One day, in the beginning of April 1948, when my mother was 7 or 8 months pregnant with me, my father wanted her to come with him on a Sizdah bedar picnic. Sizdah bedar, the 13th day of the Persian year, is the last day of the Nowruz New Year festivities. The 13th day of the year is considered unlucky, according to common belief the demons come to haunt people in their homes, so all Iranians go out of their houses to the ﬁelds and hills to have festive picnics. On this day people play hoaxes on each other — just like April Fools’ Day, which usually falls on the same day or the day before — and boys and girls are allowed to talk to each other, even in the most conservative communities. Single girls take the sprouts that have withered on the Sofre-ye Haft Sin, the special New Year table, throw them into the river, and wish to ﬁnd themselves in the next year in their husband’s home with a baby in their arms. But my mother decided not to go on the picnic. She didn’t feel well and preferred to stay at home. I was born in the late afternoon, a month or two prematurely.
The date was 2 April, but because at that time nobody really followed the calendar, my birth certiﬁcate was registered with the date 4 April, which made me two days younger!
When my father came home that evening, my grandmother greeted him at the door, and was not very happy to tell him that a girl was born. She didn’t want him to be shocked when he saw me: I was very small (1.5kg, that’s 3 lb 5 oz!) and full of hair. When recounting my birth story, my grandmother always used to say I looked more like a monkey than a human being and everybody was afraid to touch me. It was my beloved grandmother Saltanat Khanom, who saved my life during this critical time. There were no clothes for such tiny babies, so she wrapped me in cotton wool and whenever she changed me, I would faint.
All the neighbors told my grandmother, “Don’t bother so much with this one. She won’t survive anyway, and even if she does, she’s a girl!”
My father, my uncle and my grandfather worked together. My grandfather still lived in Rezaiyeh, and his main business was dried fruit, especially raisins. My father did a lot of business with Russia, when he could. He told me that during and after the war, there were a few years when exporting food was alternately illegal and then legal again. It had to do with shortages of food inside Iran, the needs of the Russian and British occupants, and the demand and need in post-war Europe. Their business was very successful. They bought the whole harvest of raisins in Rezaiyeh. When export was illegal, they had to sell all their goods inside Iran, and they sold it to factories that used them in cakes etc.
At this time business was so good that my grandfather had opened a factory for packing their raisins. But my father noticed that there was enough demand, and enough raisins, yet the factory couldn’t meet the market’s needs. He evaluated the process, looked for the problematic place (he actually used the Theory of Constraints before it was formulated), and noticed that separating the stems from the raisins creates a bottleneck. The solution was a machine for automatically separating the stem from the raisins. Luckily, he found exactly this kind of machine in Tehran, and as soon as they introduced it to the factory, sales soared, business multiplied, and they started exporting not only to Russia, but also to Europe. Which created other problems…
One time, in Tehran, my father sold a large shipment of raisins to a German company. It looked like a wonderful deal, but then the customer didn’t pay for two whole years. At this time, Iran ﬂourished economically, but my father’s hands were tied: he couldn’t make any investments or purchases, because a lot of his money was in the hands of that German customer, and the customer wouldn’t pay. When the German client ﬁnally paid his debt, my father, once bitten, practiced more caution and specialized in selling his goods to exporters in Tehran. It took him a while to regain conﬁdence to start exporting directly again. I’m glad he did, because this decision impacted our whole lives.
Besides the Iranian exporters, Papa resumed his trade with the Russians. He sold a shipment of 500 tons of raisins to the Russians, and then a second shipment of 500 tons was ordered, but he couldn’t deliver it on time: Mosaddegh’s reform and the nationalization of Iranian oil led to sanctions on Iran, which caused economic unrest in the country. My father’s prices for export to Russia were set in Iranian Rials. During that time of unrest, the dollar went up 50%, and selling at that price would have caused him great losses. My father wrote to the Russians that the new harvest is of lower quality than the previous one, and that the delivery of the rest of the raisins to the Russians has to be postponed to the next raisin season, in September. My father knew that the answer from Moscow would take at least 3 months, which bought him some time.
The 500 tons of raisins intended for the Russians, were sold to a company in Hamburg, home of the dried fruit bourse in those days.