The first time that I encountered Marmite was in 1999 when I was an international student here in New Zealand. I can still recall when my flatmates prodded me to have a go at this dark-looking spread and I have to admit it wasn’t one of my fondest experiences. If my memory serves me right, that was my first and last try of Marmite.
So, when I saw the title of Anisa MacLean book, Surviving Marmite, I couldn’t help but chuckle at how apt the title was. And right there, I was sure that this was going to be an interesting read.
Anisa’s family arrived in New Zealand in 2000 when she was only seven years old. Coming from Iran, they suddenly found themselves starting a new life in Timaru, a place thousand miles away from their country.
In her latest book (she also wrote Maisie and Dot), Anisa gives us a glimpse on how it was for her growing up in a country whose culture, language, food is different from her motherland. Poignant, humorous and heartfelt - this book didn’t fail to pull at my heartstrings.
As a migrant myself, there is a paragraph in Surviving Marmite that resonates with me:
“As migrants we know this is the sacrifice we make: we lose family dinners, celebrations, and holidays together. We miss joyous engagements, wedding parties and births. We forfeit offering our support during times of crisis: from health scares to financial struggles. We surrender our final goodbyes and the chance to grieve at funerals, memorials, and at the grave of our loved ones. This is the sacrifice we make”.
I got emotional when I read that paragraph, as her sentiments couldn’t be any truer for all migrants.
To get to know more of Anisa, we asked her some questions:
Interview with Anisa
What inspired you to write Surviving Marmite?
My niece and nephew inspired me to write my memoir. I thought, if I don’t write down the awful, the crazy, the funny, and the inspiring things which happened to us, they will become forgotten and my little niece and nephew will never know about their family’s struggles nor their triumphs!
What was your first culture shock when you arrived in New Zealand?
Receiving the thumbs up from an immigration officer at the airport. What’s so bad about a thumbs up, you ask? Well, in Iran, using this gesture is like giving someone the middle finger, a non-verbal ‘up yours’!
What’s your favourite word? Why?
My favourite word is shemomedjamo, it’s a Georgian ‘untranslatable’ word which loosely translates to “I accidentally ate the whole thing!” (Because I’m a big foodie!) In fact, after graduating from my English literature degree, I started a personal food/travel blog and I called it ‘I accidently ate the whole thing.’
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished reading ‘If You’re Happy’ by Fiona Robertson. A collection of short stories about how we pursue happiness in a turbulent world. It's not very often that you read a book which keeps you engaged the entire time! Fiona’s diverse worlds and characters sucked me right in and continued to linger on my mind (and heart) long after I’d finished reading about them.
What’s your favourite Iranian food and could you tell us more about it.
I absolutely love Ghormesabzi, a herb stew made with red kidney beans and lamb. I love it so much that when I was in primary school in Iran I… (well, you’ll just have to read the chapter ‘Ghormesabzi Laugh’ in ‘Surviving Marmite’ to find out!)
How do you wind down?
One of my favourite things to do is to take my current read to South Town Club (my favourite café in Christchurch) order a three cheese and spinach scone (one of my favourite foods ever) alongside an Americano (a must!) and read and read and read and read… without hogging the table for too long.
Do you have an updated Advice to your younger self
Yes, many! I recently turned 30 years old and to celebrate, I started a mini writing project on my Instagram called ’30 truth in 30 years’ where I shared snippets of advice to my younger self. The most recent one being an ancient Persian Proverb ‘Don’t bandage a healthy head’, which basically means, don’t worry about things which haven’t happened yet.
If you want to listen to Anisa read her stories, please come on Sunday 16 October, 1-2pm Auahatanga | Creativity, Level 4, Tūranga. Copies of her books will be available for purchase at this event.