Friday, October 9, 2009

My morning with local Kurd who takes care of 60 mentally insane men

Yesterday was another of those influential days in my life back in Kurdistan that I won't forget . You know, one of those days that you consider a turning point in your life—or rather a day where you keep turning in your bed and can't get to sleep, only thinking  about what you saw earlier on. I will definately view the world from a different perspective... I hope you will too. Our society does not always have a good or respective view towards a group of people who are marginalized, but I hope this will open our eyes and widen our understanding to accept people who are... different, but they have feelings and emotions; they too, need love and attention just like you and I.

Above: At my arrival, I see this mentally ill man sitting a few meters away from Mama Najat's chaykhana (teashop), he later tells me that this is one of his special 'children'. This one was a teacher, but under the Saddam regime he was tortured for being a Kurd, he went through a very difficult time and when he was set free, not long after, he became, as Mama Najat says: 'crazy!' -- mental retardation or in Kurdish slang he has become "Shet".

I have been in a chase to find this man for over seven weeks, I received a phone call early in the morning of where he might be located and in less than an hour I was there.
As you can see from the pictures, for certain reasons I was asked not to leave the car (by Mam Najat himself), although the pictures were taken outside.

Mama Najat, a Kurdish man and owner of a small teashop takes care of about 60 mentally impeded men. He provides them with their medical requirements, food, and even shelter if they need.

Mama Najat’s personal financial status is low—his income comes from the small teashop he has owned for so long—as he says, half of what he earns is spent on the men he looks after and the other half for his own 12 children at home.
Whilst I was there he had taken one of mental patients to the doctor for a surgery in his stomach, not only did he pay for the procedure but he took this patient, stayed until after the operation and then brought him back to the room in his teashop where they all stay.

Above: A room just behind the teashop, where the men can stay, this is a picture of one the men who he takes care of (this one just had an operation).

How many people in the world commit to this job…?

“I was sixteen, when I sold tickets for people who came to see movies in the Sirwan Cinema, years later I bought the chaykhana across the road, then added a television, a video and brought films on video tapes. All sorts of people came to my chaykhana, even the crazy people” he begins his story, “those who were poor I gave them food, and cared for them. There were a lot, many of them died, and the rest are here with me.” Mam Najat tells me his story, as I sit and closely observe the facial features of this man....

“In 1994, when the situation was very unstable politically and economic wise, I would come to open the shop in the morning and sometimes there was more than 40 of them at the door waiting for me.”

Mama Najat’s concern and thought towards these mentally insane men has touched his life in many ways. “When I sleep at home, my mind is with them, I wonder where each of them is spending the night; if it rains, I worry about if they are cold, do they have shelter? I ask myself, is someone hurting them? Are they feeling secure…? These are all thoughts and questions that haunt me till I see them in the morning.”

Above: Mama Najat in his small teashop-- he puts old films for the locals to see.

He sees in these mentally unstable and insane people an individual who deserves to be respected. They are marginalized people who are discriminated against by society, and often not even considered to be "normal humans" but are refered to as‘shet’ (crazy). Despite the difficulty he has endured in his life, he is constantly laughing and smiling. As he speaks, I learn this man is far from the globalized world, he is not doing this for his own benefit, with no thought of an award or recognition, his hopes and dreams is for these mentally impeded men to have a place and food to eat every day, after he dies.

Above: Mama Najat in his humble teashop-- his life revolves around making tea and looking after mentally affected men who are insane,

Posing to take some pictures (Below), Satar, one of the mentally impeded men spends time with Mama Najat, he smiles for the camera, informing me that he wants a wife, in Kurdish he remarks “zhnm awet”. I wish I can assure him a wife and provide Satar with some happiness.

Words can not express the feelings and emotions I went through in my journey to meet Mam Najat in person after I had read a four line "DID YOU KNOW" section about him in one of our local magazines, I am so proud that we have Kurds with such a heart. These days, people do not look after their mentally impeded brother or father. These are total strangers for Mama Najat- an outcast in our society, but for him, they are complete individuals...

Please take note that these pictures are taken by me—they are just to see and not to be used for other purposes- Thank-you

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rainbow in Hawler

So many people wing and whine when Erbil is dusty, yet no one speaks when it rains, and the weather is beautiful—two days ago it was unbelievable, actually it has been for the past week or so-- even saw a rainbow—luckily mum took a few pictures, knowing there is nothing I enjoy more than rain...

The view from the balcony was breath taking; it was very cold but with a gentle breeze; fairly strong rain refreshed the atmosphere… and continued for a while.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Back to Uni

As the curtains to the study year 2009/2010 open, it is only normal I write a special blog about the University of Kurdistan- Hawler (UKH). It is exciting to know once again we can wake up every morning and leave home to go to see out bigger family.

Indeed, we are a big family at UKH, because there are not many students it is always the same faces, personalities, groups and even the same tables in the cafeteria. Going back to see students and staff is always an experience that is cherished close to the heart.

What is unique about UKH is that the culture inside the Uni is different to other governmental universities in the region. It is an open minded culture; students are free to practice their views and values. UKH is the only governmental English teaching university in Erbil, whilst all the staff are foreigners and have completed their degrees in countries such as the UK, Australia and the US the students are a mix of Kurds and other ethnic and religious groups present in Iraq.

I am sure ten years down the track I will see many of our current students with high qualified jobs and they will be change makers in the Kurdistan Region and wider Iraq.

They are all individuals with dreams and ambitions in life- this is what makes UKH different. Looking at my peers each person is inspiring in their way; you can learn something from each of them. They are all individuals capable of great accomplishments.

As for me, my emotions are mixed, I guess once we have set foot in the final year it all becomes reality; it was only yesterday when we were first year students; now we are ‘last’ year students. I begin to think of the next step ahead, not only the intense studies and stress of the next two semesters but also what will follow the 9 months.

We will be the first lot to graduate from UKH, and the first lot of students in Iraq to graduate from an English teaching university.

Not long ago I was in primary school dreaming and thinking when will I ever get to Uni, and here I am today setting foot into the final year… Dreams do come true.
I am so glad I had the chance to study in Kurdistan—in a culture and environment of my own kind. I wonder if I studied in a foreign country- I wouldn’t have been able to fit in and be involved as much as I am here. For me, it is a privilege to be a student at UKH- I am confident I am receiving education of good standards, I am enjoying my time being a student and more importantly I am in a position where I can look for a bright and open future ahead.

Meanwhile all our focus is to get the best possible results this year, make the most of our time and … think of the graduation!!!!!!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Kurdish Village girls

I had the honor to spend the Jezhn break in Mergasoor and visit areas close to Barzan; having spent all my life in a city, and never living a village or country life I came to realize just how ‘girlie’, frail and delicate we, the city girls can be.

Apart from the house work of running around cooking and cleaning for the guests who continuously walk in and out the house, these women also do the men’s work in their small farms or look after the animals, if they have any.

I was proud of the fact that I can cook rice, eggs and potatoes, after what I have seen I feel foolish and… let’s say not so proud.

We were invited for dinner at one of the local houses-- in the two hour span they knew we were going to be their guests that evening the girls had cooked all the difficult foods that Kurds have-- including the dreadful Yapragh. We (the city girls that is) on the other hand, with two days before hand notice and following cooking methods on a few cook books other than the salad nothing seems to turn out right!
One thing that amazed me the most is that if these people had a dish washer it will not wash the dishes as clean and as fast as young women can.

Meal after meal, the girls tuck their long Kurdish dress under the rope on their waist, pin the sleeves on their shoulders and wash the dishes better than three working dish washers. Then there is us, the pitiable city girls- wash the dishes one day and go on about it for the next two days. Did I mention one person uses the detergent and another washes it away with water, and usually a third person would also be helpful to remove the wet dishes from the rack so it gets out of the way.

In the city, in almost every second street there is local salon-- and I assure you they make better money than many businessmen in Erbil.

Whilst we are all about makeup, dying our hair with multiple colors and now even manicures are becoming popular. The village girl on the other hand, needs no layers of foundation as her skin is naturally smooth, she posses the natural beauty that looks more dazzling because of the natural environment she grows up in. Her hair does not need to be dyed in three different colors to look good, because the natural Hanna she uses gives extra shine and strength to her already eye-catching long black hair.

A typical girl who has grown in the city would most likely be well educated and go to a university. This does not undermine the intelligence of a village girl, who from life’s experiences—something you cannot gain from reading thick books and highlighting all the important details.

Show a city girl a cockroach and she will scream her lungs out- literally. On the other hand, the bravery a village girl posses is immense, she can confront a wild animal to protect the family’s herd of sheep.

Finally, village girl or city girl? You be the judge, but keep in mind even though they may not go to the best English speaking universities or might not be involved in the train of globalization that is apparent in city life; a village girl in Kurdistan is a young woman that must be respected and admired in her own rights, because if not worse, we are certainly not better than she is!