Da (Mother) 83

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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


Da (Mother) 83

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 Nineteen: Visiting the War Room

Beginning October 6 or 7 onward, I made it a point wherever I was to get to the food distribution around noon. Hitching a ride on one of the food trucks, I thought, was the best way to get to the front. Sometimes when I asked Mr. Najjar for drugs and medical supplies, he would joke, “Someone take you for a doctor?”

I would laugh and say, “Never pretended to be one.”

He would set things aside, telling me to take them along when I went to the front.

With the passage of time, the need for first-aid people at the front became clearer to me. In the beginning I had heard that some boys had died on account of needing some minor surgery. But one of the frontline soldiers told me a story, and then I knew I could no longer stand quietly by. He said, “One of the boys defending the city was hit in the stomach by shrapnel, causing his intestines to fall out. He gathered them with his hands, stuffed them back in his stomach, and started to walk back. He lost consciousness a few times on the way and, after a few hours, died.”

One day I picked up the first-aid materials and left the clinic. There were trucks waiting in the alley near where they prepared food. They put the food and the large pots in the truck. When I tried to climb in, they asked, “Where’re you going?”

“I want to go and hand out the food,” I said.

“What are we for, then? You’re a woman. You can’t come with us,” they said.

With each change of personnel it was the same tug of war. I kept locking horns with them until they finally gave in and brought me along. “What medicines do you need?” I asked them. “I’m a nurse and I want to help with the wounded.”

I picked up the sack with the supplies and showed it to them. Then I climbed on and sat by the large pot as the truck started to move. The wind blew the lid off, and I saw they had cooked a kind of stew with white beans. I put a tray over the pot and kept it in place with my hand. The driver went toward the Slaughterhouse Circle from Forty-Meter Road. When we passed the Chasbi Bazaar, I stood up and got a glimpse of the house Uncle Nad Ali had rented two or three months before. It was a beautiful home, and we had put a lot into getting it clean. I wanted nothing more than to see uncle standing outside at that point. We hadn’t had any news of them for two weeks. I sat down. Around the Slaughterhouse I saw a young man limping along on the side of the road. He banged on the truck and the driver stopped. They offered him some food. Noticing a wound on his leg, I said, “Come with us. After we hand out the food, we’ll return to the mosque and bandage your leg.”

He agreed and the truck went on its way. The streets became emptier and the explosions increased the closer we got to the front. The driver would constantly speed up and slow down, making stew and grease slosh over the side of the pot. I kept one hand on the truck and the other on the pot. To keep from being hit by shrapnel each time I heard the whine of a mortar shell, I would drape myself over the pot. All at once the truck slowed, and I raised my head.

Several men with guns standing in front of a Quonset hut motioned to the driver to follow them. The driver put the truck in reverse, leaving the road and moving toward the structure. A few shabby-looking defenders in grubby clothes emerged. As usual, as soon as they their eyes fell on a woman, they began to protest, “It’s not safe here. Iraqis are liable to crawl out of their holes any moment now.”

I ignored them. One of them, who seemed to be the commander and had a radio, said to the driver, “You can’t go further. From this point on you’re in range from the air.”

“So what should we do?” one of the boys asked. “We’ve got food for the front.”

He said, “Let us take it in for you. The situation is no good at all. The forces are tired. We don’t have many people left, and, if we don’t get reinforcements, the boys won’t be able to resist them. Go back and tell them we must be rotated out.”

I asked, “How far away are our forces? You mean we can’t get there ourselves?”

“No,” he said.

“So, how are they are getting there themselves?” I asked.

“With difficulty,” he said. “The Iraqis are spread out all over the place. We’re here to make sure the Iraqis don’t cut them off, but there’s no telling how long we can hold out.”

While the boys unloaded the stew, water, and munitions, I was busy bandaging the boy’s leg. The driver said, “We’re going toward Railroad Circle.”

He said, “Don’t go by way of the Slaughterhouse otherwise you’ll definitely be taken prisoner. They may even grind you to dust with their tanks, which are all over the place. Go another way.”

As the truck started moving, the boy jumped down, saying he wanted to stay. “If you put pressure on that wound, it’ll start to bleed again,” I told him.

“You’ve bandaged it. It’s fine. I’ll go to the hospital if I have to.”

The driver took the route suggested by the man. He stopped a few times on the Forty-Meter Road to see what was going on. He asked the boys in the back whether to go or not. The soldier’s warnings had made them cautious. They told me to get out because of the danger ahead.

“I’m not leaving until it’s over,” I said. “Wherever you go, I’m going.”

“It’s not safe,” they said.

“If so, it’s dangerous for everybody not just me.”

The driver turned from Naqdi and headed toward Shahram Avenue, which ran behind the stadium. Then the driver changed his mind and went on the Moqbel Circle toward the Railroad Circle. The firing grew louder. We saw personnel carriers, jeeps, and fire engines moving up and down the street. We asked the soldiers in the jeeps coming from the direction of the houses at the municipality if they wanted food.

“Sure,” they said.

“Do you have a container?” I asked.

They handed us a metal can with handles like a jerry can. We dished out the food and made sure each person had a piece of bread. Then we passed the neighborhood where the engineer Behruzi’s house was. I had been here several times looking for wounded. The shelling had destroyed some of the homes. The trees along the avenue were also burnt. I remembered the good times we had, and, despite the hardship, I was in a good mood.

Just before the Railroad Circle we had to stop because of the explosions. The driver switched the motor off in front of the Ibn Sina School. We got out to look for defenders. Then the air got heavy with a mysterious silence. We couldn’t find our wounded no matter how hard we looked—there was only the sound of distant shelling.

There was no sign of schoolboys chattering or shouting “Allah Akbar.” The quiet was even more unnerving than the explosions. It didn’t seem normal to me; maybe it was a trap. They told us not to get separated and not make a sound as we walked.

They told me specifically, “Sister, watch your back.” Then they formed a phalanx around me and we went forward.

We were all unarmed. I don’t know why I hadn’t grabbed the G3 from the clinic. I kept my hands on the grenades in the pockets of my chador. I was gripped with fear from head to toe. This was the perfect place for an ambush. Always longing to join father, I wasn’t afraid of death, but I didn’t want to be taken prisoner. The idea tormented me. I took one of the grenades out of my pocket and squeezed it so I’d be ready at a moment’s notice to pull the pin. Sheikh Sharif’s words echoed in my mind. Responding to the boys’ questions, he said suicide was not permissible under any circumstances; pull the pin only to kill the enemy. The blast will destroy you, and it’ll also keep you from falling into their hands.

I thought about the boys. What would they do if I were taken? It would drive mother to her grave. I had to make sure that it would never happen. Then I asked myself if I could do what Sheikh Sharif said: Take out the enemy as well as kill myself? In that case I had to use both grenades. I’d pull out the pin of one with my teeth and throw it at the enemy; then I’d quickly pull the pin on the second and finish myself off. Thinking more deeply about it, I asked myself if I really had the nerve to kill myself? I had heard from common people and defenders that despite what Saddam and his forces said about the Arab character, they were nothing more than criminals. Our boys said, “Come and see what happened to the women and children in places they have captured. They think nothing of attacking women and don’t even show mercy to the Arab villages.”

Imagining the shame and humiliation of prison camp, I concluded I would pull the pin. It was a difficult decision. I told myself it was inevitable, and there was no point ruining my nerves thinking about it.

We proceeded quietly and cautiously and entered a narrow alley, seemingly a dead end lined with high walls that gave it a somber air. We kept our eyes pealed and ears open to any sign of wounded. Suddenly a young person stepped from a doorway and, at the same time, a mortar round hit the wall to the left of us. The blast slammed me to the ground. Terrified, my first thought was to get up immediately. I struggled to spread my arms. My eyes weren’t working, and my ears were ringing with the sound of the explosion. I felt very groggy and couldn’t get my hands to stop trembling. This lasted several minutes. I heard the men asking, “Are you okay? Are you hit?”

“Just dizzy. I can’t get up. Help me.”

“It’s not serious; you were caught by the blast,” they explained.

After I felt a little better and could stand on my own two feet, I looked around and saw a wounded young man, the same one who had emerged from the doorway. I wanted to run to him, but my feet got tangled. One of the boys was worse off than I and was unable to get up. He started foaming at the mouth, and his eyes bulged from their sockets. I got very frightened. The driver and the other man with us took him under the arm and carried him aside and leaned him against a wall. He didn’t respond to what they were saying and didn’t even move.

I went to another wounded person. Debris from the explosion littered the alley. The man was lying on his side and blood was spurting from the veins in his neck. I was terrified, but, trying to staunch the wound, I put my hand on the bleeding without thinking. My hand became covered in blood, but the bleeding didn’t stop. His flesh was torn in several places. When I put pressure on it, the young man moaned. “Bring the first-aid,” I screamed.

The driver ran to get it. “Betadine,” I said.

He opened the bottle and handed it to me. I poured all of the yellow disinfectant over the wound. “Gauze,” I said.

Holding the wound together with one hand, I put gauze on it with the other and applied pressure. I still felt woozy and couldn’t work rapidly. I was afraid that the other young man had lost consciousness and might die. I asked the driver to help. He raised the man’s head while I wrapped a bandage around his neck. The gauze and bandage became all bloody. I put down several more layers of gauze and wrapped the wound again. The young man’s eyes were half-open, staring feebly at some point in the distance. His green jacket turned blackish with blood. The jacket told me that he was an officer. I said, “Let’s take off his jacket so he’ll breathe easier.”

I got to my feet. There were five soldiers, all armed, standing around us. Some were also wearing military caps.

The sounds of shooting and artillery exchanges got closer and closer.

One of the soldiers hoisted the wounded man on his shoulder. “It’ll be harder for him to breathe that way,” I said.

He put the man on the ground. Several people came forward and carried the man to the truck. They also helped the shell-shocked boy sitting by the wall to his feet and led him slowly by the hand to the truck. Then they unloaded the pots and told the other soldiers to distribute the food.


To be continued …


Number of Visits: 203


Full Name:

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