Da (Mother) 78

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni
Translated from the Persian with an Introduction by Paul Sprachman

2023-12-31


Da (Mother) 78

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Translated from the Persian with an Introduction by Paul Sprachman

Persian Version (2008)

Sooreh Mehr Publishing House

English Version (2014)

Mazda Publishers

 

***

 

Chapter Fifteen: The Girls Beg to Stay

On October 1, 1980, with Iraqi tanks having advanced as far as the Railroad Circle, the men started to think about evacuating families, women, and girls from the city. I heard rumors at that time but didn’t attach any importance to them. Things had become so critical that Commander Jahan Ara said the women should leave.

When I heard this, I thought: Let them go. Why should we have to?

Sheikh Sharif Qonuti, the same priest who had given his cloak to Maryam Amjadi, was the only one who thought it was necessary for women to be in the city, as they were vital to getting things done behind the lines. The day after we left the mosque to set up the clinic, another message came demanding women evacuate. No one paid any attention to it. We were busy disinfecting the clinic when Mahmud Farrokhi and several other men, whom we recognized from the mosque, entered. They said, “Sisters, pack up your equipment right now and leave the city.”

This made me very upset. Mahmud Farrokhi said, “It’s better for you to go. When they tell you to, you have to leave. It’s definitely the right thing to do.”

We all said the same thing: “Why do we have to go? The Iraqis aren’t here yet. When they get near, we’ll leave.” I motioned to the girls and we stepped forward. I told them, “Look, I’m not going anywhere. Anybody who wants to stay has to stand up to them. If you show any weakness, they’ll take us away. But if we show strength, they won’t dare lay a hand on us and take us from the city. The upshot is that if we sit tight in the clinic, nobody can force us to go.”

The girls agreed, and we told the men. Then they told us Dr. Sheybani wanted his clinic back and we’d have to leave.

“No way,” we said. “Where was Sheybani when he said this? If that’s true, he can come and tell us himself.”

They left and we went on with our work. Less than a half hour later we were busy mopping and sweeping the hallway when the men returned with Dr. Sheybani in tow. “Here he is. Now what do you have to say?” they asked.

I was dumbfounded. How did they find him so quickly? Dr. Sheybani, a quiet, reserved man, said, “I want my clinic back. I want to take the equipment away and lock up and leave the city.”

“Fine,” we said, “take the equipment. We don’t need it. With everything taken away, what difference does it make if the door is locked or not? We want to work here.”

The poor fellow hesitated, not knowing what to say. He knew we were right. As he looked at us, the man with Sheybani realized his dilemma and gave him a look, which forced the doctor to say, “No, really, I want to take possession of the clinic.”

At that point, I thought the situation called for something drastic. I said, “Okay. You want the clinic back. Take it. We’ll just set up another one in the middle of the road, which belongs to no one. Either you let us go on using your clinic or we’ll just set up shop where mortar shells will kill us.”

The girls backed me up saying, “Yeah, we’ll just sit in the middle of the road and take our chances.”

We left the clinic and just sat at the corner of Fakhr Razi Avenue, right across from the mosque. They told us to get up, warning us about the shelling.

“We’re not budging until we know what’s happening,” we said.

They kept coming and going, arguing that the middle of the road was no place to sit. The traffic! The danger! We had to wait inside the mosque so we could be evacuated….

When they left we kept saying to one another: Don’t back down. If we show the slightest weakness, they’ll take us away. Even if they promise we can set up elsewhere, we shouldn’t believe them. It would just be an excuse to evacuate us. We weren’t leaving Khorramshahr and that was that.

We spent a couple of hours sitting in the heat after the midday call to prayer. I was exhausted after running around all morning evacuating the wounded. The sun was merciless. Noticing some of the girls were weakening, I said, “We just have to hold on a little longer. Otherwise they’ll think they can force us to leave any time they want.”

For their part the men merely watched us stubbornly, not saying anything. Concerned about us sitting in the traffic, they redirected it around the spot.

Finally, after seeing that they were no match for us, they brought in Sheikh Sharif, who had become quite a figure among the people at that point. They valued his words and actions, and I particularly respected this tireless man of action.

They said that although he had come from Borujerd, he knew all about Khorramshahr and served with the forces in defending it. It was because of these efforts I held him in such esteem.

Once I saw the Sheikh walking the yard at the mosque hitting his leg with a piece of shrapnel. I asked why he was hurting himself like that.

He said, “My daughter, I’m doing it so I’ll always be mindful of my physical being, and not allow the Devil to lead me astray. It’s not punitive, it’s curative.”

Now we were face-to-face with the Sheikh. In this past, he had said women should be allowed to stay in the city, but now he appeared to have changed his mind. “Sisters, you have done your duty to this point. We thank for all your efforts, but now it’s time to let the brothers take over and for you to go.”

I stood up and asked, “Sir, what color is your blood?”

“Red, of course.”

“Our blood is the same color as yours,” I said. “Why must you stay while we have to go?”

“It’s for the best, of course,” he said.

“How is it for the best? The situation is not that critical. We’re not surrounded or anything like that. I know you are concerned we will be taken prisoner, but we swear it won’t happen. We don’t want to place a burden on you, but do you imagine if we go the men will do the jobs women do? Shouldn’t the men reserve all their strength and energy for the front? Sir, our presence here is necessary. Besides, weren’t there women fighting alongside the Prophet in the beginning of Islam?”

“Of course,” he said, “but times are different now. Today the enemy is acting inhumanly. You aren’t aware of all the facts. You don’t know how these godless Baathists are breaking every standard of decency.”

“Sir,” I said, “since when has the enemy ever behaved decently? They have always acted cruelly. That logic won’t win any arguments. We’re not leaving. We’ll sit right here and won’t drink or eat until it’s clear what’s going to happen to us—no matter how long it takes.”

The words I used at that point came from movies about political actions or strikes or out of something I had read in the book Women Heroes. Sheikh Sharif asked me, “Why be that way, sister? Why don’t you listen to reason?”

“If you recall, you were the one who, during the first days of the war, had said our presence here was necessary. Without the sisters, you said, nothing would get done. Now what’s changed to make our being here such a bother?”

I was boiling mad, almost beside myself, burning with rage. I wasn’t ready to leave the city under any circumstances. I firmly believed in women working. I saw there were tasks to be done and that women were genuinely capable of doing them. I felt in war men and women both were obliged to defend the country. Besides, it irked me to have men think that we didn’t know how to fight, that we would just give up. Surely we were far more sensitive, our pride stronger than that when it came to those things. That was why I was so insistent. The men at times tried to interrupt or speak over me to create confusion.

Finally the Sheikh saw it was no good and asked, “What’s your final position on this?”

I said, “We’ll stay here until we determine the work we’re doing is no longer of use and our presence here is doing more harm than good. Then we’ll go. Don’t worry. We won’t let the Iraqis take us prisoner.”

Sheikh Sharif said, “Very well. Now that that’s settled, I don’t want you coming around every day saying you want to go to the front. You have to compromise. When they tell you you can’t go, don’t argue. It’s got to be arranged ahead of time. I’m going to see to it you can stay, and I’m asking the doctor for permission for you to be allowed to work in his clinic. Now get back the work; the clinic will be under your control. God willing, I’ll last long enough to see us drive the enemy from our land.”

This made me so happy I didn’t know what was what. Laughing, we went back to the clinic. Everyone agreed the settlement was the result of our solidarity, and we had to keep watching each other’s backs.

From that day on the Sheikh made sure we had something to do. They brought sacks of weapons around and dumped them in the clinic yard. Most of them were old, worn-out M1s or G3s that came, I suspected, from the base, because there was no word about new weapons entering the city. Many of the boys were fighting without weapons and munitions. As soon as anyone with a weapon fell, they immediately retrieved it.

From the day of our sit-in onward, when there were no casualties to see to or other work at the clinic, we would venture out into the city in search of wounded people. Other times we would sit down with the old weapons and try to fix them. Initially they gave me detailed instructions on what to do. We took apart the guns that appeared to be in good shape. They gave us chains with small brushes on the end to clean out the barrels. We oiled the cocking mechanisms and shined the barrels. Then we put the guns back together. If a gun had a problem that was reparable, we would fix it. With a pair of pliers we straightened cocking mechanisms bent from use. We hammered softly on crooked magazines to straighten them and get them to load easily.

Sometimes instead of fixing the weapons we made them worse, so much so nothing could be done for them. After the weapons were repaired, we loaded the magazines, which saved time for the defenders at the front. A few days of jamming bullets down the magazines with my thumb put blisters on my fingers and made my hands bleed.

From that day on reloading magazines became one of my regular jobs. The boys would come by and carry off the sacks full of weapons and magazines. They would return with loads of empty magazines, worn out weapons, and ammunition for Colts, G3s, and M1s, as well as some RPG rounds all mixed together. While doing this mind-numbing work, the girls and I would and laugh in the quiet of the yard. We asked one another: How many in your family? What are the names of your sisters and brothers? We made it a point that we would visit one another and get together when the war was over.

When we got tired, we snoozed in the dentist chairs. Sometimes the girls would take a spin in the doctor’s swivel chair and pretend to be medical authorities. What a kick it was to be a doctor, they thought.

Two other girls joined us: Mehrangiz Daryanavard and Belqis Malekian, who, it seemed, were from Abadan. Despite an obvious limp, Mehrangiz was very active and quick on her feet. Belqis was a quiet, modest girl with an olive complexion and large glasses. Most of the time she carried out her work in silence.

Once when I was busy repairing and reloading the arms, I heard someone speaking with a megaphone. Curious, I wiped my hands with a cloth, got up, and went outside. I saw Major Sharif Nasab in front of the mosque. He was standing on the roof of a pickup addressing the civilian and military forces crowded around the mosque. He was calling on them to accompany him to the base and empty it of weapons and munitions. “We can’t let them fall into the hands of the enemy,” he said. “Before the base goes, we’ve got to salvage everything we can from it.” But the troops, who thought that orders to take weapons from the base had to come from the high command, were not listening to him. They either remained silent or said that they didn’t have permission from the brass.

 

To be continued …

 



 
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