Day 167 - Farhang (1st person I approached)
June 16, 2014 - Farhang was willing to chat with me, at first. I showed him The Stranger Project 2014 Facebook page and explained what I was doing. I told him I write stories about the people that I chat with, take their pictures and post them on a few social media sites. Farhang asked me the question I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me.
“How do I know you’re the person that this page belongs to? Maybe we should schedule some time to talk tomorrow while I check on this page of yours.” I was able to show him photographs I have on my phone of Johnathon, Don, Hanna, Natalie and David, all people that I have chatted with over the last few days.
“Ok, so you have some pictures that match with the page. Tell me a story about one of these people,” he said. I told him a brief synopsis about Johnathon. Then I started to tell him about Don and his time in the residential school.
“Shit. He told you that? You must be a good guy if he felt ok to tell you this. Let’s talk then.” Farhang put down his newspaper and we began chatting.
His parents are originally from Iran.
“My parent’s are of the Bahá'í faith. In Iran there is some hostility toward those of the Bahá’í faith. Even though it is the second largest religion (after Islam) in Iran, and it’s roots were established in part, in Iran. My parents left to become pioneers and carry forth the Bahá’í faith, and moved to India. There was of course, political turmoil in India. The country divided, leaving my parents on land that became a part of Pakistan,” said Farhang. He was born in the city of Quetta. He is the oldest son, with two older sisters and one younger brother. His name has two meanings, one meaning dictionary, the other meaning culture or ‘good breeding.’
We talked for a while about the Bahá’í faith.
“It is a religion that is relatively new, started some 170 years ago,” said Farhang. He went on to tell me that in any one community the followers elect nine people to be the governing board of that area. And then there are nine elected members that represent the country, say Canada. They look after all the smaller communities as one collective. Then there is the world-wide Universal House of Justice that are nine elected members. The number ‘nine’ is very important to the faith. Using the letters of the name "Bahá’í" and attributing a numeric value to each of them, the combined total is nine, which as the highest single-digit number, symbolizing completeness. There is a respect of confidentiality within the faith. One member of the Bahá’í faith can not identify another member to those outside of the faith. Their beliefs are carried forward by word of mouth. The Bahá’í faith is centred around three tenets. Unity of god, an understanding that there is only one god, unity of religion, or one religion for everyone, and unity of humanity, we are all equal.
“You wouldn't want to have a rose garden with only red roses,” said Farhang.
“You want to have one garden filled with different colours and types of rose.” The purpose of the faith ultimately is a belief in the spiritual unity of all humankind. Their belief’s and intentions are focussed on prayer, reflection and service to humanity. Farhang has tended to the garden of his church for almost two decades now.
After completing high school, Farhang went to university and studied Civil Engineering.
“I went to university for four years, and then that was it. I wanted out of Pakistan. I wanted to carry the word of the Bahá’í faith to others, just as my parents had done. So I said goodbye to my family and moved to Saudi Arabia,” Farhang said.
“I got work with a excellent company. They treated me well and I was making good money. I stayed there for two years,” he said.
“I wanted to go to Africa. I tried going to Kenya, but the timing just didn’t work for me,” he said.
“So I moved to Uganda. This was during the time toward the end of Idi Amin’s regime and the civil war that was tearing the country apart. People on the streets were killing each other, but I wasn’t considered a threat because I was deemed to be ‘white’ even though I am dark skinned. To the Ugandan's involved in the fighting, I was a tourist, identified by my lighter skin colour. They would kill a fellow Ugandan just to steal their clothes, or their shoes. They paid no respect to the bodies. They’d kill someone, steal their clothes and leave them where they fell. Many times I’d be on one of the small transit buses and it would be pulled over and inspected by soldiers. I would show my passport and they'd let me be. But they would steal the personal belongings of other’s on the bus. Sometimes the other passengers would try and pass their valuables to me knowing that the soldiers wouldn’t take it from me. But you could never know for sure what they might or might not do. It was terrifying,” said Farhang. He stayed in Uganda for two years, leaving because the danger and violence was becoming a real threat to anyone and everyone.
This time, Kenya did work out for Farhang.
“I got an invitation for an interview with a company looking for an engineer. I knew where the office was and I decided to walk, even thought it was great distance away. I found myself walking down a road that had a fence at the end of it and I could see two (military) tanks in a compound. Suddenly some armed guards came running toward me. They accused me of spying on them, and I was taken to an office and interrogated. I gave them the contact information of the person I was going to see for the interview, but they didn’t believe me. They continued to accuse me of spying on them. I was terrified that this would be the end for me. I happened to know the American ambassador in this region, through the Bahá’í. I managed to convince them to let me contact her and somehow, she was able to secure my release. It was the worst twelve hours of my life,” said Farhang. When he eventually did sit down for that job interview, they gave him the position almost immediately.
“I got a good salary, a company car and a two security guards,” he said.
During his travels, Farhang had kept in touch with a woman that he had met back at university in Pakistan. She was a student at the same time as Farhang, coming originally from India and of Iranian heritage. She joined him in Kenya and they got married. Farhang ended up getting a job with the UN (United Nations).
"I was working on a project building small schools all over Kenya. I would travel around overseeing the construction, completing inspections and then write reports for the UN," he told me. He and his wife left Kenya after being there for seven years.
“I had been renewing my paperwork every year and everything was good each time. Then I was told for some reason that was never fully made clear to me, that they would no longer be able to renew my paperwork."
Through the UN, Farhang was offered a position that would move him from Kenya to the city of Whitehorse, in the Yukon.
“Seriously. From Kenya where it was minimum 25C to minus 25C. That was a drastic change. I had never been to anywhere as cold. We arrived at Vancouver airport to change planes. The people helping us to relocate couldn’t believe what we were wearing. They gave us Parkas and big knee-high winter boots. I remember the first time wearing the boots and I was indoors. I could hear a strange noise as I walked around. I had never been in a building constructed of wood before,” he said laughing. Farhang had learned to speak a little English when he was in university. A coworker in Whitehorse jokingly told him that saying ‘fuck you’ (which he had never heard before) was an informal greeting for people. He used it one day when walking into a meeting and was quickly told that he had been duped.
“I made a decision then and there that I would learn to improve my English. They gave me a hard time about that for months,” he said shaking his head. Farhang's job was overseeing parts of the reconstruction of the Alaska Highway.
“We stayed in Whitehorse for two years and then it was time to leave. It was just too cold!” he said.
Relocating to Vancouver in 1987, Farhang and his wife have one son who is now 21 years old. Farhang has his own geothermal engineering company.
“I’m involved in residential construction. I ensure that the ground and foundations of new houses are suitably prepared and built to code. I prefer to work in the residential construction and not big office buildings or retail spaces," he said. Farhang is on a personal mission to speak to 9000 thousand people in six months about the Bahá’í faith.
“When talking to people about my faith, it has to be done walking, and not using a car or transit, so I am out walking everyday. I have walked from Vancouver to Burnaby and one day walked for eight hours non-stop. It is my own personal challenge,” he said, though I did note the number nine being a part of his goal. I asked about his family.
“I have a wonderful relationship with my son. He is a good man. And my wife and I have been married for 35 years. I am very fortunate. Many people in our culture have arranged marriages. My wife and I are special, and we are lucky. We married for love. It is a love marriage.” #notastranger