Memories of a Summer Camp
The summer before my sophomore year in high school, my parents agreed to send me to a camp by the Caspian Sea. Oh, how much I looked forward to this adventure! I’d heard stories about the exciting activities and fun time high school girls had at these camps. It wasn’t just the fun, but also the badge of prestige that was attached to attending. Not everyone would be selected to attend. There was an age requirement, recommendation, and not to mention, perhaps some connections here and there, which helped with the selection process.
Having completed my freshman year of high school, I was old enough to participate, but maybe a bit on the younger side. With a little help from Uncle Jafar who knew the camp director, I was accepted to spend ten days at the seaside, organized and I assume funded by the Ministry of Education. It was going to be a new experience for me: away from home, fun activities, camp fires, swimming and a lot of laughter with high school girls my age.
On that memorable day of departure, my parents took me to where I was supposed to board the bus along with other participants, heading up north to the Caspian seaside. There must have been over 150 girls in that parking area, from various high schools in Tehran. Eight buses were ready to take bubbly, chattering teen girls and their suitcases to Ramsar for a camping and vacation adventure.
I boarded the last bus – bus number eight – and sat on the third row behind the bus driver. Next to me sat a sweet gal about two years older than I was, a new friend. She was a senior from a different high school. I had met her a week earlier when my mother and I were clothes shopping for the camping trip.
We chatted as the bus started: our schools, classes, and the fun we were going to have at the camp. It was her first time travelling north to the Caspian. We left the outskirts of Tehran and took the winding, mountainous road of Chaloos toward Ramsar. Being the last bus, obviously we trailed the others.
Somewhere along the way, being last did not agree with our driver and he took it upon himself to speed up and pass another bus on that narrow mountainous road. The first time he did it the kids on the bus clapped and cheered him on. Of the two teachers who were supposed to be our chaperones on that bus, one was sitting on the first row right behind the driver, and the other one, a gentleman, was at the back of the bus playing cards with some students. They never raised any objections to the speed or the driver’s behavior.
On our first rest stop, however, I noticed the lady chaperone switched buses and didn’t board ours! The driver, a short hefty man with shaved head, decided to repeat his stunt: speed up and pass the next bus. Near Siabisheh, a small rural town, where the road narrowed - high mountains on one side and a deep ravine on the other - that is where it all happened.
I was sitting near the window on the ravine side, and periodically looked down and saw a shallow river way down flowing at the bottom of the ravine. Suddenly our driver lost control of the speeding bus; he swerved, hit the side of the mountain and then swerved again and plunged down into the deep ravine. All I remember was a peculiar sensation and sight, like watching a fast moving slide show; slamming into the mountain side, bushes and trees passing me by with the speed of light. I gently closed my eyes and lost consciousness.
As if waking up from a deep sleep, with half-opened eyes, I saw blurred silhouettes hovering over me, grabbing my arms trying to pull me out. I didn’t know it at the time, but the bus had rolled and landed upside down at the bottom of the ravine with water, rocks, pebbles, and small boulders with sharp edges. How long it had been or how I was thrown out of the bus, and now under the bus, I have no recollection. All I felt was the excruciating pain caused by the sharp edges of the rocks that were piercing my back.
I moaned, weakly, and a man’s voice said, “slow, slow, don’t pull her out too fast; clear the rocks first”. They were a group of local peasants who had seen the accident and had rushed down to the scene, with their spades, to help the victims.
How I got to the small local hospital, I don’t remember. My next recollection is sitting in a hospital room with nothing in it except a bed. Next to me sat my newfound friend. She and I had no visible or dramatic physical injuries, no obvious bleeding – nothing that according to the local medical staff needed immediate and fast attention. We both sat in that room, in a daze, shivering and hungry as it was late in the afternoon and we had not eaten anything since we left home early that morning. After an hour, a young man – whether a curious local resident or a hospital staff, I didn’t know which, poked his head in to see who was in the room. My friend said we were terribly hungry. He smiled and walked away, but came back in a few minutes with some bread and cheese for us to munch on. We then ventured to walk out of our room to see what was going on in that small local hospital.
“Oh God, we must have been among your chosen people,” I thought. What I saw in the hallway and other rooms came back as nightmares on many occasions later: broken and bleeding noses, broken legs and arms, head injuries and lacerations. A little later I learned a girl had lost her life in that accident – she was sitting in a row directly in front of me.
We went back to the room and sat there waiting for some camp official to come and get us. Nothing happened until 9 p.m. Then I heard noises. Two ladies walked into the room. One was a colleague of my uncle and was in charge of the summer camp – probably appointed by the Minister of Education. The other lady must have been her deputy. In an official car driven by a chauffeur, they must have left Tehran to come and inspect the scope of the injuries. Curiously enough, they both exchanged words and comments in English! I knew some English so I could understand and picked up on their extreme sense of fright and concern. They were planning to head on directly to the camp after the hospital visit.
They were about to leave our room, relieved that at least these two girls had no obvious injuries, when a voice inside my head said, “You don’t want to be left alone in this hospital by yourself. Say something.” Immediately I blurted out my name, with the emphasis on my last name – my uncle was well-known among the educators, athletes and the Ministry of Education officials. Upon hearing the name, the ladies exchanged glances, and one of them quickly said, “Why don’t you two girls get into the car and come with us to the camp.”
I climbed into the back seat with torn and blood-stained dress, and my friend sat next to me. The two ladies continued their dialogue in English. Unbeknownst to them I basically understood whatever they said. Their major concern was the newspaper headlines the next day, the reaction of the ministry officials, and who was going to be found responsible for this accident, particularly now that a young student had died.
It was midnight when we arrived at the camp. The news of the bus accident had reached the camp – other buses had arrived safely and the gals were in their respective tents. I was put in a tent with two other girls, sleeping on a cot.
When a bugle sounded the wake up call in the morning, I opened my eyes. I was alive and I was at the camp. As soon as I attempted to raise my head and sit up, my entire body reacted violently with such excruciating pain that I almost stopped breathing. I had no choice but to lie still and not to move a muscle. Every little movement of my body parts inflicted a horrific pain. The shock of the accident, the inverted bus, the sharp rocks and boulders on my back all had played a part.
Breakfast was not even over at the camp when I saw my parents and Uncle Jafar walk into the tent. It is difficult for a fifteen-year-old to understand the scope and depth of anxiety and anguish parents feel in such a situation: to send their child to a camp in the morning and hear the bus has crashed in the afternoon. My parents had to see with their own eyes that I was alive. They had come to take me back home. But of course I didn’t want to leave! I had looked forward to this camp for so long. Obviously I was not in any shape – physically or emotionally – to participate in any of the activities.
That morning, my parents took me to a medical clinic in Ramsar and had me X-rayed from head to toe for internal injuries. They ignored my stubbornness on insisting to stay at the camp! Once they were sure I had no internal injuries, we had a nice afternoon tea and pastries at the nearby Hotel Ramsar. It was my newfound friend who convinced me it was to my best interest to forget about the camp and go back home with my parents.
And a good advice it was! A day later I came down with the most severe case of influenza that landed me in bed for two weeks. However, it took me almost a year to get over the trauma of the accident and the phobia of riding in a car or bus. I never applied for the summer camp again.