Sebastin's and Shahla's love story was ignited at first sight, and has lasted for decades, in spite of family resentment.
A twenty-something young man opened the green door that led to his house and was greeted with a magnificent aroma. It was almost too good to be true. It was the telltale sign of ghormeh sabzi, a typical Iranian delicacy. Sebastin had not dared to dream of coming home to this treat when he left work. They had moved into their first home with his newly-wed wife just the day before.
Shahla had prepared the dish with love and care, and was overjoyed with Sebastin's reaction. Shahla laid down a huge piece of cloth next to the hoz, or indoor fountain, and set the dinner on it, as is the custom in Iran.
The young couple settled down to enjoy their Persian herb stew and marital bliss.
"That's the moment I remember wishing for the first time, that there would soon be three of us eating a meal together", says Sebastin.
Shahla nods and smiles. The memory of that moment has remained vivid in their minds, even if 35 years have passed from that day.
Who is That Woman?
Sebastin and Shahla met for the first time a bit over a year before that momentous day in their first home.
Sebastin pulled the breast of his jacket straight before entering the location where his friend's wedding was taking place. His eyes were instantly fixed on a young woman, who was dancing and smiling in her black gown. Sebastin remembers the long, black hair flowing beautifully down the young lady's back.
"I pulled my friend around the corner and asked him who the lovely lady was. Was she single? Does she have a boyfriend?" recalls Sebastin.
"I spent days praying that Shahla didn't have another suitor”
Shahla giggles at Sebastin's words. She tells us that she actually heard the discussion, and that takes Sebastin by surprise.
"I could feel your gaze and got butterflies in my stomach. I was curious and wanted to find out, who was eyeing me so closely," says Shahla cheerfully.
Sebastin implored his friend to make sure that the gorgeous woman wouldn't marry someone else while he was studying in India.
Shahla, who was eavesdropping just around the corner, blushed.
After the friend's wedding Sebastin sat at home for three days.
"I spent those days praying that Shahla didn't have another suitor," Sebastin explains the torment his young love put him through.
After three days, his friend finally called with the good news, Shahla was single and had even asked about Sebastin.
”In the beginning of our relationship, our love was fire. With time our love has grown and changed its nature. Now it is no less than before, it has simply changed its nature and shape,"
Declaration of Love on First Date
Soon after the phone call Shahla's and Sebastin's friends arranged a picnic on a tall hill. Sebastin could hardly contain himself knowing that Shahla was going to be there. They had spoken on the phone, but this was the first time they would meet.
Oh, how Sebastin wanted to talk to her, but somehow the words got stuck in his throat.
A bit later in the day, Sebastin and Shahla were finally left alone for a few minutes. Sebastin was making tea over the camp fire and the first words out of his mouth face to face with Shahla were: "Shahla, I love you!”
Sebastin knew that his sudden confession had two equally likely outcomes, either the sentiment would be reciprocated or he would get a slap on the ear.
Shahla didn't answer.
Minutes went by and Shahla remained silent.
Two minutes already, counted Sebastin.
His heart was racing like crazy and he broke in cold sweat.
"I love you too," responded Shahla finally.
Sebastin couldn't help the laughter of joy that escaped from his lips. He ran around like a madman and rolled down the hill in his excitement.
"My trousers were ripped at the knees, but I didn't care."
Shahla laughs out aloud at the memory.
She remembers that her reply surprised herself, because it was so sudden. They were the couple's first words to each other face to face.
"But I felt so strongly that this man was the right one. I believed that God wants me to marry Sebastin," says Shahla in a more serious tone.
When the picnic was over, Sebastin and Shahla said goodbye to each other, because Sebastin had to return to school in India for seven months. They were in contact only by mail.
War of Attrition for Love
While Sebastin was in India, Shahla had second thoughts.
She had found out that that Sebastin's parents and relatives were Muslim, although he himself was of Bahá'í faith, like Shahla's family. Sebastin had lived for some time with his grandmother, who was also of Bahá'í faith, and he had converted. However, Sebastin's family fervently wanted him to return to the Muslim faith.
Shahla's doubts were understandable, since marriages across religious lines were frowned upon in Iran. Shahla's aunt had married a Muslim man, and the experience had taught her family, what kind of problems Shahla might encounter, if she married Sebastin.
"In the end, my thinking was, that if I truly love Sebastin, I have to accept his family and his life as is," says Shahla, and lays her hand on top of Sebastin's arm.
Her family accepted the young woman's decision.
"We were happy together, but the people around us didn't like it”
Sebastin's family, on the other hand, was strongly against the marriage.
Sebastin himself didn't think the controversy over the marriage was significant. What mattered to him was their love for each other.
"However, there is a custom in Iran that the parents of a couple sign a paper declaring their consent," Sebastin adds.
And so Sebastin began his war of attrition and tried to sway his parents. He kept on arguing his case. And went on arguing and arguing.
"For three months I tried to persuade my mother. Every day, all the time."
In the end, her mother relented and signed the declaration.
"We got married immediately," laughs Sebastin.
Shahla's reaction isn't as joyful.
"Even though Sebastin's mother gave her consent, she didn't accept me has Sebastin's wife," Shahla tells us.
That was part of the reason why Sebastin and Shahla decided to move out of the war-torn country.
"Our troubles were always related to outside forces. We were happy together, but the people around us didn't like it," the couple tells us in unison.
In the new country they were together. Alone.
Separating is Not an Option
Today Sebastin and Shahla live in Helsinki. After moving from Iran they lived for a while in Turkey, then in Tornio, and after that, in Vaasa. They moved to Finland in April 2005.
Even though the cold Finnish winters, quiet streets and the enormous distance between them and their friends and relatives can sometimes take their toll, the couple doesn't think the move out of their home country was that difficult.
"We've had more time to be together, after we moved to Finland. Finland is a safe country and no one bothers us because of our marriage," Sebastin says.
After giving Sebastin's family two years of silent treatment, Sebastin and Shahla contacted them again. Even Sebastin's mother has changed her mind about Shahla, perhaps because of the children.
"Nowadays, she tells me that I'm the best possible wife for Sebastin. That makes me happy, because I really had to wait for her approval," Shahla says and smiles.
"Love always wins in the end," says a clearly pleased Sebastin.
Today, Sebastin and Shahla are the proud parents of two adult children, as well as grandparents. Their life together is lovely.
"We really love and cherish each other. Separating is not an option. We refuse to consider it. We solve our problems, instead of throwing our relationship away," says Shahla.
"Shahla has taught me that tomorrow is always a fresh, new day, and you shouldn't drag the previous day's grudges over with you to spoil it," continues Sebastin.
Shahla nods in agreement.
"I don't think that love means that you should be together only during good times and run away when there's trouble. We have a family and children and a grandchild. They are treasures to be appreciated. I always wanted to have my own family, and now I have it all."
Sebastin wanted to honor and thank his beloved wife through SuomiLOVE. Check out their love story, the lovely surprise and performance by the Persian superstar Omid!
Watch Omid, Shahla and Sebastin’s heartfelt encounter after surprise!