We met Naska *Khan, (arrangements made by our hosts at Handicap International back in Erbil) at precisely the time we had agreed upon the night before. She was the public relations person for TCRC, the national childrens’ referral centre for rehabilitation. Although she wore a brilliant green headscarf, a long skirt, a bright green sweater to match, it was immediately apparent to both Jan and I that this woman was no pious pushover. She was intelligent, quick witted, with a wicked sense of humour and terribly efficient as she lead us through the streets to the TCRC building while describing to us the game plan for the following days. Her eyes sparkled with a kind of confidence that you rarely see, anywhere. While walking to the centre, I asked if she was married, and she shrugged, saying “no, it’s complicated”. She was close to 40, which is well past marrying age in Kurdistan, but she explained that it was difficult to commit to someone that was open enough to accept her independent lifestyle, and who also would be “approved” by her brothers and father, who rigorously investigated would be suitors.
We were to introduced to the director, *Kak Saman, served water (in these strange little peel apart soft plastic cups, which was always embarrassing, as we learned how to open them and drink from the squared off tops without looking foolish; and of course, tea.
While we sipped our drinks, Kak Saman told us about the history of the centre, and mentioned an Australian physio named Kathy who was in Kurdistan in the early 90’s and who was the visionary for this project. What we realized as we spent time there and especially with the therapists, was that much of what she had kick-started was a certain open minded, clear headed attitude toward rehabilitation, particularly with regard to learning and professional development.
I asked for her email, as I really wanted to contact her, and wondered if she realized what an impact she had made on disability in this country. She responded immediately, grateful for the feedback. It was interesting to see how someone as visionary as she must have been in the early 90’s to have pulled together the strong team that was to become the board of directors for the centre. They consisted of a Paediatrician from the Children’s hospital, whom she had admitted her concerns and asked how they might be able to serve the needs of families with disabilities. From there he invited 3 others to participate. That was the beginning.
They were an Orthopedic surgeon, a Rehab specialist, and a Psychiatrist, (whom I believe are still involved).
As she explained to me, these 4 doctors met with her many times to plan, divide tasks, implement and revise strategies. … “those same 4 faithful Kurdish doctors became known as the CRC Medical Board and they met every 6 -12 months until the CRC was 100% handed over to the Suly Min. of Health in 2003.”
During that 1st 10 years, more than 10,000 children were seen on an ongoing basis at the centre, which was, from its inception an integrated services centre. Kathy had been an advocate of Community Based Rehabilitation and had been influenced by Dr *David Morley, particularly by his book “My name is Today”. And used the books of *David Werner “Where there is no Doctor, and later “Disabled Village Children” as resources and inspiration. And what an inspiration that was!
Currently TCRC have 27 thousand children on their files, from 0-12 yrs old. They have 15 physiotherapists, (1 of whom is a specialist in casting for club feet, and 1 is primarily an instructor), 5 Paediatricians, 1 Orthopaedic consult, 5 prosthetic/orthotic technicians and are the referral centre for 85 outlying clinics and health centres.
Avan Khan, who assists Kak Izzat, deputy of PT Department
Kak Izzat, teaching physiotherapist, who also remembered meeting a university friend of ours, Mary M from Canada.
We visited all the areas and met everyone, and within a few hours our heads were spinning with more questions and more enthusiasm.
Our day ended in the treatment area, spending the last few hours with several PT’s who were very keen to host us and interact with their patients.
Naska(who we nicknamed Naz) then offered to give us a tour, if we didn’t mind a short wait while she did some work at her other job, where she also served as a public relations person for a private company. She drove us through the maze of traffic to a kebap restaurant where we shared a late lunch with Kok Saman. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite “get” the ordering system, and managed, even with the help of Kok Saman and Naska Kahn ended up with double plates of food, which we nearly made ourselves sick eating, pretending to be ravenously hungry and smiling throughout. Honestly, they must have laughed themselves silly afterwards, either ending up believing that Canadians have monstrous appetites, or that we were incredibly stupid. A little of both I suppose.
Naz then drove to her office, and completed her work while we waited in the car, dizzy from the intense day we’d spent, but anticipating a short tour before we got back to our hotel to rest.
Naz’s no nonsense, second-hand car, which she told us her brothers had found for her.
After finishing up her work, we stopped by her home, where we were joined by her sister and drove into the countryside. Naz’s mother insisted that we return there after our drive for dinner (which we later heard from Naz that she had gone ahead and prepared a Kurdish feast that the family enjoyed nevertheless, on the odd chance that we might change our minds), but we just couldn’t, though we would have loved to. We drove and drove around the hills surrounding Suly… Naz stopped the car once, and ran inside, where she bought apples and ice creams, and a knife! We had an impromptu ice cream picnic while she peeled our apples and fed us, and after hiking around a little, we relaxed on a grassy hillside.
Views of Suly foothills from a few angles:
The shop where Naz bought apples, a knife to peel them, and ice cream cakes and bars
Needless to say, by the time the sun was setting, both Jan and I were completely exhausted, but agreed to return to the centre the following day to spend more time with the physios. This really was the first “hands on” opportunity to see and experience the treatment facility, so we were greedy for the experience, we were thrilled to have some hands on with the babes. I suppose it’s a little like a painter, when he sees the tubes of rich colours, or a potter, who is tempted by the smooth alabaster white china clay, we loved spending time with the mothers and their babies, caressing them while checking their balance and strength, and tone….yeah, I guess it’s the thrill of the hunt if you’re a physiotherapist?
The next day, we were up early and made our way, with a few accidental deviations, to the centre. We spent the morning in the treatment area, seeing a wide variety of babies and children and when 2 oclock came, one of the staff gestured for us to join them sitting around a plastic tablecloth on the floor, where there was a large platter of fava beans and dolmas, and two large platters of naan.
Parsley and wild herbs, Airan (a yoghurt drink popular in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran)…the photo makes it look “gooey” but it wasn’t!
The bread was passed around, and we all used it as scoops to ladle up the delicious fava/dolma mixture. The favas were steamed, with onions and spices in their shells? I’d never seen this done. But afterwards I have vowed that I’ll never toss the shells again, and have since done a less than perfect version of this dish in my tiny flat in Sicily!
The dolmas were grape leaves, made into small square packets, stuffed with rice, yoghurt, and spices, then put into the fava pot, which had sautéed onions and garlic, and already partially steamed favas, and all steamed together for more than an hour (I think?). Several of the mothers and their children came over to join us, and it was a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere, sitting around chatting and smiling and sharing food together. With great sadness, we bid our hosts farewell, and hoped to be able to come back and see them again, another time.
*Kak (M) and Kahn (F) are the respectful prefixes for men and women…I suppose it is similar to Sir/Madame, though I was so busy with other information, I never really got it clarified thoroughly.
*With regard to the photos in this blog, we did ask permission from everyone, especially the parents, but in Kurdistan there doesn’t seem to be as much emphasis on patient confidentiality and legal issues as in N.America, so thankfully I’ve included photos that I don’t actually have written permission to print.