We are all born curious: Elmira (Emy) Jamalian (28) software community manager, translator, copywriter, software QA Tester and traveller
Emy was born and raised in Shiraz, Iran. She describes growing up in Iran as living in a bubble “because it’s so different from the rest of the world and it is kinda disconnected too”. She recently moved from Iran to Germany. How did she manage to step out of this bubble? What did her curiosity have to do with this decision?
I met Emy for the first time in 2018 in the middle of a forest at the Permanent Beta Festival. In 2019 we met for the second time in the same forest. Emy got into contact with this Dutch initiative when they were planning to start up Permanent Beta in Iran. Emy is a very spontaneous, energetic and extremely lovable person. She wonders around and clearly enjoys experiencing new things and meeting new people.
I was wondering how she managed to stay curious in an environment which for outsiders seems to inhibit curiosity in so many ways. It was a wonderful and open talk about curiosity, finding your own truth and learning your own way.
What does curiosity mean to you personally?
I am not sure. But I have over 1000 questions to which I have no clear answers. That is curiosity to me. Some might think: those questions are stupid. But I have no choice but to ask those questions, it is the only way to find answers.
What fascinated you in your youth? Do these things still fascinate you now?
There are so many. Sometimes they are really basic. When I was ten or eleven years old I wondered whether I should look at somebody’s eyes or lips when talking to them. I always wanted to know how other people do things. Or more complicated; how people from different backgrounds learn stuff. This was one of my motivations to live in a new environment with a new culture.
How much of your curiosity is determined by nature and how much by nurture?
Nurture has a big influence. The first time I travelled, I realized there were so many things I did not even know existed. I decided to go to different places to know how people live and basically to see, feel and experience things that otherwise I might not even know they exist.
But I also believe curiosity is determined by nature. I always wanted to know how things work:
My aunt married someone who worked on ships. Their kids had toys from other countries, toys I never had. I remember a doll with lights in its eyes. I wanted to see how it worked or more specifically what was behind the eyes. I ruined the eyes of the doll and the lamps went out.
“I took all the pieces out and apart to see what was wrong”.
I had a clock that wasn’t working. I wanted to know why it wasn’t working. I took all the pieces out and apart to see what was wrong. I found nothing, I tried to reassemble it and obviously I ruined it. After that, the clock wasn’t even a decoration.
I had a cousin who fixed everything regarding computer software and hardware by himself. When I got my first computer, I wanted to do the same as my cousin. I took pieces out and reconnected them. I pushed the power button and it went on. I was super happy that it worked, but my happiness faded away when smoke started to come out of the computer casing.
Different way(s) of learning
I found out only recently I can only learn by stories and games and that people in general learn in their own way. Games and stories engage me to do something. I could never learn by the traditional ways. Even when I was in school, for theoretical courses like geography and history, I always asked my friends to explain me what was in the books. I could not read the book myself because I was simply bored. But when my friends were telling me the content, it was a story that I was interested in.
I have to experience everything myself. A former collegue told me once that it is not a good thing and I should also use other people’s experiences. But to me it doesn’t feel right because they are them, and I am me. This way of learning makes me feel like I am not wise enough or smart enough. But I cannot do it any other way. I can only trust other people experiences if I get the same result a couple of times.
“I have to experience everything myself”.
I can listen to your explanation and explain it in your words to someone else, but I cannot do it myself if I don’t try it out. I need to learn it in a specific situation. Sometimes people do not answer my question in the context that I’m asking, I guess they do not realize how important learning in a specific context is for me. It is so frustrating to keep asking the same question, and not getting the answers I need. So I give up and go to the next person; a change of variables as in mathematics.
Have you become more or less curious during your life?
I do not have the answer to that question yet. But people my age are normally more mature. They have fewer questions, they know simple things in life. I have more questions. I don’t know, maybe I just don’t want to know the answers.
“Others do not ask questions that I have”
Others do not ask questions that I have, like: how does it feel to miss someone? I already had this question 10 years ago. It is still a question to me. I received some answers but I think there is more to know.
My curiosity when I was young and my curiosity now are completely different. When I was young I was mainly curious to understand my direct surroundings. Nowadays I try to go further than my direct surroundings.
What is the best way to stimulate your curiosity?
There is no specific way. As long as I don’t know it, I like to know it. Even if it is not a good thing.
What do you mean with even when it is not a good thing?
I live in Dresden, every week Pegida [Patriotic Europeans against the Islam] is protesting near my work. It is not a good idea for me to be around those people. However, I want to see what is going on and hear what they say. I don’t know enough about them, that is why I want to know it.
What tempers your curiosity?
I don’t really know. But when I try to do something and I realize I am not enjoying it, I stop. I try to connect new things to the things I already know. For me that’s a good way to understand and learn. I also think the learning curve has to be pretty easy for me otherwise I get bored or anxious very fast. I am not patient at all. When I want to do something, I have to do it urgently and If it takes too long, I will postpone it.
How does curiosity feel?
As impatience; a type of urgency. When I have something in my mind, but I cannot find the words for it, I keep thinking about it. I cannot talk and think at the same time.
Can you tell something about how curiosity is looked upon in Iran?
I think in the Iranian education system, curiosity is taken away from kids. We are living in a bubble, because we are so restricted by the world but also because of the political and religious situation of Iran. On the other hand, when we step out of this bubble there is a lot to know. Because we are not allowed to do certain things this makes us curious.
In education children don’t want more knowledge. They are frustrated by mathematics, they don’t want to learn about this topic anymore, and they stop looking for an answer for all their questions. You are not allowed to study with boys, to eat certain food or to drink alcohol. This only makes you curious. It’s like all the parents who try to stop children from smoking, but their kids all smoke anyway.
The wild girl who went to Tehran
I think some children feel less confident because others (like their parents or siblings ) stop them from doing what they really want. I was lucky with my mum. I used to like remote controlled toys and biking. My father said this is what boys do, not girls, but my mum encouraged me to do what I liked. Of course we were holding some stuff from my dad. For instance I never told him I wanted a bike and I borrowed one from a friend who was not using his bike anymore.
“I am one of the wild ones, I will do what I want”.
My father was against me moving to Tehran on my own, but he did not bring a fight with me when I decided to move from Shiraz to Tehran. Instead he told me about a movie he had watched about a girl who moved to Tehran for work. Bad things happened to this girl. I did not let him stop me and I just gave it a try. I stayed in Tehran for five years and I think it was worth it.
I am one of the wild ones, I will do what I want. However, if you say my sister don’t do it, she probably will not do it or at least this is how I think she is, or maybe how she used to be when we were kids.
How do you recognize curiosity in other people?
I can only recognize it if they are like me. If they ask questions or when they try things out. Otherwise I have no idea. I just know my own way. Kids like to discover how things work, I understand them. With adults I do not know how to recognize their curiosity.
How do you make other people curious?
If I find something interesting I will tell them. For example how interesting it is that there are two types of French. I discovered this in a tweet about the Simpsons [the cartoon]. One of the characters went to France, they used two types of French accent, the French one and the Quebec one. I told everyone to check if they were just as interested in it as I am.
I will let others ask questions. When I think I have the answers, I will still ask them for their opinion first. I do not want to block their thoughts with my own opinion. Their thoughts are more like a new input for me.
“I cannot tolerate certainty”
You have to experience uncertainty. There is no other way. How can you be so certain about something? I do not know enough. When you are certain you stop doing stuff.
I don’t like planning. I just love unplanned things. I don’t plan to travel. I stayed in Europe for three months and never booked a place ahead. I cannot tolerate certainty. Planning makes me anxious. Maybe because it stops me from doing random things.
What according to you is the most important social challenge we are faced with?
I do not know, I just entered into a new society I still have to explore. However, my biggest wish is no boundaries, no borders, everybody can find out what they want to find out. In the modern world curiosity is a good thing.
A blast of energy in a tiny package
When Emy and I finished the interview a friend passed by and described Emy as a blast of energy in a tiny package. I couldn’t agree more. Emy’s curiosity to understand herself and the world around here gives her an enormous energy, spontaneity and force of moving ahead and exploring the world. She does not let herself be stopped by boundaries or bubbles. She is the wild girl from Shiraz who stepped out of the bubble and is exploring the world.
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