A day in the life of Green Party candidate Golriz Ghahraman

Golriz Gharahman is an Auckland-based human rights lawyer, originally from Iran. She is ranked 10th on the Green Party ...
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Golriz Gharahman is an Auckland-based human rights lawyer, originally from Iran. She is ranked 10th on the Green Party candidate list.

Golriz Ghahraman is an Oxford-trained human rights lawyer who's worked for the UN, and a Green Party candidate. Come September, she's likely to become the first refugee elected to the New Zealand Parliament. She and her parents arrived in New Zealand from Iran in 1990.

I had this lovely, happy childhood in the middle of what was a really insecure political time in Iran's history. All around us, the talk from adults was, "How do we get out?"

The war was raging with Iraq, so there were a lot of sanctions on Iran. You couldn't easily buy food. You needed coupons for fuel. Adults didn't really know how it was going to end. But we were still having birthday parties.

 

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Golriz, centre, celebrates a childhood birthday with cousins and friends, at the house her parents built in Masshad, ...
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Golriz, centre, celebrates a childhood birthday with cousins and friends, at the house her parents built in Masshad, Iran's second-most populous city.

In Iranian culture, we're really, really into celebrating stuff. That birthday would have been a three-day production of my mum making me a cake and us decorating it, inviting all the kids, who've all got their little dresses on. I would have been wearing a new outfit.

There wasn't much junk food that I remember, but we'd have cakes and cookies and stuff that our parents made or bought from bakeries. The dish that was always served at birthday parties was this chicken potato salad that you put in buns. It was delicious. We always had that.

Across the world you've got this theme of, everybody wants their little kids to have birthday parties, no matter what's going on. And it looks the same. We had "pass the parcel", there was a lot of dancing and singing. We had pirated Madonna and Michael Jackson videos which we weren't allowed to have, which we'd play. I was a little introvert, so I found it really hard. Coming to New Zealand, Tall Poppy syndrome really suited me.

Most people are culturally Muslim in Iran but my parents definitely weren't practising Muslims. My dad was an agricultural engineer. He worked for the Ministry of Agriculture in research, developing alternative vegetable-based forms of fuel. He couldn't continue that here, because that line of research didn't exist.

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My mum went to university after the Iranian Revolution. She studied child psychology but she never worked because she refused to sit the Islamic exams that you had to sit to get any job. My mum, on ethical grounds, was opposed to psychologists having to pledge allegiance to a religion So she was a homemaker. Half my clothes were made by her.

In New Zealand, they worked until they could save a little bit of money and they ended up owning a series of small businesses, the last one of which was a little gift shop in Mount Eden Village. They're both retired now.

I learnt English really fast and I lost my accent within a year and a half. For my parents, it was quite different. My dad was always a big jokester, the clown in the groups of friends that he had. He lost that - humour sometimes doesn't translate. He became this much quieter man.

My mum always says that one of the hardest things she found was, you can't make friends as the person that you are. She was really into literature and book clubs. Suddenly, she was like, OK I can't really discuss literature with anyone, or politics. So she had to make friends who were interested in gardening or cooking.

 - Your Weekend

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