Fleeing her Iranian homeland and setting up life in Melbourne, Shahnaz Albokhalifeh is embracing her creative side.
Ms Albokhalifeh grew up in Southern Iran, raising five children with her husband before she made the decision to pursue a better life in Australia.
She said she decided to leave so her daughters could grow up in an equal society.
Looking back on life in southern Iran, Ms Albokhalifeh said females are typically expected to cook, clean and are under societal constraints to serve others in the confines of their homes, ultimately denied permission to venture outdoors without being accompanied by a male.
Now settled in Woodlea estate in Rockbank, Ms Albokhalifeh is taking cooking classes with social enterprise Free to Feed, teaching locals how to cook the food of her homeland.
“This is the first job that I’ve ever had, and I am 45 years of age,” she said.
“Free to Feed has been that reassuring hand on my shoulder telling me that I belong, when my faith in myself has been fundamentally questioned and undermined throughout my life.”
Ms Albokhalifeh is now a regular teacher with Free to Feed, sharing Persian-inspired dishes in her classes across Melbourne, and will lead one in Woodlea this week.
The classes – as is the custom for a day in the life of an Iranian – always start off with Persian tea.
This became customary in Ms Albokhalifeh’s homeland, as her father and grandfather told her, because guests had to be served something sweet when they arrived at a house, and often fruit and sugary snacks were unavailable.
“I couldn’t be more excited to make my children proud,” she said. “I want to show my wonderfully intelligent daughters that a woman’s place in the world is wherever she dreams to be, given a touch of determination.”
Tickets for the September 7 masterclass can be purchased at bit.ly/Free2Feed