Farivar Tabatabaei: An Ongoing Journey
*This story was collected and produced by Inspiring Iranians and has been reproduced by MALA with their permission.
I have truly learned that we are here to enable the Divine Purpose of the Universe to unfold. I see myself as having many different types of journeys in my life, and also learned that it’s the journey itself to enjoy, learn from, and expand, not only the destination.
A year after being born into this marvelous world in 1979, my family had migrated to the U.S. (California) due to the Revolution. I was too young to realize the major hardships during this journey. I began learning English in preschool. Just as any child in the Theta brainwave stage and state, I was observing – surly more than others – as I was still continuing to learn the language and new behaviors every day. I became good friends with one of my classmates in Kindergarten, who was quieter and calmer compared to other students. I’m grateful to know now that I always connected easily with other pure and unconditional humans. I later learned that my friend lived a very limited life, only with his grandmother in a mobile-home park. On the contrary, I was living the most high class and luxurious lifestyle. As a child, I had not seen anything other than luxuries, I didn’t even know of an outside world, and what a hardship could feel and look like.
Throughout my elementary, middle school, and only the 9th grade in high school, I was a “straight A” student, as mostly all Iranians were. I began building confidence as I felt more fit-in with everyone else. However in the middle of my 9th Grade year, we moved to another state, and I continued my school that year in another large city. Being exposed to drugs and violence in the school was not easy to cope with. The hardest part was leaving our “home”, our friends, our life. It was truly – what I thought then – a difficult time. That was just the beginning. My family had now decided to make the radical move back to Iran, thinking that I would be able to attend Tehran International School and continue my education in English.
Not knowing much about Iran, its culture, and story, I began asking questing and understanding its history, the revolution, the situation…
We arrived in Tehran in the summer of 1994, only a couple days before the extraordinary Tassua and Ashoora ceremonies. After a not so pleasant arrival in the Airport and many hours of interrogations, we left the Mehrabad Airport for the old Sheraton Hotel. I clearly remember seeing a couple strips of brown color snow on the Alborz Mountains through the pollution. We rode a typical non-air-conditioned “Paykan” on the old and bumpy freeways, and experienced a stressful and heart-pounding drive, while directly inhaling thick black smog from the many old cars and busses in the hot summer climate. Truly something that was inconceivable.
The voyage continued. As I went with my father to register for the 10th grade, we were informed that I am not able to attend the Tehran International School and must attend the Adaption School, where they first teach how to read/write Farsi, then attend the normal classes in Persian. At 15 years of age, I was put into a class with students from age 7 to me being the oldest. We started the 1st grade, with the A, B, C’s, or basically, “baba ab daad”. I recalled the prior year, where I just entered High School with all my other friends in California, having a fantastic time, taking courses such as drafting, computer, and Spanish. I remembered planning my future elective classes and path, eager to be driving soon… Not aware of how different my life would be in only one years’ time. Now we had to wear strict uniforms, stand in lines in the morning while the Quran was read, and had Arabic classes. But now was not a time to worry, to regret, to resent… I had to move on, I had to Adapt. As difficult as the transition was from the previous lifestyle, to being in the middle of Tehran and learning the A,B,C’s, I kept reminding myself that how lucky I am to still have my family, and that how fortunate we all are for our health, and also that; this too, will pass.
After my first term in Tehran Adaption School (Tatbighi) and finishing the 2nd elementary grade, I was sent to my own class – the 10th grade – to continue my normal education. Not surprisingly at the end of summer, I had failed all my classes except English and P.E. I added to my experience of being a “Straight A” student, to being a “Straight F” student. And surely did I experience stress, pressure, worry, and so on. I had another chance to obtain a passing score for the exams in 2 months, otherwise, the school informed me that I’d be put in the 9th grade, instead of 11th. Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry, Physics, Chemistry, Science, Persian (reading, writing, and Grammar), Arabic, Quran, History, and Defense (Amoozesh Defaiee) were the classes I had to pass. I was studying with private teachers for over 14 hours a day till the exams, where yes, I did – and was – passed. It was absolutely a major accomplishment for me. Other than the language barrier, the level of education was so much higher than what we were studying in the States. However, difficult as it was, I truly felt as I was able to see and experience another dimension of life; to see the cube from a different angle, from a very different perspective. I got familiar with the culture, history and people. And realized that I’m just starting to realize life, that there are even more people living in much more hardships than my friend in elementary school. I learned that change can always be right around the corner, and change is good, that there are always newer things to learn and experience, that we are always growing and expanding.
I successfully passed the 11th grade, and in my senior year, whilst having the most limited knowledge in Persian, I was still the only student in the class that passed all courses and obtained my Diploma. Now, I had truly succeeded and completed something that seemed impossible for me at a time. And also now, I had to make a clear decision; what route to take for my future and higher education?
It was logical that I leave Iran and continue into a University in the U.S. However, I decided to take on the most significant challenge of my life. Not only to study and give the “Konkour” exams, but to also change my field of study to mathematics instead. I was criticized that I had just learned how to read and write a couple of years prior, and I do not stand a chance to compete with the rest of the students. That year, I recall a time where I had not stepped out of my house for an entire month, and that was only to walk my private teachers out to the front building door. I had to manage and prioritize my time, schedule, and courses in an efficient way. My room was stacked with books and studying material. I had set a goal, and was ready to do the unnatural – again. It was a mission, a major operation to be accomplished. Exam day finally arrived, and after 4 stressful hours, a sense of peace and triumph had taken over me. The results were posted. I was amongst the top 5%. Although being accepted in Civil Engineering, I chose to attend Business Economics which I also got accepted in, and left for the city of Esfahan to start yet another new journey.
Classes started, it was not easy to fit in. I had a hard time understanding people when they would speak, as they’d be too fast for me to comprehend. The courses were difficult to keep up with. But I had come this far, and there was no other option for me. This was the first time that I was between Iranian students at a high level. Almost all the students were living in high occupancy shared rooms with limited resources, and washing their clothes by hand. I kept the most low-profile life, as I had a new, fully furnished, 3 bedroom apartment. That year, alongside my courses, I started working in the Construction industry, assisting to manage a residential building. I would make the drive by car – and sometimes by old and non-air-conditioned buses – to the hotter desert city of Yazd, I learned the job and completed several residential projects there. I would look at my path for the past several years, which was from the U.S. to Tehran, to Esfahan, to Yazd. The trail seemed to be dramatically degrading, however, an extraordinary learning and growing experience.
The year after, I started a project in Esfahan on my own. I recall going to the Municipality to get approvals and submit submissions, and since I was amongst the youngest people there doing what I was, I was often given a hard time and looked down upon. Since my Persian reading was very slow, I would take the forms given to me to a quiet and empty place where no one would see me spending so much time reading them, or take them home to be return the next day to avoid embarrassment and further criticism.
Raising a family of my own in Iran was never an option for me. After graduating and getting married, my wife and I came to the U.S. in the early 2000’s and I started the immigration process for my wife. I started working in a medical office, and eventually got involved in the insurance industry and obtained an Insurance License.
However after the death of my father, my wife and I moved to Dubai, U.A.E., to be closer to our families and be in an emerging market, environment, and industry. We started again from scratch. I got involved in the Real Estate industry, and obtained my Real Estate License. A month later, my manager noticed that my level of work was at a much higher and professional standard, and veered more towards engineering, detail and professionalism. He offered me a different roll and position in order to help them establish a Project Management company to oversee and manage the 6,000 residential units – over $1.3 Billion in project value – that the company had. We established an extremely organized, professional project management company with the management of a highly professional architect and leader. We were ready, and took all challenges to keep up with the highest standards, rules, regulations, and integrity. It was a major experience along the Journey.
After many years of project management, I obtained a Black Belt certificate in Six Sigma in 2013, and continued my voyage in other industries like Home Automation and import/export. Eventually, I registered a company and starting importing beauty/personal care products to the U.A.E. The owner of the British products was very keen on entering the Iranian market since it has the biggest market in the region. I accepted the challenge. Although my Persian had surely declined, once again I temporarily went to Iran, only to find myself establishing a company, obtaining approvals/certificates from authorities dealing directly with the FDA, Customs, Tax and V.A.T., Chamber of Commerce, and entering into agreements with major distributors, and eventually started importing. It was an amazing and satisfying experience to be able to benefit the economy and employ the young. I accomplished again the improbable.
After Iran’s recent currency situation, political conditions, sanctions, and crushed economy, I had been forced to discontinue the importation to Iran and the U.A.E. In addition to that, the fact that my children are getting older and there’s not much of an academic future in Dubai for them, we decided to relocate permanently back to the U.S. This way my children would have a clear path for their higher education. However, with the administrative changes that took place a couple of years ago with the Iranians, my wife’s case had to start once again from the beginning. I left Dubai, my wife and children, to again – and permanently – reestablish our future in the U.S. It was a long, uncertain 380 days that I had not seen them. However difficult it was, I’m thankful that just a little after a year, her case was re-approved, and I was finally reunited with my wife and daughters again.
We reside now in Orange County. I realize now that there is no final destination to reach, nor is it important. We are all on an ongoing journey, which itself is the evolution, the expansion. The journey continues, and the learning and experiences will continue, and I look forward to the next real challenge.