Fragments from a war-torn childhood
(From Guernica. Link to the complete article given below)
I spent the first eight years of my life in a war zone. Eight years of deafening noise: the staccato scream of anti-aircrafts, the whiz of military jets, the rattle of Kalashnikovs, the successive booming of landing mortars. Eight years of blinding lights: the dark orange cloud of fire after explosion rolling over and onto itself, the thin red thread of bullets shooting out of gun barrels, burning cigarettes shining in the streets like lighthouses in nights of total blackout.
In September 1980, several days short of my first birthday, the Iran-Iraq war began. At the time my parents lived in Ahvaz, Iran, seventy miles east of the frontline. Ahvaz is an expansive, flat urban area home to more than one million people and known for the Karun River, fertile palms, and flames that leap out of burning oil wells. A few months into the war it became clear that Saddam was seeking to annex the state of Khuzestan and nothing less, and that all the Western superpowers supported him. The people of Ahvaz began to leave. Neighbors and friends crammed their most precious belongings into cars and hit the road, transforming overnight from well-off southern oil families to internal refugees.
My parents stayed. My dad had a sensitive position at the oil company. My mom was a nurse. The gravity of their tasks, combined with their desire to fight for home and the disappointing reception of refugees elsewhere in the country, compelled them to remain there through the war. The war went on, uninterrupted, for eight years. It claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and scorched vast swaths of land on both sides of the border.
I am thirty-eight now. The war that made me who I am ended thirty years ago. I don’t talk about it much, if at all, though the tentacles of my mind frequently slip into the bag of memories I’ve been hauling around. Like many people with PTSD, I am a minimizer. I recall my life at six years old and think, Sure, it’s horrific that you saw that man looking at the hole a piece of shrapnel burned through his stomach before he fell to the ground. Yes, it’s traumatizing to wait with five hundred other kids in a small concrete bunker without ventilation for hours for Iraqi jets to get the bombing done. It is indeed depressing to think of your seven-year-old self stalking around rubble to collect shrapnel pieces and bullet jackets to expand his collection with the intention of arousing the envy of other kids in the neighborhood. But, I tell myself, look at the Iraqis and the Afghanis. They have lived this way for generations. Extend your eight years of war outward so that they fill a lifetime, multiply the amount of horror several times over, and you wouldn’t even approach the experience of the average Iraqi. The average Iraqi would laugh at your “war memories.”