Memoirs of Ashraf Baharlou from the injured in war
Living in Abadan, and relief working in Taleqani Hospital
Note: Female relief workers played a major role in serving the injured in the hospitals of the city of Abadan. Far from their families and without any material expectation, they had stayed in a city which had been blockaded by the enemy to help the war combatants in order to nurse and take care of their injured brothers. Ashraf Baharlou is one of these young female relief workers during the eight-uear Iraqi imposed war against Islamic Republic of Iran. In an interview with the website of Iranian Oral History, she has talked about her memoirs from Abadan and Taleqani Hospital.
*Where were you when the war broke out?
*I was in Abadan and was active in Mahdi Mow'oud Mosque popularly known as Pirooz Mosque located in Abadan's Oil Company area. Before the victory of the Islamic revolution, I and a number of sisters were carrying out cultural and political activities in the mosque. I went to the house of one of my friends sometimes. I changed my appearance there. I changed my chador, wearing the colored chador of my mother. Instead of shoes, I put on slippers, heading to the holy shrine of Seyed Abbas which is very famous in Abadan. There was a palm grove in front of the shrine. We went to the houses there, listening to the tapes of the late Shariati and late Imam Khomeini (God bless him). I spoke against the Shah in the Quranic classes that I had. My class was shut down. My family was unaware of my political activities, but my brother found out little by little.
Once, I had been involved in political activities newly when I was close to be arrested. One day on Friday, the actors were being filmed in front of the mosque. The Nodbeh supplication was being held inside the mosque and the people were going and coming and it was good for their film that the veiled women went and came. I got angry and quarreling with them why you were filming here?
Several persons came to the mosque for several times and asked my name. One of them said, "What is your name. I am a member of the organization!" I did not know what he meant of the organization? I said, "Ok, be a member of the organization! Can't I tell the truth?"
When the Nodbeh supplication was finished, my friends came and told me, "Many forces have come in front of the mosque! You'd better escape from the mosque's back door. I said, "I don't escape from the back door." The people had brought clothes to the mosque for helping the injured and the needy. I found a white chador among the clothes, and put it on. I took off my shoes and wore slippers, and went out of the main door of the mosque. The agents did not recognize me.
When the war broke out, many residents of the city of Abadan including my family abandoned the city because of the enemy's attacks, but I did not. I stayed there for helping the defenders and was also active in the mosque.
*Didn't you have any problem with your family over staying in Abadan?
*No, they agreed with my staying. I had a religious family. They did not allow me to go to high school under the Shah, but as the war broke out, they knew I was firm in staying in the city and if I went, I would come back again.
*What activities did you do in the mosque?
*We carried out different works. For instance, we packed fruits for the soldiers and combatants or made food. We boiled eggs and sent to the fronts and washed the dished. The water was cut every now and then at that time. I remember that we performed ablution with the same water used for boiling eggs.
*Did you send the food stuff and fruits to Khorramshahr?
*The brothers from Basij or Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) came and delivered them, but I don't know to which front they were taken.
*Did you receive popular aids such medicines, food and clothes that you want to separate and distribute?
*No, This was not done in our mosque?
*How long did your activity continue in Mahdi Mow'oud Mosque?
*When the enemy blockaded Abadan, we the sisters were still there. But after the epic of Kooy-e Zolfaqari, the men said, "You must leave Abadan." I did not know where my family was! My father had a friend in Isfahan and was supposed to go to his house, but I was not aware of them. I went to Qom along with the wife of martyr Mohammad Dashti who was an active woman of the city and the wife of the mayor. I had become familiar with her before the revolution. The land way had been blocked and it was not possible to leave the city. We were taken to a village named Coobadeh and had way to the water. We were supposed to go to Bandar Mahshahr through seaway. Many injured people accompanied us to be sent to other cities for treatment. We were said there, "You have to wait for hovercraft in order to take you to Mahshahr. If it did not come, we would return you back to Abadan and arm you." We got very happy that we wanted to come back to Abadan again, but the hovercraft came and took us to Mahshar. Then we got out of the southern area and moved toward the city of Qom.
*When did you come back to Abadan again?
*One day, we had gone out to do something. I saw the dome of the holy shrine of Hazrat Masoumeh (peace be upon her) and asked her to help me to come back to Abadan if it was advisable.
I along with one of my friends went to the railway station. We got on a train whose destination was the city of Andimeshk and all of its passengers were soldiers. A man came inside the car in which I and my friends were. My cousin was an active and revolutionary man. I told the man, "Did you know that person?" he recognized him and told us, "Go the IRGC in Ahwaz and say that brother Mousavi has sent us."
When we reached the IRGC headquarters in Ahwaz, the authorities, "God has sent you for us; we need a number of forces to separate the medicines! Help us to separate the medicines." We were taken to a nearby house inside which was full of medicines. But I had not come to stay there. I told my friends, "You can stay here if you like, but I want to come back to Abadan." So we moved but before that we ate some food.
We went to Mahshar by a car and then to Abadan by a helicopter. Of course the helicopter did not land inside the city. When we reached Abadan, I went to see Mahdi Mow'oud Mosque. The sisters were not there. I went to Taleqani Hospital and started working.
*What was your duty in Taleqani Hospital?
*At first, I was working in the hospital's section. We changed the bed sheets and helped the nurses in minor things. If a patient needed something, we took it for him or her and spared no efforts to do something. I was in the war for a short time and then started work in emergency section.
*Had you already spent relief working courses?
*No, I learnt little by little. When I was working in the emergency section of the hospital, in order to practice to get blood from vessels and use angiocath needles, we practiced this with one of the girls on our own arms. I got vessel and injected angiocath for her first. Then when she wanted to do the same, one of the nurses came and saw us and made a lot of noise. When the sisters were in the room, the brothers did not arrive unless an injured person was brought. She went out of the emergency section and brought one of the doctors. I took the angiocath out of my arm; it was bleeding. The doctor asked "What has happened?" I explained the story for him. He laughed and went.
*How was the situation in the hospital when you entered it?
*The hospital was crowded. The injured people were brought to the hospital continuously. The hospital was both close to the front of Abadan's Fayazieh front and the closest hospital to Khorramshahr. After the fall of Khorramshahr, our forces were clashing with the enemy from the direction of Kout Sheikh and other areas where the enemy could not seize and if anyone was injured, was taken to the hospital.
*What about the security?
*The city was in blockade. The Iraqi forces targeted the city with different weapons. Many mortars had been hit around the hospital. Sometimes, the sirens were sounded and the power cut off. Of course, the operation room had an emergency power. Once, I was washing my clothes in W.C that a mortar was hit. I went back and forward two or three times involuntarily. Also another time, we had gone out of the hospital in a road near the hospital. Suddenly, the road was cracked and a hole created, and then the sound of explosion was heard. After the explosion, my eardrums were hurt. From there, my ears started aching and the ache remained. After visiting the doctor, I found out that my ear had been hurt and now the hearing of my left ear has lowered to a great extent.
*Were just the injured people brought to Taleqani Hospital?
*No. Ordinary people who had still stayed in Abadan were also taken to the hospital. I saw a six-month infant who had been martyred. Once, behind the hospital was targeted and a number of young and old people were transferred to the hospital. There was a very old woman maybe one hundred years old among the injured people. Nobody dared to inject her syringe. They said, "Who gives this woman a shot?" I said, "Me." Later, one of the nurses told me, "Sister Baharlou, we do not give such old woman a shot, how you did this, she might have experienced convulsions." Thanks God, she did not. Along with the injured, a young woman was brought who was on the verge of giving birth to a child. After the birth of her child, she wanted to name her child as Katiosha!
*Were you just active in the emergency section of the hospital?
No. After a while, they wanted trustful forces for operation room and I was sent there. At first, I cleaned the operation room or its instruments, or put them in their places. Some of the instruments needed to be washed or disinfected. There was an opening from above at the end of the operation room. We put the instruments into a container, sending them up by rope. I think autoclave was there. They also sent the surgical tools to us through this way and we delivered them. Later, my duties changed gradually. We stood near the operation bed. Any tool the surgeon needed was given by the technician. But if there was no technician, we would do this. An operation might take three or four hours and we were at their service during these hours. We had become so professional that I washed my hands with the surgeon. If the surgeon needed something, I gave it to the technician and he or she gave the surgeon. If I don't make a mistake, we were called circuler nurse. I knew well what were needed for an operation. Taleqani Hospital had five operation rooms; there large rooms and two for orthopedic. I took the needed instruments to the rooms. The physicians had noticed my precision and skill. One of them asked me to come to the room when he wanted to have an operation.
The personnel of hospital were working in three shifts since a long time ago. I spent most of my time in the operation room sometimes until midnight. The guys came to me said, "Bahar, it is time to have dinner." I said, "Is it the time for dinner?"
In the holy month of Ramadhan, food for sohour was also given. At that time, I was in the operation room. I neither ate Iftar (breaking the fasting) meal nor sohour well. However, I was fasting during the holy month. I slept perhaps just two hours during day and night. I was also active in the recovery room. I washed the sore of the injured before operation and provided the grounds for an operation. Sometimes, we also gave blood after standing for long hours and in the state of lack of sleep. I remember that an injured was brought to hospital who needed fresh blood. I went to give blood. The anesthesiologist came to me and said, "Sister, you have been standing for many hours; how do you want to give blood? But I did not pay attention and did so.
*Where was your residence and dormitory?
*The residence of female relief workers was in an empty floor of the hospital, but I always sleep in the cloakroom of the operation room in order to be present there and deliver the injured if any. Once, four injured persons were brought. Each of them was in a room and I was alone. The technicians came a little late. I ran from this room to that room to reach the needed instruments. The casting room was near the orthopedic room. One of the doctors present in the casting room got angry and said, "Why are you going and coming continuously? Don't you know your job? Why are escaping?" I said, "Doctor, I have come to learn." I again went out and came and he repeated these but I did not answer. One of the men explained the reason for this going and coming for him.
*Did you ever pay a visit to your house?
*Our house was in Khorramshahr. My father worked in Abadan's Oil Company and we resided in a house belonged to the company. According to the law, if an employee bought a house inside the city with a housing mortgage given by the company, he or she had to empty the house. For this reason, my father bought a house in Khorramshahr in a street reached directly to Khorramshahr Bridge. The house was located behind a maternity hospital and the Iraqi forces had not been able to occupy this area. The street was in the sight of the Iraqis and the house was locked. I could not enter it. The door of the neighbor's house had been destroyed as a result of the mortar attacks. I entered the house from there. Our water coolers had been stolen. I went into the house through the cooler canal. The enemy bombarded around us continually. I was feeling that the Iraqis had seen us from the other side which had been occupied. Inside the house was full of bloody bed sheets. It was clear that the friendly forces who had been injured were kept in our house, because our house was large.
When we came to the alley, the firing increased. A pickup of the oil company passed from us with high speed, but it went back again. The driver asked, "Sister, what are you doing here?" We said, "We have come to pay a visit to our house." We got on the car and the car moved immediately.
*Were all the female relief workers from Abadan?
*No. In addition to female relief workers who were from Abadan, a number others were from Khorramshahr and one from Shiraz?
*Did you go on leave to pay a visit to your family during the period you were working in the hospital?
*Yes. We could go on leave. Of course, I did not know where my family was for some six months. My cousin Bahram was a student in Germany before the war broke out. As he heard the news of the war, left his education incompletely and came back to Iran to fight with the enemy. I could find my family in Shiraz through him because other than my uncle who was an employee of the oil company and had stayed in Abadan, the rest of his family had left for Shiraz.
We were members of the Basij (voluntary) forces. I had lost the address the first time, staying in the house of one of my friends in Shiraz for one night. The next day, I found out that they were living in the same street where the house of my friend was located!
*Weren't you worried about your family when you were in Abadan?
*No. Everybody was busy to take care of the injured. We were on alert to bring a new injured one.
*Do you have any memory from the injured people brought there for operation?
*Yes, I remember that an operation had been carried out and many injured forces had been brought to the hospital. The number of the operation rooms was not enough for this number and they had to stay in turn to be operated according to the surgeon's specialty, the place of injury and their conditions. One of the injured who was from Mashhad had become impatient and protested, "Why am I not taken to the operation room?" I went toward him and said, "Brother, I am your sister. Ok, we take you to the operation room according to the physician's diagnosis. But the surgeon who is going to operate you is busy." I passed by him several times. He had a severe pain, begging us to take him to the operation room immediately. Another badly injured man was shot near his heart. We wanted to take him to the operation room that the same injured man protested again, "Why are you taking him to the operation room and not me?" I said, "See my brother, this injured man likes to groan and cry from pain, but the bullet has shot beside his heart and if he speaks, it moves! If you are taken to the operation room with half an hour delay, your leg will be cut in the worst manner, but if he is operated with half an hour delay, he will die!" When I said this, he calmed down and said, "Don't take me, take him!" also I remember that the number of the injured person who were waiting to be operated was so high that one of them had slept below the operation bed and there was not enough time to clean the bed and they wanted to put to sleep the next one on the bed with the same situation. I cleaned the bed immediately and the injured person was put on it.
When my work finished in the operation room or when I had nothing to do in the operation room, I paid a visit to the sections and did whatever I could. Or I went to the hospital’s morgue to see whether any martyr had been brought.
*Do you have any memory from the martyrs whom you had seen in the morgue?
*I remember that one time I had gone to the morgue. A blanket had been put there. Inside the blanket was very heavy. When I put it aside, I saw that there was a martyr inside it whose body organs had been shattered.
*Do you have any memory from the injured people that you had seen in the hospital’s section?
*Two injured persons were brought to the hospital whose bodies had been burnt as a result of an explosion. They had been kept in a separate room near the female cloakroom. I took care of them. They excused me continually. I said, “You are like my brother and I have come to help you!”
I also remember that the legs of an injured man had been cut. He was crying very much. I recited some ayahs of sura Ankaboot and translated for him and said, “Now God is testing you.” Two or three days passed and he was still restless. I said, “Are you a soldier”. He said, “No, I am an IRGC member from Ahwaz.” I said, “You have come to the front voluntarily. Certainly you have been ready to be injured or martyred.” He said, “I have an old mother and am crying for the sake of her.” Then, his morale changed gradually and accepted it.
I also remember another amazing memory. Once, I was in the recovery section and our work had been finished. I heard the voice of an injured person who whispered, “Help sister!” I told the guys, “Do you hear that voice?” They said, “No”. I came out of the operation and recovery room. I went and saw an injured man who been operated newly. He could not breathe and talk well and was bleeding! I called one of the brothers to come for help to bring him to the operation room. I was surprised that how I had heard the voice of someone who could not talk well. I asked myself whether he had called me or not? But at any rate, it was the will of God that I came to him and he survived.
*The fifth column was active inside the country clandestinely except the foreign enemy who was fighting against us officially and publically. Some of them had infiltrated in the hospital and did obstructions. Had you witnessed any such instance during your service in Taleqani Hospital?
*Yes, when the injured person was brought out of the operation room, we waited for them to come to their senses and then took them to the section. It was enough for us to tell their names. But some of the injured talked a lot in the state of semi-anesthesia, speaking about their memoirs from the front or other things. I had seen such people very much. Once, an injured man who was an IRGC member had come to the hospital with a companion. A few days later, the companion came to me and said, “The injured person wants to tell you something”. I went inside the room and said, “Did you want to tell me something, brother.” He said, “I was monitoring you. I found you a faithful person and that I can only trust you. One of the female relief workers goes to the injured persons who have not fully come to their senses and get information about the place where they have been and other thing.” I immediately informed the Basij and that person was arrested. He was a member the MKO terrorist outfit (known as hypocrites) and kicked out of Abadan.
*How long did work in Taleqani Hospital?
*I worked in the hospital until 1993 before I married.
*Why didn’t you continue your cooperation anymore?
*I liked to marry with a janbaz (a disabled war veteran). A janbaz named Abdolhossain Razieh Nejad was introduced. His legs had been cut. One of his arms had also a problem and could not perform ablution well. His brother was among the missing. I married him. He took his family to Karaj after marriage, and then he came and took me too. I was not supposed to leave the city and Taleqani Hospital. I left it hardly. I was supposed to come back but stayed in Karaj. I became sick in Karaj from being grieved. I was said that your husband is injured; it is very important to serve him and is the same as serving other injured persons.
Although my husband has physical problems, he was smarter than three ordinary men. He even had the responsibility to buy things. I had always said everywhere that I was one of the happiest wives in the world. God granted me such a husband who was both a janbaz and a martyr.
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan