We stepped out of the blazing noon sun into the tent, only to be greeted by the stifling hot air of the heated tent. This was the tent of Soghraab Garmi, a 68-year old grandmother of seven. Her story begins after the earthquake of 26th December 2003 when her two sons, both drivers, and respective daughter in-laws were all killed. For twenty-days she put up at a school before being transferred to camp BAFIA where she is now staying.

 

Her tent, located at the fringe of the camp, a mere 4 by 5-metres square enclosure, had a makeshift kitchen in a corner where the kerosene stove sits prominently, while the rest of the space was mostly taken up with bedding and blankets. Since the death of her children, Soghraab has had the care of her seven grandchildren thrust upon her. Aged between 2 and 16-years, the eight of them have to make do with what little space they have in that one tent. Three of the youngest grandchildren, Afrouz 2, Mahbwoobeh 9, and Eloheh 10, are too young to be sent to available schools and so they stay at home with her during the day. The other four, Iman 13, Ilham 14, Moshder 14, and Minah 16, come back from school in the afternoon.

 

Soghraab tells of how she had spent 3-days in hospital that previous week, and that there was no one to look after the children who had to be left to fend for themselves. The children are closest to their grandmother and will not stay with any of the relatives. When they are put up with others, their response was always the same, “Are they now unloved and unwanted by their grandmother?” As a consequence, Soghraab feels it is too painful to force them to live with others. Her dilemma though is that the care of all the seven grandchildren is simply beyond her means and resources.

In our meeting, I asked Soghraab if there was anything they needed or that we could do to help them. Her reply was revealing. She said that she was thankful for the help she could get in the way of food and clothing provisions. She added, however, that the whole situation had robbed them of their dignity, now having to almost beg others for the most basic of needs whereas in the past they had everything they needed. You could see Soghraab cling on to the last vestiges of her dignity as she said, “Give what you want to give. I’m thankful for it.” She was no beggar, but her needs and those of her seven grandchildren's are as real as ours, if not more pressing.

 

 

Right The children are sleeping on the floor, packed side by side, with barely any room to walk.

When we revisited her the following night, it became clear that the tent was just too small for them. Peering through the entrance, the sleeping children were packed like sardines in a can with hardly any walking space left in the tent. We had to be careful not to tread on a sleeping child as we tried to enter the tent.

 

As the children huddled around her, I asked Soghraab if she had any plans for the children. She simply shrugged her shoulders in resignation.

 

 

Story and photos by Daniel Wee 2004