A trip to my war-torn hometown
By Saman Ghiassi
December 12, 2003
Abadan, in southwest Iran, is where my ancestors
lived for a long time. It's a city well known for its
large oil industry. It was one of the first cities attacked by
Saddam's army back in 1981.
heard people talk about the impact of the war, but I hadn't paid
much attention. It was only after this trip that I
fully realized how appalling and disastrous war really
is. When the war started in September 1981, my family and I
moved to a neighboring country as
refugees; then, after six years, when the war was
finally over, we decided to go back and visit our
hometown. It was February of 1990.
We arrived at the city in the afternoon. We boarded
a bus that was to take us to our neighborhood. As the bus
moved through the streets, many sights passed before my eyes. But nothing in
particular grabbed my attention. There were a lot of plain-looking
houses, both big and small, supermarkets, restaurants, office buildings,
cars. Some people
were on the streets as well. I was glad that the town
looked normal-as if there had never been a war.
was sitting on the bus gazing through the window and
memories of my past started coming back. I
remembered the street I used to live in, with its
large, white and yellow buildings and bright, tall
street lights. There were trees on both sides of the
road, a lot of grass, and flowers in front of the
I remembered the kids I used to
play with. Our playground was right
in front of our house. We used to spend a lot of time
there, talking, playing soccer, and hanging around.
I was looking forward to seeing my old friends again.
Then all of a sudden, something abruptly stopped
the flow of my thoughts. I realized we were getting
very close to the part of the city where we used to
live. I saw the first white and yellow buildings, but
they no longer had the bright colors; they
appeared more black and dirty. There was a huge hole
in the right side of the building stretching over at
least three floors and surrounded with burned facade. I could see through
the holem, inside the buildings -- interior walls, rooms, and some
furniture. They were all
burnt and destroyed.
I could even see that a part of the sky
was visible through a smaller
hole on the opposite end of the building. Then a
chilling thought came to my mind as I tried to
visualize the people who were going about their normal
lives when they got bombed.
As we moved on, I saw many other
buildings in the same ruined condition as the previous ones,
some even worse. I saw some houses had no roof at all. Another
had half a roof, as if the other half had been taken out with
a giant scoop.
Still other houses and buildings were just completely
burned to the ground, with only large, black concrete
skeletons remaining above piles of debris.
Finally, we arrived at the bus station. Nobody was
waiting for us. The sun was just beginning to set. As we continued
street, we didn't see anyone. We then realized that
the street lights weren't working, and none of the
apartments in the street were lit. The grass and flowers had been
I admit that walking around my old
neighborhood like this, was unsettling. Still
suffering from shock, I didn't feel any pain, or
I had not expected my hometown to be ruined to this
extent. I had pictured myself running around, feeling
weightless and happy. But after seeing all that remained, I
felt as if my feet weighed a thousand pounds. The
apartment building we used to live in was now in
sight. In the distance, it looked dark and ruined. But at
least it was still in one piece. In order to approach
our building, we had to cross the playground. As the
sun went down, somber silhouettes of seesaws and
swings became longer and longer.
As we drifted closer to the playground, another
silhouette became visible, those of wooden
crosses. The playground was full of then, each one was
pounded into the ground and set above a pile of dirt
with a name marked on it. Many of these names had been
erased by rain, so it was impossible to know who was
buried in the graves.
As we passed them, I felt somewhat relieved I didn't
see the names of people I knew. I hoped, now more than
ever, that I would get the chance to talk to at least
some of my friends.
Finally, we got to our building.
For the most part it looked like all the others: badly
burnt and damaged in several places. Big piles of
debris, shattered glass, and dirt,
were lying all around. It didn't look like anybody was still living in there,
and when we went in, we saw it was true. All the apartments
empty, and all the floors were covered with an inch of
brown dirt-encrusted water.
Our own apartment wasn't any different; everything
was either stolen, or destroyed. We found a large
number of gun shells laying around in our living room.
Then I approached a window, thinking about how
somebody had stood there, with a gun in his hands,
aiming and shooting down the street.
Suddenly, I saw a light on the other side of the
street. One of the apartments was lit, and I thought
to myself that someone must be living there. I ran
back and told my parents what I saw, and we all
hurried across the street. We were hoping that we
would see Mr. Momeny, and his family, who as we
remembered, used to live in that apartment.
and I went up the stairs, and we knocked on the door.
A short, plump woman I'd never seen before opened the door.
"Yes?" she asked.
"Hello," my father said. "Doesn't Mr. Momeny
woman said "Who's Mr. Momeny?"
used to live here, in this apartment, six years ago."
"Oh, I'm sorry, sir, I don't think you'll find
him, or any of his family members around here. This apartment has
been empty for at least three years now, and we moved in just last
year. We used to live
ten miles away, and our own house was destroyed in a
bombing. Almost all of these apartments were evacuated
at that time. I've never heard of a Mr. Momeny."
my father asked if we could find anyone who
used to live with us in the same apartment complex.
The lady said no. "I'm
sorry, from what I've heard, all of those people have been killed.
you go to the
graveyard across the street you'll probably see some
of their names there."
my father asked, "All of them, dead?"
"Maybe not all of them. I heard that some were
lucky enough to escape to Russia in time. But nobody stayed
alive here. I can tell you that."
We thanked her
and left the building.
With our last hope dashed, we went back to the bus
station. As I looked back, a thousand thoughts and
feelings went through my head. I was thinking about my
friends, all of them either dead or gone. I
thought I was never going to see any of them
again. I thought about the ruined city, my hometown,
and all of the innocent lives lost. I felt sad and
horrified. Perhaps, the worst thought
of all was that the place I grew up in and the people I grew up
with now existed only in my memories. I was afraid my
experience from this trip would be so harsh to destroy
my old colorful memories. At the end of the
day, I wished I had not taken this
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