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A trip to my war-torn hometown

By Saman Ghiassi
December 12, 2003
The Iranian

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.

I had 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.

I 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 entrance.

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 down the 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 burnt.

I admit that walking around my old neighborhood like this, was unsettling. Still suffering from shock, I didn't feel any pain, or sorrow.

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 were 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.

My father 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 live here?"

Surprised the woman said "Who's Mr. Momeny?"

"He 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."

Then 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. If you go to the graveyard across the street you'll probably see some of their names there."

Surprised, 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 trip.

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