By Roshanak Astaraki
Neda and Pedram are a married couple who make a living as street vendors in Tehran. They have developed a large following among Iranians on social media by posting their photos and video clips on Instagram. Their fans refer to them affectionately as “Pedi and Nedi” or “Married Traders.”
Neda and Pedram are from Rasht, capital of the northern province of Gilan, but moved to Tehran in search of work a few years ago. They have been selling goods in the streets of the capital for the past three years.
The couple’s irrepressible “happiness” and “contentment,” which come through their Instagram posts, have endeared them to many people on social media. Neda and Pedram are high school graduates who have been working since they got married nine years ago. They have supported each other through thick and thin, overcome many obstacles and survived hardships.
An Instagram post by Pedram says “Series five”:
View this post on Instagram
سری پنجم کمک به نیازمندا ❤ پخش شال و کیک و آبمیوه ? تمامش با هزینه خودمون انجام شد ? ( پولی که از تبلیغات گرفتیم ) فیلمهای سری اول و دوم و سوم و چهارم هم تو پیچ هست . @neda_ghasir_official . @pedram_nazari_official . #ندا_فرمانده_ارتش_اگوری_پگوریا #کارتن_خواب #فقر #فقیر #نیازمند #کمک #شال #آبمیوه #کیک #مهربانی #ایران #تهران#پایتخت #گیلان #رشت #دستفروش #دستفروشی #ندا_اگوری_پگوری #ندا_قصیر_ندی #پدرام_نظری_پدی
helping the needy. Distributing scarves, cakes, and fruit juice. All paid for with our own money (which we have raised through our promotional material.) Series one, two, three and four are in this thread.”
The following is a Kayhan Life interview with Neda and Pedram:
Q: Why did you become street vendors?
Neda: Since moving to Tehran five years ago, we have worked at an ice cream parlor and in fast food and sit-down restaurants. We have also held jobs as secretaries, dishwashers and couriers. Most of those jobs, however, lasted only three or four months because our employers either withheld our wages or did not pay us on time. They also would not provide us with workplace insurance. We tried everything in the first two years, but couldn’t find suitable work. We got tired, so we tried our luck at selling goods in the streets.
Q: How did you start your business?
Neda: We started by selling men’s socks in Enghelab Street.
Pedram: We failed at first and couldn’t sell a single pair, but our sales eventually picked up.
Neda: It’s tough to make a living as street vendors. City authorities confiscated our stocks frequently. Our competitors also gave us trouble. Despite all the problems, being our own boss is much better than working for other people. We left Rasht to seek a better life in Tehran. Many of our friends told us we should move to Tehran where there were greater job opportunities. However, they neglected to mention all the problems we would face living in the capital. We spend 90 percent of our income on living expenses and save only the remaining 10 percent.
Q: Did you also work in Rasht?
Pedram: We have been working since we got married. Neda sold muffins, and I worked in construction.
Neda: Some days I wore men’s clothes and worked at a construction site with Pedram.
Pedram: She also worked with me on farms.
Neda: We have held many jobs all over Tehran.
Q: Why did you start an Instagram page?
Pedram: We started our Instagram page three years ago. At first, we only posted our pictures but didn’t discuss what we did for a living. About a year and a half ago, a friend of ours suggested we advertise our business on Instagram. It has proven to be a great idea. We should have done it much sooner.
Neda: You cannot believe the number of goodwill messages we receive from people both inside Iran and abroad. People have been supportive, which makes us feel great.
Pedram: Our sales have gone up. Many people who live abroad and wish to donate to charities buy our merchandise.
Q: How did your families react initially when you told them of your plan to work as street vendors?
Pedram: Our families had no objection to us moving to Tehran. We initially lived with my parents. They supported our decision to be independent.
Neda: Our immediate families urged us to find jobs. Also, they didn’t think there was any shame in working as street traders.
Pedram: However, our aunts, uncles and other relatives, some of whom have prestigious jobs and are well off, were shocked and embarrassed when they found out we were peddling goods in the streets.
Neda: Our parents told others they had no problem with us selling goods in the streets and that they would not interfere in our lives.
Pedram: Our relatives, however, continued to meddle in our affairs.
Q: How people react to you when they discover that you are a married couple and are working as street vendors?
Neda: In the beginning, we got a lot of dirty looks, especially Pedram who many people thought should have been ashamed of himself for letting his wife sell goods in the streets. They didn’t understand that we were not beggars. Others, however, were very nice and supportive, especially when they found out we were a young married couple trying to make a living. We operate a retail business without an actual store.
Pedram: Many people are friendly, sympathetic and supportive, but there are others who are hostile, critical and disrespectful.
Neda: Some people who have seen our Instagram posts come and visit us in person. Life is all about overcoming hardships. We cannot afford to give into despair. We train ourselves to remain positive and find joy in everything we do. For instance, selling five pairs of socks is cause for a huge celebration.
Q: Which one of you is the source of this optimism and positive outlook on life?
Pedram: We both are. When I am down, she picks me up and vice versa.
Neda: A man who had become a street vendor after losing his job told us that his wife was so embarrassed that she wouldn’t tell anyone what he did for a living. He congratulated us for being supportive of each other.
Q: Have you had any bad experience as street vendors?
Neda: Most of our bad experiences have been with city authorities. We used to display our goods on a sidewalk at Valiye Asr intersection. There was a frightening city inspector who used to terrorize street vendors. Thankfully, the city eventually fired him. I used to think he would kill someone one day. It was stressful. I would burst into tears anytime I saw a city inspector but got used to it, eventually. While some city workers are verbally and physically abusive, others are kind and respectful. I don’t know the hiring process at Tehran Municipality and City Hall, but some street inspectors are polite and compassionate, while others are rude and nasty.
Pedram: Other vendors have also mistreated us. They were territorial and would not allow newcomers to display their merchandise on sidewalks. Frequently, they would force us to pack up and move to another location. A group of vendors bullied us into leaving Jomhuri Avenue the first time we tried to sell our merchandise there.
Neda: City inspectors seized our inventory one day when we were on Valiye Asr Avenue. When we went to get our merchandise back, a city employee who felt sorry for us said another vendor had turned us in.
Q: Hasn’t the city tried to regulate street trading?
Pedram: No. Never. Once a year around Nowruz, inspectors from the city come around saying they plan to set up stalls for vendors to sell their merchandise during the daytime. We have seen these designated locations. They are in backstreets and remote places where there is hardly any foot traffic.
Q: What is their aim then?
Pedram: They ostensibly aim to organize street vendors, but their primary objective is to move traders away from busy shopping areas during Nowruz holidays. It makes little sense for us to rent a stall at a location which has no foot traffic.
Neda: Every street vendor dreams of having a stall or a store but not in an area where they cannot do any business. What is the point of that?
Pedram: It costs around $12 a day to rent a stall which is much more than I can make at one of these designated locations. We would love to have a booth in a busy area where we can sell a lot of merchandise.
Q: You advertise various discounted merchandise on your Instagram page. Do you have many customers?
Neda: Yes. We get many customers from all over Iran because of our Instagram posts.
Pedram: We have even had job offers. A few commercial property developers have offered us their empty storefronts to use as temporary shops. Others have shown interest in going into business with us. One merchant in Tehran has even offered to give us half of his store.
We have turned down all of these offers because we enjoy being independent and standing on our own feet. Also, there is no job security in working for others. We might lose our jobs or temporary store after six months and be back selling goods in the streets. We plan to open our own store one day.
Q: What is your biggest dream?
Pedram: I dream of owning a house in the woods up north near the Caspian Sea, surrounded by tall trees and lush meadows and full of domestic animals. I’d like to spend my time making comedy movies.
Neda: We interact with people in the streets, most of whom seem to be very sad. My biggest wish is to make people smile.
[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]