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