SABAH (27)

Memoirs of Sabah Vatankhah

Interviewed and Compiled by Fatemeh Doustkami
Translated by Natalie Haghverdian

2020-09-15


SABAH (27)

Memoirs of Sabah Vatankhah

Interviewed and Compiled by Fatemeh Doustkami

Translated by Natalie Haghverdian

Published by Soore Mehr Publishing Co.

Persian Version 2019


Although the commuting of Iraqi planes above Khorramshahr increased during night, the situation was calmer after ten pm and the Iraqi artillery was less active. Therefore, we could go out of the mosque to renew our ablution easily.

I had had no shower in the past few days. My clothes were dirty, covered in soil and blood. During the first two days, in different rescue operation, when blood was pouring from the body of the wounded on my clothes, I constantly thought how I could wash them and say my prayers. It took me a few days to accept the fact that I had to do my ablution with soil and say my prayers with my clothes covered in blood. Everybody was like me. We barely had enough water to drink, let alone taking daily baths.

Little by little I got used to the dried blood under my nails. I used to take great care of my hands and nails. My nails were long, rasped and beautiful. I had beautiful hands and long fingers but now what? Nowadays I did not have time to wash my hands and wipe the dried bloods from under my nails. I had learned from Khalil Najar to often wash and sanitize my hands with Savlon (sanitizing liquid) or a little bit of white alcohol. Savlon would make blood stick to the hands and nails and turn the color of blood black. All others had the same problem. We got to a point that we hated ourselves. I do not know who suggested taking a bath. I just know that we all eagerly welcomed the idea. We decided that Elaheh, Shahnaz, Fouzieh, Ashraf and Zahra Abbasi, Afsaneh, Parvaneh, Khadijeh and I will go to Khadijeh Bazoun’s place to take a bath.

On the first days of the war and during the first hours of the conflict, Khadijeh’s mother had thought wisely and had filled the bathtub with water so that if there is water shortage, they would not have any problem.  Khadijeh put a small bowl in the bathtub and said: “girls, I think we can have three four bowls of water each. Be careful not to leave anyone with no water to wash.” We took turns. We did not dare to take out our clothes. There was a possibility of a cannonball hitting the house and we could be buried nude under the rubble.

I was in the bathroom for a few short minutes and I kept chanting Ayatol Korsi to avoid bad things from happening. I washed myself very quickly, did the ablution and came out. When I came out, Khadijeh gave me a dress; a pink dress with grey-white square design. I hung my own dress to dry. Shahnaz and I had sewed it using Burda magazine.

Those who worked in the kitchen were in better condition. They suffered in the heat and sweat but their clothes were not covered in soil and blood like us. We wore our scarves which were half wet because we knew that they will be dry in a few minutes.

I felt lighter. I wanted to do the death ablution for the past few days. Besides, the weather of autumn in Khorramshahr was still very hot. Before these events, we used to take showers twice a day to feel better but it was near a weak that we had not had a bath. We thanked Khadijeh and her family a lot. We felt much better.

My dress dried very quickly. I took it and we came back to the mosque. I was in the court that a tall, well dressed lady approached me and started talking. She was wearing Jeans and had a long overall on. She was about 27, 28 years old. She asked: “are you a Nationalist?” I answered affirmative. She said: “Do you know Saleheh Vatankhah?” I said: “yes, Saleheh is my sister. Why do you ask?” she said: “I am Rafiee. I was your sister’s teacher in commerce class in Bazargani high school. What is she doing? Is she well? I saw your resemblance to her and guessed that you should be a relative of hers.” I said: “yes, thanks God. Saleheh is with the Corps. Jahan Ara has sent them to Kout Sheikh.”

Ms. Rafiee came to the mosque to help during the day and went home at night. My friends said that she lives in Ordibehesht avenue. One or two days after we met, she invited me for lunch to her place. She wanted me to go to her place. When I asked her why she doesn’t stay in the mosque and have lunch with others, she answered: “this food is for soldiers. I can go home and have lunch, why should I stay in the mosque?”

I liked her answer. She was thinking like me. I had lost weight in a matter of days. The war situation and thoughts about the upcoming events on one side and thinking about the soldiers from the other had taken my appetite away. Every bite I took, I felt like I was eating the food of the soldiers. Therefore, I tried to make peace with my hunger. Near the noon prayer, I went to Ms. Rafiee’s place.

From the news that broke to us by soldiers, we knew that the Iraqis have entered the city from the west and have progressed until Dizel Abad square. Ordibehesht avenue was near Taleghani avenue and district. Taleghani district had no security but since it was noontime and the soldiers were located in sensitive lines of the city, we could walk around for one or two hours.

We went from mosque to Chehel Metri avenue and then to Ordibehesht square. Ms. Rafiee’s place was in the second street of Ordibehesht avenue. She had a beautiful parrot at her place. When we reached there, she went straight to the cage and started cleaning it. I was surprised and meanwhile very happy to see the parrot in that condition. It was a hard chore to manage the bird in that conflict. Ms. Rafiee gave the bird water and food and started talking. She said: “my family left Khorramshahr when the war broke. I have two brothers called Hossein and Amir who are both in the Corps of Khorramshahr. I have news from Hossein but no news about Amir since the second day of the war. I have gone everywhere looking for him, but he has disappeared.” I could understand her. My heart was also in distress about the whereabouts of Ali. I told her that we have no news about my brother Ali who is fighting.

Ms. Rafiee poured two cups of rice in a pot from cupboard. She poured water from the kettle, washed the rice and put it on the stove. Then she went to take a bath while waiting for the rice to boil. I told her that I will make the rice.

While she was going towards the bathroom, the sound of an Iraqi MiG plane filled the sky. The planes descended so low that they broke the sound barrier. At the same time, they started dropping bombs on the city. We were looking at each other confused that we heard the sound of the tanks. How was this possible? How could Iraq invade so easily?

In a matter of few minutes, the situation turned upside down and the walls of the house started trembling. Unconsciously, I touched the grenades that I had put in the pocket of my pants. I wanted to make sure they are there. I had taken them from the stock in the mosque for a rainy day; I saw myself one step away from being captured. I did not want to be captured alive by the enemy.

My heart dropped. My pocket was empty. This was the first time that I set out of the mosque without grenades. I thought that Ordibehesht avenue is quite close and I will be back soon, there is no need to take grenades. I was worried. If we were captured by Iraqis, what would happen to us?!

Ms. Rafiee had the same thought. Her eyes were worried and anxious. It was obvious that she regretted bringing me to her place. The sounds of the tanks were getting closer and closer and I could hear them in my head. I was calling God’s name with all my heart and taking the Five Imams witness not to be captured.

Ms. Rafiee put off the stove rapidly and closed the gas flow. Then we both carried the heavy balloon of gas out of the kitchen and put it in the corner of the terrace. Then I moved the parrot’s cage under the stairs so that the poor creature won’t be harmed in case of a bomb fall. I did not know what to do to defend ourselves. I ran to the kitchen and took two big knives. I gave one to Ms. Rafiee and took the other myself. This was our only weapon for defense; a weapon that we did not know whether would work or not! Ms. Rafiee was pale and her lips turned into a yellowish color. I told myself that I definitely look the same but there is no mirror to look at myself!

We took refuge beside the parrot’s cage under the stairs and handed ourselves over to God. The sounds of the MiGs and bombardment were heard. The house was swinging like a cradle. After the MiGs left, we heard the tanks approaching. We waited there for half an hour. When the tanks kept moving away, we found the courage to come out of our refuge. I wanted to go outside carefully and screen the situation but Ms. Rafiee did not let me go. We stayed there for a few more minutes, then I moved into the yard carefully. When I heard no sounds, I opened the entrance door and looked into the street. I did not know what I would see in the street. I looked around. All of a sudden I saw a few military people standing at the entrance of the street and I was stunned.

Sooner or later we would become captives. I cursed myself for not bringing the grenades. I did not want to be captured by Iraqis alive. I had these thoughts in my head and for one second I reviewed what I had seen in my mind. The uniform of the military people standing there had was the same color as our fighters. I felt relieved. I opened the door slightly again with a great hope. I looked again but this time I focused more. At the entrance of the street were our own fighters. This meant that the tanks also belonged to us. I smiled unconsciously and sighed with relief. Then I ran towards Ms. Rafiee and said: “don’t worry, they are our own tanks. Let’s go back to the mosque quickly.”

Only God knows how fast we moved from the house to the mosque in a matter of minutes. Ms. Rafiee’s place was at the end of the street and we were one hundred meters away from our fighters; therefore, they did not notice us at all. This was the last time that I left the mosque without my grenades.

I did not talk about this event with anybody in the mosque. Ms. Rafiee went to the kitchen and I sat near Khalil Ma’avi in the court of the mosque. Khalil and Abdollah Ma’avi were two young men from Khorramshahr whom I had met in the mosque a few days before. They went to different front lines to fight with Iraqis. Khalil was nineteen and Abdollah was about sixteen. Khalil had a fat and tawny face but Abdollah was petit and sunburnt and his eyes and eyebrows were so dark that you felt he is wearing eyeliner. Khalil was an active young man and his brother was calmer. Abdollah had just been back from the fronts. I saw him writing something on the back of his shirt. I was curious. I looked carefully. It was written: “Dying is better than dishonor.”

I told him: “we do not have dead here brother… we have martyrs.”

He looked up and said: “martyrdom is a kind of death too!” I said: “no they are quite different. We have a verse in Quran saying that those who have died for God are not dead. They are alive and get aliment from God….”

He was silent for a bit. He seemed to be convinced. He said: “ok I agree. I will write martyrdom is better than death!”

To be continued …



 
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