Abadan is a small town built by the British on one of the largest oil reservoir in Iran. It was considered the most beautiful city in the country, but that was before the Iran-Iraq war. I had only seen pictures of that Abadan, now it no longer looks like the pictures I had seen.
Although, many years have passed since the war, still there are many buildings bearing evidence of enemy artillery. Also evident is the art deco architecture used in many of the houses and some buildings. There are still lines of Miami-esque style houses that once belonged to English and American personnel stationed here.
One thing is still the same: the poor are still poor and they all have the same complaint, they live in the richest part of Iran and yet they have never benefited from oil revenues. Today Abadan has the highest number runaway girls in the country and is only second to Tehran in the number of orphaned children.
Last time I wrote we were in Khorramabad. From there we drove north to Boroujerd, then west to Kermanshah. There, in our hotel dining room I met a few UNHCR personnel on their way to the refugee camps at the Iraqi border. That was before the State of the Union speech by President Bush and just over a week after the anti-war demonstrations. Yet they seemed sure of what is about to come.
As I sit in my hotel room looking across Arvad Rud (Shat al Arab) toward Iraqi territory less than a hundred meters away, I cannot help but imagine what might happen in a couple of weeks. How their fate is separated from ours only because they live on the wrong side of the river. But then again maybe there isn't a wrong side and it's only a matter of time.
Even still as I look at the palm trees on both sides swinging in the wind, it's hard to imagine a bloodbath, it's hard to imagine war. If their lives were at all similar to their neighbors on this side of the river, it's too difficult to fathom they have yet to live through another war.
In our journey we have visited extraordinary children fighting against all odds to avoid becoming another victim of poverty, just like everyone else they know. In Chaman, a small community in deep poverty on the outskirts of Kermanshah, we were mobbed by single mothers begging for us to rescue their children.
One woman threw herself in front of our minivan and shoved her daughter's report card and identification papers under our wipers. Her daughter's name was Zahra and she had all A's. Today we were filming in a public bath in the center of Abadan. Once a famous bathhouse, it's been out of business for the last three years. Fatemeh was nine-months old when her mom got a job as a bath attendant and keeper.
Along with an older sister, they lived in one of the bath stalls. Finally last year The Child Foundation helped Fatemeh find a sponsor. The sponsor has helped her family rent a little home and pays them a monthly allowance.
I am still shaken by the conditions in which they lived. I could not live there for a week, Fatemeh was raised there since before she could walk.
Lot's of love,
This piece was written in February 2003 while filming “Golrizan” — before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.