Photographs: Nadir Noori
We drive up the hill to Ano Kypseli to meet the carpet manufacturer Hamid Zandabadi. Hamdi’s cat, an elegant tiger known as the neighborhood’s “Manga”, greets us. Hamid receives us with a friendly smile; small laugh lines are visible under his eyes. Hamid expresses himself very precisely and underlines his statements with fine gestures. He listens very attentively while focusing his eyes on an indeterminate spot in the room.
Hamid’s workshop is replete with numerous carpets in different sizes, colors and patterns, spread out on racks, tables and closets. A cold neon light is used for lighting; two of Hamid’s employees sit barefoot on a large carpet and do patchwork. While working, Hamid and his staff usually listen to the radio, whereby Hamid turns off the radio more often lately because he cannot stand the terrible news. To the right of the wall behind his desk are posed two small embroidered carpet flags, the AEK football flag and the Greek national flag. In the glass cabinet behind his desk, Hamid has exhibited an old Chinese tapestry. In a small kitchenette near the entrance, Hamid prepares black tea, which he pours into small drinking glasses.
6th generation of carpet makers
Hamid Zandi has lived in Greece for 15 years. He was born in 1980 in Tabriz, the capital city of East Azerbaijan Province in north Iran. The population of Tabriz is comprising of the Azaris, who are the largest ethnic minority in Iran and speak a Turkish dialect. It is an old city and has been for centuries an important trading place and border station that is how the manufacturing of carpets was established there over the years. Until today the city of Tabriz is known for its variety of excellent handicrafts. Hamid belongs to the 6th generation of a family of carpet makers and he learned his skills from his family members. He loves the carpet skills his family have given him. When Hamid starts to talk about carpets: their production, the materials of which they consist, etc. his eyes begin to shine and his whole face is glowing.
Hamid left Iran 17 years ago. Before his path led him to Greece he lived 2 years in Turkey, Istanbul. Since his mother tongue is Turkish it was easy for him to come along in the Turkish Metropolis. He used to work in carpet store and began to make plans to open his own carpet business in London based on his Turkish network in Istanbul. But life had provided a different plan for Hamid.
First steps in Greece
The beginning in Greece was very difficult and hard. Hamid was homeless and he didn’t know anyone. After some months he found his first job as a laborer in a Souvlaki shop. He worked 13 hours a day, cutting tomatoes, onions, preparing the Kebab meat, washing dishes for 1 Euro per hour. Hamid got very tired of this kind of work and he said to himself: “I am a carpet maker; I have my handicraft skills, why should I waste my time here by working like an animal and earning nothing?”
Finally, Hamid decided to quit this job and went from one carpet shop to the next one in order to present himself and his skills. After some intensive weeks of searching he got his first work engagement in a carpet store. The job was paid very badly, for the same job he could earn more in Iran. He decided to resign and started seeking for a better paid job. Hamid found work in a carpet cleaning company. It was well paid, but far away from his apartment, he had to travel every day 4.5 hours. Often he slept in the factory to avoid the long travel distance. In that year Hamid was only working and sleeping which made him feel very lonely. Back then, he didn’t speak Greek and the manager was often shouting and insulting his employees, so Hamid didn’t feel comfortable. One day he could not stand it anymore, he left saying the only words he knew in Greek: “Geia sou”.
Hamid was again looking for a job. He started reckoning that he needed samples of his handicraft in order to present his skills to potential employers; therefore he asked friends in Istanbul to send him yarn and thread to tie a carpet. He knotted a small carpet in form of a bag and went with this bag from carpet store to carpet store asking for work. People were very impressed by his handcraft and he found new employment. Hamid worked for several years in different carpet shops, workshops and carpet cleaning stores. He kept the small carpet bag as a lucky charm to remind him how his career started in Greece.
Dreams coming through
Hamid never gave up his dream of opening his own carpet business. One day he said to himself: “Now is the right time for me.” He started knotting his own carpets in his apartment; in one room he worked and in the other he slept. After a while, he got more and more work, but there was not enough space in the apartment. Therefore Hamid opened his own first workshop and shop. He gained an increasing number of new customers through word-of-mouth.
He also imported carpets from Iran and sold them in Greece. He could earn a solid income with his own business and had even to hire some co-workers to help him with all the work assignments he had. Even in the economic crisis Hamid could keep most of his clients and his business still goes well. Of course people buy much less carpets, but they still bring their carpets to get cleaned and repaired. Since 2013 he works with different factories, each providing him with approximately 3-5 carpets.
Hamid is specialized in antique carpets. Full of enthusiasm, he shows us a carpet from the Ottoman period, a precious find that he happened to buy at a flea market in Italy. He treasures this precious historic ‘jewel’ of a carpet like his own eyeball. Hamid tenderly strokes the carpet and confesses with shining eyes that he could continue talking endlessly about carpets and he adds with a mischievous smile: “If someone would offer me 5 Euros and I had to decide if I would buy bread or a carpet, of course I would get the carpet.”
Hamid’s social life
Several framed photos are on his desk. He introduces us to the most important people in his life by tenderly caressing the pictures: there is a picture of his Nono and Nona, an elderly couple, which he got acquainted in his early years in Greece, who accepted him like their own son. A picture of his parents and siblings sitting in the living room in Iran and a portrait of his wife.
Through his different work engagements, Hamid learned Greek. He feels very happy that he had the opportunity to get to know his Nono and Nona, they made him feel he had a second family in Greece. After being involved in love relationships with local women, he finally fell in love with his wife, Maria, who has the same roots as Hamid.
Where is home?
Hamid feels at home in Greece. When he goes back to Iran, he feels like a stranger. He is the only member of his family that left Iran. Since he was a little boy, he felt the urge to live an adventurous life. He was always seeking for new challenges and tasks in his life. Hamid went only a few times back to Iran to visit his family.
But in Greece people call him “the foreigner”, his neighbors call him “the Persian”. Whenever he needs to go to public services the civil servants behave distrustfully and impolitely to him.
Nonetheless, he feels that he belongs in this country and he even feels an affection towards the population here. Back in Iran Hamid’s family was quite poor, but in Greece he accomplished establishing his own business. He even received a profitable job offer from Germany, but he refused the proposal preferring to stay in Greece.
Each of his old friends chose a different path, “like branches of a tree” as Hamid underlines. Some left Greece, others moved within Greece. He kept the contact to a group of old friends until today.
“It is a lottery where someone has been born, if it’s Switzerland or Iran, etc. You cannot blame people when they emigrate; everyone has the desire for a decent life.” Hamid further says that we should not put people of the same nationality in the same boxes, just because a member of one group did something wrong; you cannot blame the whole group for his or her behavior. The majority is trying to make their life decently, but if a negative incident happens everyone is focusing on this bad event, whereby some media support the spread of a bad perception of migrants in society. Hamid emphasizes that we all should read more, travel, exchange with different people in order to be able to change perspectives and to absorb new concepts and ideas.
Never lose sight of your goal
“Never, never, never give up”, stresses Hamid when he is asked what message he would like to pass on to newcomers in Greece. “Never lose sight of your goal, invest in learning the language and respect the prevailing laws.” Hamid emphasizes that someone who is determined will reach their goal by working hard. Goals can also change over time just as it happened with Hamid, who originally had planned to open a carpet business in London, but finally stayed in Athens.
When referring to the current debate on migration in Europe Hamid expresses his sadness and frustration about how people were treated. He still remembers how horrible he felt in 2015, when he saw families with small children sitting in tents at Viktoria square.
Today Hamid lives with his wife in Chalandri. He is searching at the time for a bigger workshop and shop for his carpet business. Hamid refers to himself as a person with two “winds”, Iran and Greece. Sometimes he misses the “wind” of his old home and wishes he could be with his family and friends sitting and chatting in a circle on the floor. He is eager to travel to countries in the Middle and Far East like Egypt and Tajikistan. Hamid looks at us and says: “The start of your life is not in your hand, but the end of your life is in your hand, it shows what you have done with your life.”