Seventh Edition September 2004 - Shahrivar 1383

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> New Religious Thought and Feminism - Alireza Alavitabar

> Rediscovery of the "Self" in Iranian Weblogs
> Modeling Marriage in Family Magazines
> Speech Ensemble
> Earthquake Aftermath
> Shirin Ebadi Book Excerpt
> 2 Short Stories

Bad Jens past editions:
Earthquake Aftermath: Women, Children and Motorcycles

Simin Marashi

The van has not come to a complete stop when the women gather. They are curious to know what is being distributed today: powdered milk for children in Bam under the age of two, which Azadeh has received through a grant from a Turkish company. Among the many conditions imposed, the children's physical presence is required at the distribution site. Women with drained smiles, babies in arms, and clinging children, wait patiently near the van. Most of the children seem to be suffering from malnutrition. The women are glad to learn that in addition to the milk, other necessary items, such as cereal, vitamins, cough syrup, diapers, laundry detergent, and women's underwear will also be distributed. Amidst the many requests and rejoinders taking place between the women and relief workers, an unbearably loud noise emerges. Several young men on motorcycles are seen heading toward the group. They zigzag at high speeds among the women and children before stopping to inquire what this relief group has for them. When they are told about the van's contents and conditions of the distribution, they announce that since their children are in tents far away, they will receive the milk on their behalf. Azadeh expresses regret that she cannot give them any milk until they bring their children or some proof of parenthood. But the men persist as more cyclists arrive, and Azadeh and her assistants repeatedly explain the donor's conditions.

Drowned by dust and the offensive noise of the motorcycles, the relief workers quickly distribute the milk among the mothers. The young men circle their bikes around the group and jeer at the young women relief workers. The men are having their fun for the day. Azadeh and the rest of the group continue to patiently turn the men away and calmly request that they refrain from interfering with their work. Azadeh's explanations don't convince the men. A young man with doped up eyes complains that the "meager" packages should be provided unconditionally to Bam residents who have lost everything. Finally, tired of arguing, Azadeh asks her assistants to remove the milk containers' seals before handing them to the men so they can't be resold. Upon receiving the milk, one of the men angrily throws aside the container, growls that an open container is of no use to him, and roars off on his motorbike. The mothers and relief workers exchange knowing glances. Several motorcyclists follow, while others continue to encircle the van, spreading dirt and noise in the air. The atmosphere is tense and unsafe.

The mothers, embarrassed and tired, explain that these men are not from Bam; they are "outsiders." A twelve year-old boy persistently climbs the back of the van and asks for something-anything, at least a bottle of cough syrup. Azadeh hurriedly asks the driver to drive away, while another young boy grabs a big box of vitamins and runs towards the tents and disappears from sight. Wherever the van makes its other stops, similar scenes are repeated.

Later that night there is a program in the Ministry of Agriculture's garden. It is a scenic garden that has been filled with colorful tents, donated by different countries, set up under palm trees along a big brook. If one could forget the devastating event that took place that Friday at 5:26 am, the fifth of Dey month (Dec. 26 th 2003), the site would resemble a camping ground for vacationers. Instead it is a camp for the earthquake-stricken people of Bam. Tonight a non-governmental organization has scheduled activities for the children to lift up their spirits and relieve some of the pressure for at least a few hours. Dozens of children rejoice when they see the organization's car, the relief workers, and Delaram, the social worker who has visited Bam several times since the earthquake. The children run to her and ask about the other members of the group who had accompanied her the last time she was in Bam. Women, clad in black garments, sit by the brook, relieved that the children will be entertained for a few hours. A woman in her seventies is swinging her four-year-old grandson on her lap, trying to stop his crying. The boy clings to his grandmother and refuses to participate in the group games. The grandmother is weeping softly, wishing for the thousandth time that she were dead like the rest of her family. She wants to know what she is supposed to do with her only surviving family member. The boy constantly asks for his parents and siblings. Even the melodic sound of the children singing an old children's song, "Amu Zanjirbaf," cannot separate him from his grandmother's lap. What if she disappears too?

The rolling sound of engines announce the arrival of the motorcyclists. Their sharp turns through the garden send masses of dirt into the air. They stop in a corner to smirk at Delaram and the children who have joined hands in a circle and are singing Amu Zanjirbaf:

Delaram: Amu Zanjirbaf?
Children: Yes!
Delaram: Did you make a chain?
Children: Yes!
Delaram: Did you throw it [your voice] behind the mountain?
Children: Yes!
Delaram: Baba has come.
Children: What did he bring?
Delaram: Garbanzos and raisins.
Children: Have some and come near!
Delaram: Sounding like what?
Children: Like a cow!
Delaram & Children: Moo, moo!

Several minutes later, the cyclists have had their fill and drive their bikes toward the circle of children. The children break their human chain to let them through. Satisfied, the bikers leave the camp in haste. A woman whispers that they are dealing drugs and that many drug addicts are hiding in the tents grumbling, complaining and making everyone's life miserable. She continues that the drug problem has worsened since the earthquake. The number of drug addicts has dramatically increased since the disaster struck. Maybe the disruptive behavior of these men is directly related to the loss of jobs, loved ones and all the misery that shapes their everyday lives.

The next morning, in Shahid Beheshti Mehmanshahr (guest-town), Elham, a seventeen year-old girl, is sitting in a group therapy session. Recounting the memories of that Friday, she begins to cry. Her sister pulled her and her brother out of the debris. She was assumed dead, and almost buried twice. She and her brother were wrapped in blankets and carried to the graveyard, but since her body was still warm, they decided to bury her brother first. When it was her turn, an onlooker noticed a movement in one of her toes. Her family put her in the backseat of a van and drove to Kerman, the major city near Bam. She recalls sitting by the car window, watching and listening to her cousins and uncles' frantic conversation, and even remembers looking down at her own body quivering under the blanket.

In the therapy session planned for children between the ages of six and ten, the children are encouraged to talk about what they remember of "that day." The children anxiously respond, "Earthquake." They are asked to paint something they like. Twenty children paint houses-houses with colorful windows and green gardens filled with red and yellow flowers.

A women's group therapy session has gone longer than usual. A young woman wants to know how she is supposed to be intimate with her husband while they are sharing a tent with his eighteen year-old nephew. Everyone else in the family died in the earthquake and they are too afraid to leave him on his own. Saba, a twenty-one year old girl, is overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for her 16-year old nephew. As his only surviving family member, she is now his sole caretaker. A young wife needs help in dealing with her husband whose cheating and violent behavior has doubled since the earthquake.

It is time to leave Shahid Beheshti. Dirt , rocks, and pre-fabricated units (called Connexes) are scattered throughout the camp. Each unit is comprised of one room with a small window. The people's other needs are met in public Connexes. In the afternoons, the men return to camp and leave a trail of parked motorcycles everywhere. They are standing in groups of five or six in the middle of the camp ground and have an unavoidable presence. Young women and girls disappear into the Connexes. The atmosphere of the camp is heavy and gloomy at sunset. The agitating noise of other motorcycles can be heard from the distance.

In Vahdat camp, a discussion session is taking place for women and young girls to talk about family, marriage and education in an attempt to bring some normalcy back into their lives. The requirements of living are slowly forcing these young women to deal with questions about their future and moving on. Should one leave town to continue education or stay in Bam with the little family that has remained? Should a person study a field that she loves or one with better job opportunities? Is love a prerequisite to a happy life? Is it okay to be in love when surrounded by so much death and destruction? Should a woman be allowed to marry again when her husband has died? For many of the young and single girls, the last question is easily and quickly answered: Women should be able to have a second marriage. However, the women holding babies in their arms sit quietly with their thoughts. A woman in her mid-thirties carrying a child on her lap finally speaks up: One marriage is enough, unless financial considerations warrant a second marriage. The rest of the women nod their head in agreement with a mischievous smile.

The dark and cool desert evening provides a suitable opportunity for contemplating the problem, and how the next day should begin. The town still breathes on top of debris and under tents donated by France, Italy, Saudi Arabia and of course, Iran's Red Crescent. The offensive sound of motorcycles is no longer heard. It's still nighttime.

It is difficult to leave Bam. Everyone thinks twice before leaving; maybe a little harder work will be enough to make the changes they had hoped to accomplish. No matter how difficult the living conditions are, there is still plenty of hope that the people's lives will improve. As always, the women are picking up the pieces and mending broken hearts. Women of all ages are caring for family members who have survived. Upon leaving Bam, after exchanging addresses, phone numbers and promises to keep in touch, a young woman hands me a penciled drawing of a flower. Underneath it reads: "What is life? Life is a beautiful spring season, if only we knew its value."