I was born in Upminster, Essex – a ‘dormitory town’, as it used to be called – about 20 miles east of London at the end of the District underground line. It was in the mid 1950’s and for my parents living in the ‘south east’ they could well have been living in another country. They were both born and raised in Derby in the East Midlands. In those years, you had to be quite adventurous and brave to move down south!
I remember a very uneventful childhood. In fact I used to think it was boring. My parents kept any problems they may have had to themselves and I never remember any harsh words or unpleasantness in the house (except from the usual sibling arguments). My parents were never involved in any religion and in fact only sent us to Sunday School to have a quiet morning away from the kids! I think I was the only one of us three children who took this activity seriously, because my dad used to laugh and say I was going to be a nun, when I sat on his lap and repeated Bible stories I had learnt at Sunday School.
I remember two distinct thoughts during my childhood that might have indicated my future life in the Faith. One was that Christ said he would return and maybe this had indeed happened. The second was when I clearly wondered where in the world my future husband was and what he would be doing at the time of my daydream. So even though I had had no exposure beyond Upminster and Derbyshire, at that precise time my thoughts had been truly universal. Little did I know, that at the time, my husband was probably somewhere in Tehran riding his bike or playing football with his friends. (Not that I knew such a city existed!)
These moments were overtaken by normal adolescence. Growing into a teenager, where religion got forgotten! However, not for long it seems, as I was only 16 when someone in my Business Studies course at Technical College introduced me to his ‘Persian’ friend in the Engineering course. This, of course, was my future husband! I was not particularly interested in learning about any new religion at the time, but I must have been curious, because after a while I would go with Bijan to youth meetings just to see what was going on and why he wanted to go? I can clearly remember going to my first youth meetings at the National Bahá’í Centre in Rutland Gate and was so overwhelmed by the energy, radiance and vitality of this group of young people and how so very different they were from my other friends.
Over a period of about two years I got to know the London Bahá’í youth of the early 1970’s and started to read Bahá’í books. The more I read, the more it made sense to me. I was 18 when I declared as a Bahá’í. The signing of my card was after I had listened to Meherangiz Munsiff give a comprehensive talk at the National Centre one evening in November 1974. She obviously knew I was not a declared Bahá’í as after her talk was finished she made a beeline for me and after a short and ‘firm’ chat with her, I declared.
Bijan and I were married when I was 19 in January 1976. Looking back, I was so young! My parents, who still did not believe religion had any role in one’s life, were quite alarmed at their youngest child’s new interests, ‘foreign’ boyfriend and strange new religion, but they could see the strength and integrity of Bijans’ character and had the wisdom and confidence to let me follow this path without any resistance. Over the years of course, our family was enriched by having extended family from another culture and my parents would tell others what a wonderful son-in-law they had.
I remember a poignant moment when the two fathers met for the one and only time in 1979. Mr Iqani senior was at that time very ill and when he shook hands with my father his words were (in Farsi of course, translated by Bijan), “I hope you are satisfied with my son for your daughter”. Such an exchange would never have happened I think, in the English culture.
We had lived in Epsom during Bijan’s university time, in the famous ‘Clerdoun’ house, belonging to Christine and Pat Beer, who were themselves pioneers to South Africa during the 1970’s. After they came back to the UK in 1979, we went to ‘Clerdoun’ early in 1980 for a fireside and to meet Lowell Johnson (who was visiting from South Africa). He encouraged Bijan and Eqbal Maani (who was staying with us for a few days) to come to South Africa, as the country needed technical people and that they would find work easily and more importantly the Faith needed pioneers. Bijan and Eqbal took the decision to travel together to look for work with the aim of pioneering, unaware that no Bahá’í in South Africa with a Persian passport had managed to get a work permit (Lowell had omitted to tell us this detail).
Upon arriving in South Africa they consulted with the National Spiritual Assembly and both of them got work offers within a couple of weeks. The jobs they accepted were the jobs that the National Assembly recommended they take. Work permits were processed and granted within the next couple of months. I followed with the children in April 1980, and arrived in South Africa with two babies, two boxes and about 100 pounds in money. We have been here ever since.
We were so sad when Eqbal passed away at the young age of 50 in 2005. He was our true brother and we still miss him so much.
In the 1980’s we seemed to lead a double life, as apartheid was still the order of the day. We had our Bahá’í life where we were part of a loving and diverse community, and our everyday working life, where we had to be careful in what we said to whom, especially when the subject of religion came up. The Bahá’í community then was very small and we really did seem to know everyone. The Faith has grown so much over these past 32 years, that when we attend any national event we know fewer and fewer friends. South Africa is now a different country, the ‘rainbow’ nation, and it is so wonderful to see the change that has happened. The wisdom and caution of the National Spiritual Assembly during the apartheid years was necessary and the patience and obedience has been rewarded many fold.
We both have served on various national committees and local assemblies over the years. Bijan was an Auxiliary Board member for 15 years, from 1985 to 2000. We have lived in various towns across the country, always away from the larger Bahá’í communities. Our children have had the privilege of growing up in the Bahá’í community here exposed to communities and situations that average children of their peer group never had the opportunity of experiencing. We all feel very blessed and grateful that we have been able to serve the Faith and live here in such a beautiful country.
We took early retirement in 2011 and moved to a very rural and remote part of the country called the Ceres Karoo, which is 2½ hours drive from Cape Town. Our nearest Bahá’í is 100 kms away, and we try to meet regularly for devotionals. New adventures and services await us.