Looking back over the ups and downs of 40 years in business – and the more than 50 since she fled religious intolerance in her native Iran – White Rock beauty treatment consultant and spa operator Fereshteh Bartlett said she “wouldn’t change a thing” in her life.
“All of the little incidents are nothing but the will of God,” said Bartlett, who is a devout member of the White Rock Baha’i Assembly and also its treasurer.
Even in spite of the challenges still facing independent business women in our society Bartlett, who received her initial training in aesthetics in Denmark, has accomplished much, by any standard.
Originally established in Surrey in 1981, her business has weathered changes in venue and continues to flourish in the in-home salon she established in White Rock in 2015.
A lot of her continuing success she attributes to providing friendly and expert service, and establishing a rapport with clients that keeps them coming back.
“I worried whether I would find clients here, but it was no trouble at all,” she said. “I still have my clients from as far away as Coquitlam, Mission, Abbotsford, Burnaby and Surrey, as well as new clients from White Rock and South Surrey.”
Bartlett has come a long way, she acknowledged, from the 20 year-old she was when – still Fereshteh Shaikholeslami – she first ventured outside of Iran.
Born in Tehran, one of four children of a government worker, she had focused on the grand tradition of Persian literature in senior high school and studies in Arabic and English in university, she recalled.
In 1970 she was on the threshold of a huge opportunity, one of a handful of female women accepted – out of 100 applicants – for the position of flight attendant with Iran’s national airline.
“I had to get a passport, and heart exams and ear exams and God knows what else,” she said.
One day – after several months of training for the job, Bartlett recalled – an airline official asked her to step out of her class and come with him. He wanted to know about her application; primarily why she had not written in the section asking for her religion.
“We had been told to leave it blank,” she said, but the official made it clear that it had to be filled out.
Bartlett said that while she was very much aware of the prestige and glamour of the airline job, she could not abandon the faith in which she had been raised – which, ironically, originated in 19th century Persia, (latterly Iran).
Ignoring the provided alternatives– Christian, Muslim and Jewish – she wrote Baha’i Faith.
“He followed me back to class and told me, ‘For some reason we cannot accept you.’”
Underlining the intolerance behind her rejection, while handing her back her educational qualifications, the official quoted an old Persian saying, which she translates as “Our enemies’ actions will work to our success.”
It was a crushing blow at the time, she said.
“I had a few tears. I took my diploma and went home.”
When her father heard why she had been fired, he asked her how she would like to leave Iran and become a Baha’i ‘pioneer’ (the faith’s term for missionary) in another country.
Presented with an choice of Indonesia (where the majority religious orientation is Muslim) and largely Christian Denmark, she opted for Denmark.
While it was bitter to leave family and native country behind, Bartlett said, she is absolutely sure she made the right decision – particularly as things went from bad to worse under the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who came to power in the revolution of 1979.
“I couldn’t have gone back after that – they would have put me in prison,” she said.
Subsequently, she said, she recognized the name of a childhood friend and two of the members of her friend’s family among a list of those executed by the regime.
Life was hard in her new home in Copenhagen, Bartlett acknowledges – while working to establish a Baha’i agency in the city, she was also working morning shifts as a chambermaid and evening shifts as a restaurant server, her wages augmented by money her father sent her every month.
But when she enrolled in a school of aesthetics she found a professional field that she loved and felt at home in, she said.
She was also able to sponsor one of her sisters to come to Denmark (where she has since settled and married).
While on a pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel in January 1974 Bartlett met her future husband, an English Canadian.
Their bond was so immediate and so strong, she said, that only four days after they met, Colin declared that he didn’t want to go back to Canada without her, and they started to plan a future together.
While he did return, and she went back to Copenhagen, from then on they actively sought a way for her to emigrate to Canada.
It seemed impossible, as her Iranian passport was marked ‘not valid for immigration’ – and while the Canadian embassy said she would have to send it back to Iran for it to be changed, she knew that if she did, she would likely never see it again.
But, as at numerous other points during her life when she faced adversity, she said, she felt that divine intervention was opening doors of opportunity for her and pointing her in the right direction.
“It’s a matter of believing in God and trusting in God,” she said.
Colin, who lived in Bridgenorth, Ont., learned that Canadian Secretary of State Hugh Faulkner was visiting nearby Peterborough, and he was able to arrange a meeting to discuss the situation.
“He told Colin ‘leave it in my hands’ and only weeks later I got a call from the Canadian Embassy telling me that my immigration had been approved.”
The couple were married in Bridgenorth in August of 1974, she said. By 1976 they were able to sponsor her parents to come to Canada (where they lived out their days establishing new Baha’i assemblies) as well as bringing another sister (who lived in the U.S.) and their brother to rejoin the family here.
“So I was really able to bring all of my family out of Iran, even before the revolution,” she said.
The Bartletts moved to B.C. in 1979, where Fereshteh became a Canadian citizen. The same year she was able to get her B.C. aesthetics credentials, which led to her going into business for herself in 1981.
Now proud grandparents, the Bartletts continue to be involved in both their spiritual community and charitable works in the White Rock-South Surrey community in general.
“I love Canada – I love my home,” Bartlett said. “And I enjoy serving people, both through my business and through my faith.”