Saturday, 3 October 2009

My Neighbour Goes to the Zoo - violence and its legacy

In my last post, I wrote about “The Tree That Remembers,” a moving documentary by Masoud Raouf about political prisoners who have been tortured in prison in Iran and the impact it has on their lives.

How can you go on living when you have been subjected to unbearable pain or injustice at the hands of fellow human beings? It is a question that haunts me. I have asked it to many people all over the world. Here two survivors of the Iran 88 massacre share their answers:

Amir Atiabi says: “You have to live with this legacy, you carry an unbearable burden, you cannot know peace until you can share this pain with the rest of humanity. You cannot concentrate on your own life: carrying this burden takes all your energy, it slows you down, it crushes you.”

Mahin, another survivor, explains: I am involved in two contradictory lives. My external life at work, in socialising, entertaining, etc. is filled with joy, activity and optimism. My inner life, however, is filled with stories that cannot be shared with others. Speaking about the prison, executions and the wounds of that period makes me sad and crumpled.

Most people do not have the patience to listen to such stories! The prison and the massacre have strengthened my tendency towards solitude, loneliness and ridiculing death from within. The memories of the prison are at the same time distant and near.”

The legacy of the violence is always there, just below the surface, and crops up even in the most unlikely circumstances, as the Iranian poet Majid Naficy wrote in his latest poem, first published in

My Neighbor Goes to the Zoo

by Majid Naficy

My neighbor is going to the zoo

With her three grandchildren:

Mussa, who was born in Haifa

Of a Palestinian father and an Israeli mother,

Sees himself as the never-grown-up Peter Pan-

Sailing from the island of Neverland

With one eye green, one eye blue:

Gemini, a twin, who was born in America

And named after his father's lost friend,

Has a moonlight face and a red robe

And sees himself as Casper, the friendly ghost

Returning from the land of martyrs;

And Zahra, who is one minute younger than her brother,

Has soft, golden hair

And sees herself as Alice from Wonderland

Looking for her lost rabbit everywhere.

They are going to the zoo

To visit the crocodiles of the Nile river

Who, everyday after lunch

Lay back on the pebbly shores

And leave their mouths open for hours

So their companion birds can clean

Their sharp teeth and gums,

And when they want to return to the water

The crocodiles gently close their mouths

Lest surprise

Their tooth-brushing plovers.

Having no faith in earthly paradise

And being accustomed to war and bloodshed

I panic from so much co-existence in nature

And unwillingly shout:

My neighbor! My fanciful neighbor!

Keep your grandchildren around your skirt

Lest the warring crocodiles

Roll their armored tanks

And the Iron-winged birds

Drop clusters of bombs

Over their heads.

August 18, 2009

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