samples:
Then you have your main course, which more often than not won’t be one type of food! It is a culturally accepted fact that a wider variety of food on the table shows the skill of the host. (Because making one type of food means you aren’t talented? I don’t know!!) but it is what it is, and I am not complaining!
Dinner is rarely served on individual plates in Iran. The host serves everything on big serving plates and places them in the center of the table and guests help themselves to what they want! There are usually smaller dishes, such as chutney, salad, soup and bread served at the same time. ‘Sabzi’ is another unusual accompaniment at the dinner table, which serves almost as salad, but consists of a mixture of fresh herbs, some of which are hard to find outside Iran. Some familiar herbs usually served in a plate of Sabzi are radishes, dill, basil and baby spring onions! I’m not even sure where or why this tradition exists, but just like a true native, I never questioned it! (Maybe time to google some more!)
Then it’s time for the second dessert, which is usually the cake or sweets the guests have brought the host! In a nutshell, you NEVER, for even a second, stop eating at an Iranian lunch or dinner party!
One of my absolute favourite places in Tehran! Not so far from my house, Tajrish has one of the biggest and most renowned markets in Tehran. It is spice, food, clothes and appliance galore! If you look long enough, you might even find somewhere that sells unicorns and magic carpets! I have tried to take a few pictures of some of the things that took my fancy, I hope it gives you a feel of the place! The smell of different spices in the air, the hustle and energy of the place is so contagious that it makes you want to enjoy and appreciate every minute of your life!
Borj-e Milad, or Milad Tower, is one of the more recent attractions in Tehran, which I always wanted to visit, and finally found the time to do so during this trip! It is the sixth largest tower in the world, and has a revolving restaurant at the top, which I went to for breakfast. (Very few things in this world motivate me to get up at 6am to get ready for breakfast, and I must say this was an absolutely worthwhile reason!) The views are incredible, the mosaic work inside the restaurant is a depiction of events from Ferdowsi‘s ‘Shahnameh’, and it is so tastefully done! The breakfast is so varied and complete! Any food mentioned so far in the blog was available, plus many, many more! Staff were friendly and the atmosphere overall was extremely pleasant! The waterworks inside the tower and outside at the entrance are breathtaking! If you ever decide to visit Iran, I definitely recommend paying this place a visit, if you are a fan of more modern Middle Eastern attractions!
Despite my extremely short stay, I managed to get out of Tehran for a night and visit the lovely village of Fasham. We spent the night at my friend’s beautiful and cosy country cottage, and made kababs! The evenings in the mountains are quiet, the air is fresh and doesn’t have the harshness of Tehran’s pollution or heat! In the morning, we drove a bit further into the mountains in order to get to the peak, for a few memorable photos, and of course to eat liver at a lovely Jegaraki in the nice mountain air! If you are a big skier, Shemshak ski resort, near Fasham, is one of the most popular choices in the winter in Tehran! (I personally hate skiing, so I’m only going by the words of others!)
Last but not least…
On my last day, I invited my close friends over for a lovely BBQ. With all my newly bought goodies from Tajrish, I marinated chicken breasts and legs in onion, pomegranate puree and ground walnuts, and left them to soak for a whole day. When we finally skewered them, they were divine! (If I may say so myself!) So, yes, I had to go there and squeeze in a little recipe too!
There is SO much I could tell you about Iran that a simple blog won’t do it justice. I could write chapters on the beautiful places, on the sometimes annoying and sometimes mind boggling customs, the absolutely insane driving, or the extremely talented underground art networks in all areas such as music, painting and acting! But it’s not nice to babble on (Hah). However, I am definitely not letting there be a gap of 8 years until my next visit. In fact, after having talked to a few friends back in Tehran, I might possibly be going back in the colder months to do a trip to the desert, which is supposed to be an unforgettable experience! So watch this space….
Meanwhile, here is a selfie with my nan, I love her to bits! ❤
…well! I have patiently sat back and watched people use the TV media coverage of war to jump on the bandwagon of sharing ‘Hot’ news about affected areas, fall into fruitless arguments, hunt for ‘Likes’ and ‘Favourites’ and stir controversial debates…WHILE not many seem to actually do anything about any of the problems at hand. I mean sure, I will ‘Like’ your post about a graphic picture of a child who has been mutilated by a bomb (thanks for that image while I’m having my morning cup of tea by the way), to show my support and sympathy for what’s going on (I think?), but while your popular ‘Like-Attracting’ post might make some sleep well at night by giving them an elated sense of sainthood, it will in no way, shape or form help a kid who is sleeping at some shelter, and wakes up crying at night from the horrors they’ve experienced.
Annnnd….A little about me and why I’m doing this:
I am a part time Make Up Artist and a full time (trying to be) actor, and have always struggled with money! But in February, I came across this book of chocolate making, and having been a passionate baker and cook most of my life, an idea popped into my head…what if I do this and sell what I love? I won’t bore you with the details, but I did my research, studied the market and voila!! Here I am a few months later…somehow people have liked what I have to sell, and I have become a regular stall holder in both London and Canterbury at various markets!
I feel now I have reached a stage in my life and career where I can do what I’ve always wanted and somehow, truly, make a difference! Since I’ve started doing what I love, my acting career has been going from strength to strength, and due to the nature of both my works, I have met some absolutely fantastic people! Everything seems to be falling into place. I feel at home within myself and wake up with a smile every day. Even if I am having a stressful day, seeing a child walk past my stall, their eyes widen, and their jaw drop at the sight of colourful macaroons and chocolates, is enough for my day to brighten up again. One of the greatest aspects of this is a regular income, which I hadn’t had in many years! The feeling of always having some spare money in your wallet to spend, guilt free, on something that catches your eye in a shop window! Joy!
ANYWAY, the point I’m trying to make is that I can now live in relative comfort with a clear mind, and focus on things I have always wanted to do! I researched numerous charities because I had read a lot of horror stories about what happens to the money that people donate to some charities out there and into which hands they fall! This was until I came across War Child! What an awesome group of people and only 29 of them!! They are directly involved! They are based in north London and physically send their people to these areas for help…and what I love most is that they do it in such creative ways…music gigs, sports, arts and crafts, you name it…and they really do make a difference! Here is a link to their website, I will let you explore what they do here!
From Monday onwards, 10% of all my earnings from each stall I hold in London or Canterbury will go to this charity. They have been kind enough to let me do this, and what better way to donate to a charity than to end up with a sweet for your coffee or tea as a result? (That’s right, you don’t have to freeze, wipe your make up off, or any act of random bravery, just treat yourself to something nice to compliment your hot or cold beverage!) My prices are extremely reasonable, I make absolutely everything from scratch at home and with lots of love! So if you’re about, come around and spread the word to your friends too….I am not asking you to donate money to me or to share this link! Simply spread the word about this lovely group of people and what I’m trying to do for them!
Meanwhile, I am going to try and talk to my local communities and see if I can find a venue to hold a bake sale purely for War Child and donate all proceeds from that day to this wonderful organisation!
Knowing myself, I have always felt I won’t be good at blogging, but I feel this is a cause which can finally motivate me to write about, pursue, and who knows, maybe one day have enough money and insight to visit some of these beautiful children myself and meet them up close! All I know for sure is that I’m on the right path, and with the help of you people spreading the word, so many many innocent lives can change for the better! ❤