Day 340 - Rastin (2nd person I approached)
December 06, 2014 - I managed to get out for a nice walk today, between rain showers. Sometimes it feels like I’m on a treasure hunt; the days when my walk is about two things - getting out for the walk, and meeting a stranger. Fortunately the coffee shop culture in Vancouver affords an ample variety of prime spots to scout for stories.
I spotted Rastin sitting in the window of a coffee shop on Main Street, working away at his computer. When I asked him if he would chat with me, he asked to see some of the other stories I had written. Like I always do, I showed him my Facebook page. He then searched for The Stranger Project page on his own computer and ‘liked’ the page right away. I knew then we were going to get along well.
He was born in Tehran, the capitol and largest city of Iran. Soon after his birth, his parents relocated to Nottingham, England to attend University. Nottingham is home to Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. Sherwood Forest, famous by its historical association with the legend of Robin Hood, is also in Nottingham.
“We lived in England while my parents both completed their schooling. My earliest memories are associated with England. I have strong memories of English breakfasts and Dr Who from living there,” he tells me, with affection in his voice.
“I learned to speak some English while living in Nottingham. My parents returned to Iran when I was four years old. In Tehran I didn’t speak much English and it didn’t stay with me for long,” said Rastin.
“My mother had a friend who was a professor. When I was older, he would make weekly recordings of sentences in English for me. I would listen to the recordings and memorize them. I learned to understand what each sentence meant. I soon had a vocabulary large enough to construct my own sentences, and this is how I learned to speak English,” he said.
In high school, Rastin developed an interest in technology.
"I liked to repair things, not break them. My friend and I would buy salvaged computer parts and electrical components that were sold my weight, not operational value. I managed to build a music studio, completely from scratch, out of reused components. I started to build radios as well. Eventually I was broadcasting my own pirate radio show. It was good way to meet girls. They would make mixed tapes for me to broadcast,” he says with a slightly coy smile. Under the government regime in Iran, most of these actions were highly illegal.
“I was aware how risky it all was,” he said. Using equipment that enabled anyone to connect with information outside the governments control, was not only illegal, but dangerous.
“My actions weren’t necessarily political, but information is power. I would also help people to install satellite dishes inside their homes. I had a professor from school who made a satellite dish from curtain rods, wire mesh and electrical components. He cut a huge hole in the wall of his living room and mounted it in there,” Rastin said.
“My parents eventually made me stop, because of the danger and risk involved, with the government.”
After the Iranian revolution, and with the formation of a theocratic government, Rastin’s parents were saving what money they could, to eventually leave Iran.
“When I finished high-school, I went to medical school. I was studying to become a dentist. Because i was in medical school, I was exempt from doing the mandatory two years of military service. I was three-and-a-half years into dentistry, and realized I wasn’t interested in dentistry. I enjoyed the science and the technology side of it. I was the top student in radiology. I blasted over a hundred people, taking x-rays. I enjoyed it because it was like photography for me. I had reached the point in my training where I was starting to do surgeries. But I knew I didn’t want to be a dentist,” he said.
Rastin’s father had been doing some business with Canadian companies, and the family decided that they liked what Canada had to offer.
“It had all the traits of a modern country, and the standard of living we were looking for. The Canadian government were also open to Iranian immigrants,” Rastin said. The family came to Vancouver when he was twenty years old. He decided he’d rather work with smart machines than people.
“I enjoy technology. Coming to Canada excited me, so did the opportunity to experience the information highway, as the internet was called.”
“I applied to go to UBC (University of British Columbia) to study Computer Sciences. I went to Capilano College (North Vancouver) to study general arts, and to upgrade my marks while I waited to get into UBC. I also worked on improving my English by taking poetry classes in college,” he said. Rastin spent two years at Capilano College.
“I was offered a place at UNBC (University of Northern British Columbia) in Prince George. I decided to go and do it, rather than continue waiting to get into UBC,” he told me.
“My parents were disappointed. They thought I was going to be a dentist, and I had spent over three years in university already studying dentistry,” he said.
In Prince George, Rastin discovered a large and vibrant artist's community.
“I got involved in dance while I was there. I met so many intelligent, creative people who became very good friends. I’m still in contact with many of the friends I met during the four years I went to university there,” he said. Rastin’s dance interests included Swing, Balboa and Jazz.
“We would have regular dance nights, similar to when you go to a party and you talk to different people. Except the parties were about dancing with as many people as you could,” he said. Rastin found it to be a great way to be sociable, with people he found to be intelligent. He thrived in the tight knit art community.
“I had also started working for myself during university. I was doing web design and technical support. That’s how I paid my way through school.”
“I was offered a job right out of university. I worked for a technology company. I did that for two years, but it wasn’t that exciting. So I quit and started my own company. I’m a consultant, a software developer, and entrepreneur,” he said. Rastin has launched a start-up company developing educational software. It's open source, meaning it is available to anyone, and free for others to use. He believes in sharing education and knowledge.
“I want to support the advancement of science and to help against the muzzling of scientists. The way to move out from an autocracy is to share the very information that those in power don’t want people to have,” he said. He also writes a personal blog. (*Fact Check - see link below.)
Rastin is in a relationship.
“My girlfriend is a designer, photographer and roller derby player. We are quite an alternative couple,” he told me. In his spare time, dance has become a passion for him.
“It’s like you go in to it with all the cuts and bruises of life. And then this is like bathing in a beautiful spring that cleanses you.” #notastranger
*Fact Check - http://www.rastinmehr.com