Youths happy to be of service in Bam

Joseph Raj reporting from Iran

BAM (Iran): Ahmed and Daud, both 19, had contrasting feelings when they were called up for Iran's compulsory national service about a month ago.  

Ahmed was happy when he was asked to report to duty at the army base in Sirjan, about 380km from here, while Daud dreaded the 15 to 18 months he would have to serve in the armed forces. 

But now, the two youths from Khuzetan, bordering Iraq in the south-west of Iran, are united in their belief that the service they are rendering to the people of Bam is worth the effort.  

Ahmed said he did not believe newspaper reports about the extent of the damage following the earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale that hit this city on Dec 26.  

“But when we arrived here more than a week ago, we were surprised and sad over the magnitude of the damage we saw. I am glad to be here to help the earthquake survivors,” he added.  

Daud, who was washing a pot they had used to cook spaghetti, joked that their life in Bam was much better than at the army base.  

“If I was in camp now, I will probably be crawling on the ground going through training,” he said.  

Iranian males are required to undergo national service after finishing high school.  

Those gaining entry into universities could postpone the national service until after they have completed their studies.  

A group of about 150 soldiers from Sirjan are in an encampment at the Bora village here to conduct various tasks, including distributing aid to the estimated 30,000 earthquake survivors still living here and in its outlying areas. 

“In the mornings, we go in trucks to deliver food to camps and people all over Bam. In the evenings, we do sentry duty – two hours on, with a four-hour break – till dawn,” said Daud.  

It is winter in Bam now and the sun sets at about 5pm local time and rises at about 5.30am. 

Ahmed said that from what he had seen, there was plenty of food and other supplies for the people of Bam. 

“But the distribution system is not good. It has to be improved to enable all the quake survivors to get food, water and other supplies that we have,” he added.  

There indeed seemed to be plenty of food, from what we saw at an Iranian Red Crescent aid distribution point at the Bam Tourist Inn in Moalim Street in the city centre.  

Mohsin Yahyawi, 32, who said he oversees the stock of supplies at the centre, revealed that there were about 13 such centres in Bam to cater to the needs of the people. 

“We, for example, serve about 2,800 families. Each family is given a booklet of 30 pages in which is recorded the stuff they have received from us.  

“Eight to nine (construction) truckloads of aid leave this centre every day to deliver food, water, soap and shampoo to the survivors,” he added.  

Mohsin said the trucks would go to various points in the area, where an aid centre is designated to serve. 

Some of the earthquake survivors, however, are not happy with the staple fare of baked peas and hard pita-like bread.  

“We get canned peas and other supplies every two days. But we don't want to eat peas anymore, we want rice,” said a man, who was among the about 50 people gathered outside the Bam Tourist Inn, trying to convince the guards to let them in. 

An Iranian Red Crescent worker then came out and advised the people to go back and wait for the supply trucks.  

Fatimah Sofiyabadi, 50, said she would rather exchange her aid booklet for a tent.  

“Some people have five tents, I don't even have one,” she said. 

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