Hell in heaven
How can humanity survive when help itself is doomed
By Zohreh Khazai-Ghahremani
October 29, 2003
When I moved to San Diego, California, three years
ago, they told me it would be heaven, a promise not far from
In these lovely
parts of the country not only there are flowers and fruits year
round, but the mild weather rarely reaches the nineties in the
heat of summer and a frozen winter is obsolete. Geraniums bloom
throughout the year and roses last well into January. After years
of Chicago winter, we celebrated the discard of our down coats,
boots, wool scarves and, yes, even gloves. We now walk in our
sandals and are reminded of God's glory with each sunset on the
beautiful Pacific Ocean.
But, nothing should be taken for granted. In a
world where a "merger" appears
to be the ultimate plan, our little heaven has followed suit
and for the past week has merged with hell.
is not a stranger to brush fires, the news of yet another fire
came down hard as it was too close to home.
We stayed up late on Saturday night to watch the details and
eventually, having said a few prayers, went to bed.
Sunday morning, as I woke up, the sunrise resembled
a sunset. I rubbed my eyes to make sure it wasn't part of a dream.
red sun rose above my neighbor's roof. The sky had the maroon
and orange reflections of dusk. I stepped outside for a breath
of fresh air to feel as if I circled a bon fire. Small particles
of ash danced in the air and gently landed like the snowflakes
of long ago. Cinder covered the glass table outside and the smoky
air reminded me of Charshanbeh Soori. When the dog refused to
go for a walk, I decided he knew best and came back inside.
Up to this point, I don't think any of us had
grasped the magnitude of the disaster. Unlike an earthquake which
moves and shakes
and destroys in an instant, a fire is a sleek, sly enemy. When
the news shows brush fires behind the mountains, somehow you
feel isolated, spared. Like death itself, it can approach in
slow steps to choke. No warning and no hope for prevention, man
submits once more to his oldest enemy. The government assumes
responsibility for the expenses, people storm with good will
from all over the place, and money pours in. But the devastating
destruction knows no limit. Recovery from such disasters is never
Once I was reassured of my own family's safety,
I wanted to do my share to help. Alas, all the help hotlines
were busy and
hours of trying, I could not get through to any of the key
organizations. So, like any able and willing citizen, I decided
to drive to
the nearest shelter.
"You mean you're driving into the smoke?" My husband expressed
"I'm a smoker, it shouldn't bother me," I
said before leaving.
I soon found out I needed to be a registered
volunteer in order to offer any help. Someone gave me the address
of the headquarters
for Red Cross where I might register for training. I decided
as long as I had traveled the distance I might as well donate
blood. It took a good hour to fill the necessary forms and
to line up in the outside smoky air, but in the end, I was
as a blood donor. I gladly left the now more polluted air-thanks
to fumes from the blood bank bus-- to join the air conditioned
interior. After a long rest, a young nurse approached my bed.
"Ummm, I'm sorry, but we can't take your blood."
"No, maim. There's a history of cancer."
"So you may give cancer to the recipient."
"You're kidding, right?"
She was not.
As I stepped down from the bus, I couldn't help my own Cynicism.
Did their refusal have anything to
do with my recent trip to Iran?
Oh, but I was determined and would not give
up so easily. I roamed around and spoke to a few of the evacuees
offer my home, guest
room and all the comfort my family could offer. "No,
thank you," they said, "we'd rather commiserate
with other folks."
I understood and respected their
decision until someone told me how they really did
not trust going to the
home of a complete
That thought had never crossed my mind.
through smoke polluted streets to 5th Street to the Red Cross
main office. The receptionist told
soon arrive as to where we could get the orientation
needed for volunteers. I waited alongside many others.
one came out. Finally, a woman with an attitude came
to yell at all of us, "You're in the way. Anyone
wanting to volunteer, stay outside until we call you!"
The outside air can kill you these days. I was
not equipped with an oxygen mask. Deciding how my dead
not be a very
effective volunteer, I quit before my lungs would.
again at home, I have the Red Cross hotline on redial and hope
to get through. I listen to a congressman
has come on
television, "If they need helicopters," he
all they have to do is pick up the phone!" I wonder
what he could possibly mean? Is there a phone in the
midst of that
fire? People's livelihood is being destroyed, thousands
of acres of green land consumed by fire, hundreds are
lives are lost, and he needs a phone call?
Hell on earth,
indeed. Not because the flowers and trees are gone,
not for the lack of clean air, but
compassion from higher authorities.
Hey Mr. Congressman:
The innocent victims
of California fire have no time for a phone call.
The system makes me sick. When so many of us are willing
why should red tape keep us away? How can humanity
is doomed helpless?
I sit back, wonder and sigh. I shall donate the
damn money, but won't it be a little too late?
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist
and a freelance writer. She lives in San Diego, California.
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