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Yet you go on
Traumatic experiences in Iran make you realize how insignificant you are

By Syma Sayyah, Tehran
January 20, 2003
The Iranian

I stopped reading my monthly paper, the English langue version of Le Monde Diplomatique because I was unable to concentrate. The reason? I had just been talking to one of our many visitor-friends who come around for a short break about this time of the year from many parts of the world. He had called to say goodbye and that he wished he could have spent more with us, as I am sure is the case with many others like us.

He was not his usual cheerful self though, and sounded really sad. I just gave him our best wishes and said I hoped to see him soon, and that he should take it easy, and whatever is to happen will happen. I am sure he did not hear half of what I said. But his sadness and in a way the pain and the sense of loss that he felt came through. And that's been occupying my mind for the past half an hour.

Our friend had come to visit a loved one who had been hospitalized. Now he must leave, knowing that another loved one is not so well. "Will it ever end? Why is this happening to me? What have I done to deserve this? Why are always bad things happening here? Can't God realize that this upsets me and that I must go back to work tomorrow? Why, oh why now? Why, oh why me?"

Such questions and thoughts might be going though his mind. Our general calm, cool approach to his pain might even be considered unfriendly. If he had he time and inclination, and if I had taken enough time to empathize with him, I would have told him that our "coolness" came not out of lack of care, but quite the opposite.

We gave up all that he was going back to -- peace, order, a good job, clean air, normal driving, ... -- some time ago. We could not keep making such decisions over and over again. I would also tell him that we are fundamentally different, not necessary better nor worse, just different. We are different because we lived here during hard and troublesome times. It is irrelevant whether we chose it or not. The fact remains that our experiences are different. Therefore the way we look at things is different.

I remember during Iraqi bombings of Tehran, we would send mothers and the young ones outside Tehran to be sure they were safe, even if it meant no schooling for some children for a while. We would stay in the city, go to work and try to live as normal a life as it was humanly possible.

After each air raid, it was our arrangement to phone the mothers to say that we were OK. I would then call my sister in London who would then let everybody else know that we were OK. I would then immediately call the parents of our friends, aunts, uncles, and other relations to make sure that they were OK, and make sure that their loved ones knew that.

Then, depending on the time of day (we had power cuts), we would get in the car and drive to others who did not have a telephone to make sure that they were OK, to see if they needed anything, and if we could be of any help. This we did over and over again.

I remember one Norouz, when we drove to the North at 4am to be sure that we would be with the family when the New Year arrived. On our way back two days later, driving into the far eastern side of Tehran, the city seemed liked a huge ghost town. It was about 5pm, and a grey kind of light was hanging everywhere. A dark cloud covered the sky. Inside Tehran, we still could not see any cars around. It was scary.

We lived through that and survived, each in our own way. And we are still here, like so many others who have been through so much worse.

Such experiences give people a very strange sense. Is it power? I don't think so. It's just accepting fate, while at the same time doing your very best. It is all about ultimate control. You know that no matter who you are and what you have or don't have, there is a limit to you and what you can do.

Going through such traumatic experiences makes you realize how limited your power, money, and position are. You realize how insignificant you are in this universe of ours, and yet you go on; you stand up to it all simply because either you do or you cease to exist.

Our heavy-hearted friend is a kind and dear person, yet there are two things that he should remember: That being here and living here is not only about you. And there are things we can do and bear that he may find too much. He's tall man, but we are as tall, or maybe taller in this department, nothing more. I do hope this will ease his pain and suffering.

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