Childhood in Abadan
By Mahsa J
March 16, 2003
My mother's family are from Abadan. I was born there but never technically lived
there. But since we lived in the south, we used to go there once or twice a month
to visit my grandparents.
I was never short of cousin playmates, as my aunts lived in and around Abadan. I
was quite young when the war with Iraq began in 1980 so my memories are in the form
of short clips rather than lengthy moving images.
I remember shemshaad fences lining the whole length of narrow streets in Beraim.
The first of five houses was my Mambozorg's house. Mambozorg's house was like a guesthouse.
The rectangular living room was filled with mattresses every afternoon and every
There was a low-level air conditioner at one end of the wall. Abadan was so hot that
all of us wanted to take the mattress next to it. There were arguments (and a lot
of cheating) involved. If you went to the toilet after you had conquered the spot,
you would lose it. It was as simple as that.
I remember shemshaad leaves tasted so bitter that they would even leave a strong
smell on your fingers. The most popular game we played was malakh giri (catching
grasshoppers).The skin under their wings came in all colours. My biggest achievement
was personally catching a pink grasshopper. I kid you not, pink grasshoppers did
exist. Only in Abadan.
The kids were split into age groups. I hung out with my cousin Irene who is a little
younger than me. My older sister hung out with 3 cousins her own age and the 2 younger
boys hung out together. The eldest boy hung out with my youngest uncle. At the time
we were only 9 grandchildren. (There are now 20 of us, and 7 great grandchildren
Irene and I used empty Cerelac or Nido dried milk tins to imprison our malakh.
They would suffocate and the stench was foul. Now I wish we had set them free --
The older kids had another technique -- they would keep their captured malakh
in a plastic bag with breathing holes. Then every afternoon at 3, they would choose
one and chop its head off! It reminds me of a particular Beavis & Butt-head
scene, when they used a chain saw to chop off a grasshopper's head!
I remember the toy shop, not too far from Mambozorg's house. I once bought a little
toy fan (pankeh) which was a novelty at the time. I can't remember which cousin
took it and ruined it.
I remember Mambozorg was so patient - god bless her soul - but even she would have
to tell us off as we finished all her cheese. Every two minutes, someone was in the
fridge taking a big piece of Feta with bare hands.
There is one bizarre memory which is as vivid as a video clip. I must have been about
3, when my sister, my cousin Amin and I were sent to a store close to Mambozorg's
house to buy everyone bastani livaani (ice cream cups).
As soon as we walked out of the store, there were about 7 little bacheh araba
(Arab kids) waiting for us! God knows where they had come from but they started bullying
us and I burst into tears. We had to cross the main avenue to get to the shemshaad
lane lining Mambozorg's house. I cried so loud that a street vendor stopped us and
asked what was wrong. This gave bacheh araba an opportunity to cross the road
ahead of us. As soon as we got to the lane, they pushed Amin into the shemshaad.
I thought they were fighting for the ice cream, since he was carrying the bag. I
cried so much that one of the smallest kids said to his fellow gang, "Aghaa
- een bechast, gonaah daareh. Bezaarim bereh." (Hey! This one's just a poor
little kid. Let's let her go.) So they let my sister and I go along with the bag
of ice cream. I'll never forget the sympathetic tone of his voice.
We ran back to Mambozorg's house and immediately after
that my memory is blank as to what happened. Next thing I remember, Amin was sitting
on the sofa and everyone was asking him, "Who were they? Tell us and we'll go
to the kalaantari (police) right now." Amin didn't say anything; he just
shook his head, looked down and a single teardrop fell from his eye. The rest of
my memory is blank.
I had a chance to visit Abadan for about half an hour on my way to Amin's wedding
in 1993, five years after the war ended. We tried very hard to find Mambozorg's house,
but we weren't sure. The shemshaad had been replaced with a long brick wall. We left
without getting out of the car. As we drove off, my sister managed to see the 5 rooftops
lined along the lane. She shouted, "That's it! That must have been Mambozorg's
Alas, circumstance didn't give us a chance to go back. It is still on my agenda though.
One of these days, I will go back to find my shemshaad playground.
Does this article have spelling or other mistakes? Tell
me to fix it.
Book of the day
Nostalgia and the Construction of Personal Identity
by Andreea Deciu Ritivoir
Cheraagh-haa raa man khaamoosh meekonam
Novel: Life in Abadan
By Zoya Pirzad
2001 Book of the Year
Zendegie aghaliate armani raa dar abadan dah-e 1960 ravaayat mikonad.... khaanevaadei
moteshakel az zan o shohar va 3 farzande aanaan... ke mehvare raabetehaaye khaanevaadegie
daastaan hastand >>>