As I cross the big water to Kurdistan, I leave an America assessing the ramifications of the Universal Healthcare ruling passed yesterday. If the markets are any indication, the money is betting on optimism. I am optimistic, as well, but under no illusion that a day means anything. Only time will tell.
When I arrive in Erbil, I will be greeted by, among others, my driver to Duhok, as well my friend Dr. Omar (who I blogged about during my 2010 visit). Besides being happy to see him, I will be pleased to deliver his new Kindle. Since Iraq has no banking system, and thus no credit card options, it is impossible to order even the simplest of items via the internet. The problem becomes even more complicated by the lack of a reliable postal system (I am told a fair number of items are mistakenly delivered to neighboring Iran. As long as I am not delivered there, I am cool…but Omar offers only laughing assurances on that matter).
Omar was up until recently unsure of his ability to meet me at the airport, as his job at the hospital has been exceptionally demanding of late, since most of the doctors in Erbil have been on strike. Omar chose to stay on the job, however. He works in the infant critical are unit, and as he explained, “if I don’t show up, the little ones will die.” The situation has me wondering how many other folks are suffering without doctors there, and trying to imagine how much worse things might have to be before others in his profession follow Omar’s lead. He isn’t working from a government mandate, but rather from a conscience. For some reason, his dedication reminds me of something my father said to me on more than one occasion, and something he communicated to his friends via a lifetime of actions: “Leave each place better off than you found it” (and those few that may have read my Facebook quotes may recall seeing that little gem). In reality, Grandfather emphasized the ideal to my father (I even recall “Popo” attempting to instill it into me directly, though I think in a vain attempt to get me to clean my room).
And speaking of Facebook…mine changed this year.
I am not talking about the switch to “The Timeline,” which I am still convinced Facebook deceptively trapped me into (I was under the impression that I could switch back if I clicked on the “try it” button. TRY IT, they said). No…I am talking about my “newsfeed.”
Yours may look something like this:
Mine looks like:
Pile of bloody dead bodies
Video of child sitting on a table with his jaw blown off.
Of course, most of the unpleasantness (of this scale, anyway) comes from Syria. They want me to see. They want US to see. And the video of the child — probably 12 or so years old, sitting up on a table with everything from below his nose to his adam’s apple removed by an artillery blast in Homs — brought it home to me (I was told he lived two whole days with the condition).
I can tell you that watching something like that makes a difficult transition in turning away from the computer to teach a piano lesson. He could have been one of my students.
Amjad Dabi is one of my students, and this year I raised the tuition money for him to leave Syria to come study with me in Lebanon during our planned summer YES academy (Thank You, Susan). But with the spill over of unrest from Syria into Lebanon, American Voices finally had to cancel the program there (at least as it stands at the moment). A week ago, a live chat with Amjad on Facebook revealed his disappointment, even as two large explosions near his home in Damascus interrupted our conversation.
But during this year, there was one constant during my correspondence with Amjad and my other Syrian friends… my students in Iraq, Lebanon, and even Jordan…and regardless of their circumstances:
So, for the third year in a row I am heading back to a region that is divided and unstable (Though Kurdistan itself is quite stable at the moment). I have been asked a thousand times why I am going, and I am not always sure I can give a concise answer. Is it simply to put something interesting on a resume, or an attempt to bolster my visibility at my University? Is it to engage the most eager body of students I have ever met, or to try recruit top talent to Baylor (One of my fine Lebanese students pieced together a full scholarship for next year, but his circumstances will now forbid him from using it). Or, can I just claim “the greater good?” My guess is that all of these things come into play to some degree, and then some. Ultimately, what I would like to believe is that it is an attempt to follow my father’s mandate, the way some view the mandate passed this week in America, and the mandate Omar has chosen for himself.
“Leave each place better off than you found it.”