I was curious to visit Ahwaz, the capital of Khuzestan Province, named such by Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1936 after he dismantled its autonomous existence as Arabistan when he took power in Iran in 1925. In particular I wanted to see the Karoon River on the banks of which Ahwaz is built.
There is so much pollution around the city that it is often almost impossible to breathe. It was so sad to see the city that the World Health Organisation has designated the most polluted in the whole world and around the river there is smog, smog that makes it hard to see as well as breathe.
I don’t know how people can walk on the streets during the day and in fact I see very few. The sky is black. Those few people there are look pale and tired, making their way very slowly. The cars are old models driven fast with no regard for the rules… People wear masks to help them breathe, but it is still nearly impossible.
I took a taxi to look around the City and noticed many children selling items on the street corners. I was drawn to one child in particular, perhaps because he was sitting on the ground, perhaps because his shoes were in shreds. He was no more than 12 years old at most.
I asked the taxi to stop and let me out. I was in one of the City squares and sat for a while watching the boy and wondering at the strength he had to survive in the burning hot sun without a hat.
I walked slowly forward to talk to him. In his small hands he held a box, from which he was selling packs of gum. I asked him for a pack and he gave me one. I asked the price and he told me. I gave him more money than he asked for, telling him to keep the rest, but he wouldn’t accept this. I insisted, he was equally firm in his refusal. There was such a proud look in his sweet eyes as, finally, I gave in and handed him just the money he had asked for.
I could see in his eyes 90 years of deprivation, poverty, humiliation, but also strength, he was strong like the proud poem of Ahwaz, strong and resistant. I thanked him, quietly and walked away, but decided to stay and follow him when he left.
I don’t know why, but I felt he needed protection and so I waited for him.
When he left he was carrying some unsold boxes in those small hands of his. He must have had a little money, but nothing more. I wondered if his days were always like this. He took the bus and I got on after him, sitting away from him so as not to be recognised, or rouse his suspicions.
We travelled a long way into the suburbs. When he got off, by my calculations around 5km from Ahwaz City Centre, I followed him, keeping well behind. I noticed his old, broken shoes and that his clothes were old also. The shoes were a bit too big for him and nearly falling off as he walked.
As he reached his house, he dropped the packages and started to play with a ball that was left outside the door. He was tired, but he was not going to end the day without playing, leaving his small broken cloth bag lying on the ground.
After a few minutes he went into his house. I followed and knocked on the door. A lady opened it, dressed all in black including a black headband, the dress worn by women when someone in the family has died.
She seemed exhausted and her beauty obscured by sadness. I could see her suffering in her face. She gave me a tired, distracted smile. But in spite of this, she was very welcoming and invited me in, saying in Arabic “Hala Akhti”, meaning “Welcome Dear Sister”. As she got me some cold water, I looked around the room. It was small and shabby with very little in it, just a few old items and a couch.
A few minutes later she brought me some black tea and sugar I was surprised by how welcoming she was to me, a stranger. The people of Ahwaz are reputed to be warm and friendly and it is customary that guests must be respected.
I asked her why she was dressed all in black. Her words grabbed my attention as she said “My soul is covered by a black veil like my clothes.” She continued “I have two children, a girl Teswahen and a son, Yaser. My husband died a year ago. Eh, sister, he was working for a company and got fired. We didn’t have any food to eat and he started taking drugs and becoming violent towards me.
I loved him because he was a kind man, a good husband and father for my children. He was everything to me. In the end he passed away and……left me like this! I am scared that my children could take the same bad way.
I am left alone and lonely. I do as much as I can for them, but I am always frightened for them. The Iranian regime plans to destroy Arab families totally. They leave the drug sellers to go free, or are actually supporting them. Whichever, it means that the people can be drawn into addiction very easily. It is just another tactic to destroy us.”
She went on “Ahwazi youth face a new enemy for which they are sent to prison. It is called drug abuse. Drug abuse is becoming the biggest enemy of many Ahwazi youths. The Iranian regime knows very well that under the influence of narcotics the user loses all sense of national pride, family loyalty, education and identity. All that matters is where they can get the drugs from to satisfy their habit. This becomes the number one purpose in their life.”
“By design, drugs are as available and easy to obtain in Ahwaz as tea and coffee. Both women and men of all ages are affected, from as young as 7 to 77 and older. This is the reality of life in Ahwaz today. “
“The Ahwazis are viewed by the Iranian regime as a constant threat. Because of this they have faced many vicious attempts by the regime to exterminate them from history. All their efforts have failed, only serving to make the Ahwazis more determined to survive, ensure the survival of their culture and preserve their heritage.”
“Now I am alone, with children to raise who are not able to live as children. My son goes to sell items during the day and my daughter cannot go to school because she has no clothes to wear. I’m desperate. I don’t know what to do. Many other Arab families are in exactly the same situation as me. This affects every generation. It oppresses us all. We can’t see the stars in the sky, but we pray.”
“We never see happiness, only pain that does not go away. We don’t want pity, just justice.”
As a Canadian, this leads me to ask very seriously whether this large-scale spread of drugs is indeed yet another attempt by the state to destroy the young minds of Ahwaz. Into my mind comes the story of the native aboriginal people of Canada who were seen as uncivilised people and were victimised by the Government, developing a number of social disorders, including excessive alcohol consumption. Whole generations were lost in a haze of alcohol abuse.
Written by Teuta Orgocka
Note: The views expressed in this article are belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Ahwaz Monitor.