Da (Mother) 101

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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


Da (Mother) 101

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




As the Iranian boat began to move, I thought about what I would do when I saw father. After all that time, it would be embarrassing to jump into his arms. Then as always I began to think about Iran.

Uncle Hoseyni had gone to Iran from Basra to raise a family when I was a year old. Sometimes he included pictures in the letters he sent to the grandparents. The stylish clothing he and his family wore seemed stunning to me. They weren’t dressed in the dishdashas we wore. Even at that early age I could tell that life in Iran was very different from life in Iraq. Mimi and grandfather would say such endearing things about uncle, wishing that no harm came to him. I longed to see him more than anything. Finally we reached the port, and I saw father and Uncle Hoseyni. Father tried hard not to react, but he couldn’t decide which of us to take in his arms first. When he got to mother, tears welled in their eyes. I remember clearly how they stared at each other. They didn’t say a word; their looks said it all.

The firing died down, allowing the men to bring stretchers, and they laid me face down on one of them. As they shifted me around, I still couldn’t feel anything in my legs. There was only a pain, bad but tolerable, in my spine and, later, in my head and neck. Still questioning why I had to go back, I thought: I still had all four limbs after all.

A beat-up ambulance—its windows shot out—was parked behind the line of mud huts. Other wounded had been loaded into it before me. They put me in the front seat. I couldn’t sit up and leaned uncertainly on the seat. Sitting next to me was a girl who had taken shrapnel in the knee. Unable to control my movement, I slid closer to the steering wheel each time the ambulance lurched. The lack of space made the driver keep his door open, forcing him to have one hand on the wheel and the other on the door.

Sitting at an angle, I could see the face of a severely wounded man in the back of the ambulance. He appeared to be in a coma. His eyes were rolled in his head, and his throat was making a gurgling sound, which was slowly stopping.

My headache got worse as time passed. I felt the pressure building until I thought my head would burst. I didn’t know what route we were taking to get back. When we reached Dr. Sheybani’s clinic, everybody rushed from the building. I wanted to get out myself but couldn’t budge without help. Mr. Najjar examined the seven or eight wounded in the back of the ambulance and said, “All of them have to be taken to the hospital.”

He took a look at me and concluded, “You’re also in bad shape.”

Then he gave me a knowing look. I felt he wanted to say, “See what you’ve gone and done to yourself!”

The girls crowded around me. I felt my head was exploding. I couldn’t take in much of what was happening. The only thing I remember was Sabah, after seeing how much blood was on the seat and floor of the ambulance, saying, “Didn’t I tell you to come back with me? Look at the mess you’re in. If you’d returned then, you could have avoided this horror.”

It wasn’t in me to answer her. Zohreh and Sabah got in the back of the ambulance. They closed the door, and we were off. I felt cold. Some time had passed since I had been wounded, and I had lost a lot of blood. With each passing minute I became weaker.

I wanted to sleep. I felt around my legs and found my clothes were wet with blood, as was the seat and door I was leaning on. This made me feel weaker. The blood loss was actually frightening, but I comforted myself with the lie that it wasn’t serious. Hadn’t I tried the same thing with the wounded? Saying it would be all right? Now I knew why they didn’t have the strength to answer me when I spoke to them.

The ambulance pulled up in front of the birthing center on the other side of the bridge. Everyone was concerned about the severely wounded man, wanting to get him to a specialist immediately, but as soon as the nurse opened the door and took a look at the man, she said, “Take him to the morgue.”

I don’t recall anything after that. I blacked out. When I came to, I found Zohreh Farhadi standing over me, holding up the drip in my arm. Her expression told me how worried she was. “Are you in pain?” she asked when she saw my eyes open.

“No,” I said.

Looking around, I noticed they had placed me in a noisy ward full of wounded. Sabah and Zohreh called out to the nurses, who were working frantically, “Come and see to this patient, will you!”

After a few nurses passed by, a woman stopped and said, “No need to shout. Quiet! We’ll get to her.”

Sabah said, “We’re not shouting. It’s just that her condition is worsening.”

“It’s nothing,” I managed to say.

The woman, who wore a white mask and black head covering, came forward and caressed me. She kissed my forehead and asked gently, “Where were you wounded?”


“Where’s Sentab?” she asked.

“It’s one of the entrances to the port,” I said.

“I thought the Iraqis had taken that?” she asked. “What were you doing there?”

“Well, we were also involved in the fight. I was a medic.”

“Okay,” she said. “We’re going to x-ray you now. There’s nothing to worry about. You’ll be able to get a good rest.”

“I can’t,” I said.

“No matter,” she said. “Just remain the way you are.”

Then she left. She returned and while we waited for the x-ray machine, she comforted me, explaining, “They’re x-raying the other wounded. They’ll be here any minute now.”

Her show of sympathy took me by surprise. Soon they wheeled in the huge machine and with the help of a man put it in place. The machine had all the signs of overuse; it was soiled, bloodstained, and covered in handprints and tape.

When they were positioning the machine over my body, the visitors of the patient in the bed next to me, whose body was broken in many places, complained, “You should x-ray our patient here first. That lady’s not badly wounded.”

I looked at the man. He was covered in grime and blood and seemed semi-conscious. The radiologist said, “On the surface the lady doesn’t seem in a bad way, but her wound is in a very critical area.”

They took five or six x-rays of me from different angles. Each time they arranged the machine, the nurse would hold my hand or give me reassuring pats on the head. I wondered why she was so maternal in her treatment of me. That reminded me of mother, which made me miss her even more.

After me they x-rayed the man in the next bed. It took no more than ten minutes to develop the pictures. In the meantime they put fresh gauze on my wound and poured Betadine on it. The bleeding quickly seeped through the gauze, and they had to replace it. They brought more serum, and injected me several times intramuscularly. After determining my blood type, they also hooked me to a transfusion bag. Zohreh and Sabah helped the nurses and tried to comfort me. The x-rays having been reviewed, the nurse said, “The shrapnel is in a very delicate area, so you mustn’t move much. There’s not much we can do for you here. You’ve got to be evacuated, but don’t worry. We’ll send you to a better place with more facilities.”

Still thinking it wasn’t serious and I would heal after a few days, I said, “I’m not worried. Just pray I’ll be back in Khorramshahr soon.”

“I’m going to pray you’ll get well soon,” she said.

The loss of blood and the drugs again made me weak and sleepy. But I soon realized I was at the Oil Company Hospital, which was in better shape than the emergency room at the birthing center. The hubbub there almost drove me crazy. There was more breathing space in the ward, which held about twenty or thirty wounded men. Sunlight streamed through the windows, and there was no smell of blood. Zohreh and Sabah were not around, and I was very uncomfortable being among the men. When the nurses noticed I was awake, they notified the doctors. All at once there was a commotion around my bed as they began to examine my kidneys, sides, and legs. “No pain?” they asked.

“No,” I said.

They inserted a needle in the bottoms of my feet and asked, “Do you feel that?”

“No. The only thing I feel is the weight of my legs. I have no idea where my knees or toes are,” I said.

They prescribed a series of drugs and injections and left. It was upsetting to lie in bed with so many men around. I kept saying, “Get me out of here.”

“There’s no room,” they said.

“If there’s no room, put me in the hallway,” I blurted out. “It’s torture being in here. At least put a curtain around my bed.”

No one listened, though; they didn’t have time. Body and soul under tremendous pressure, I fell asleep. I didn’t know what time it was when the sound of a woman carrying on awakened me. A young girl in a wheelchair was screaming, “I’m not staying here! It’s filthy. I’ll get an infection! Get me out of here!”

She irritated the nurses, who were telling her, “Why are you behaving that way, Miss? This lady and the others here are in far worse shape than you, but you don’t hear them complaining.”

She said, “What’s that to me? I am a reporter. I’m spending the night here. Send me to Tehran.”

Then they brought a bed and placed it next to mine. They took her under her arms and said, “You’ve got to help us get you onto the bed.”

As they moved her, she yelled, “Ow, my leg hurts!”

She sat up in the bed and stretched her wounded leg. The two people with her stood by the bed. A short time later a doctor came and asked, “Who’s Zohreh Hoseyni?”

The woman and I both said, “That’s me.”

We looked at each other and realized we had the same name. The doctor said, “The one with shrapnel in her spine?”

“Me,” I said.

After the doctor examined me, he left and the other Zohreh asked, “Are you from around here?”


“How were you wounded?” she asked.

“I’m a medic. I was wounded at Sentab.”

“I know where that is,” she said. “I’m a reporter from Tehran. I’m preparing something for the news and taking pictures to send back.”

Then she asked, “It doesn’t upset you to be here? Why haven’t you been evacuated with that wound?”

I said, “I don’t want to be evacuated. I’m not upset, either. I want to return to Khorramshahr as soon as possible. The only thing bothering me is being in this ward.”

“In any case, given your condition you’ve got to tell them to evacuate you to another city,” she said.

“I want to be treated just like the rest of the people here,” I said.

She said, “That’s very optimistic for somebody with shrapnel in such a dangerous spot. The doctor just said so.”

“Look,” I said. “If it was up to me, I wouldn’t stay here. I’d be back in Khorramshahr at Sheybani’s clinic.”

“I know where you mean. I visited it,” she said.


To be continued …



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