Friday, January 9, 2015

Travels of 2014: Kurdistan, Part 2

November - Iraq: Day One Continued

It is Saturday afternoon and I am halfway across the world from my family, my home, and my country. It is a beautiful, sunny day, and while tired and still dealing with vertigo if I stay still for too long, I'm excited to go to the hospital and meet people and feel this new city, this new place, beneath my feet. 

"Baeyani bash!" I tell the clerk at the front desk. "Good morning" in Sorani Kurdish, which I had devoted some time to learning before the trip (made easy because I have a Kurdish classmate and a Kurdish coworker). Some of the others found a bread shop down the street, and the workers were kind enough to give them five loaves for free because they hadn't had a chance to convert their Turkish currency, and the bills they had were very large. Flatbread with some cheese that Anita brought in her luggage is breakfast, then the KSC drivers who picked us up only hours before pulled up in front of the hotel to take us to the hospital. There are two hospitals across the street from each other -- one is a children's hospital and the other is for all ages and where our doctors will perform catheterizations later on in the week. 

We walk up two flights of stairs, the walls decorated with faded images of childhood icons like Spongebob and Minnie Mouse, and are shown an office at the end of the hall where Dr. Kirk and the others are going to do screenings for the rest of the day. The hall outside isn't exactly bare, but the florescent lights sap a bit of cheer from linoleum-floored space. Dr. Kirk, Allison, and Anita  get set up in the office, and I go out with Jeff and Renas to run a few errands in town. I snap a photo of the street and get more of my U.S. cash converted to the Iraqi dinar.  

I've brought my violin, and when we get back to the hospital, the 3rd floor hall is full with families. Some will wait for hours - practically the whole day, in fact. I stand next to the wall at the end of a row of chairs, take out my violin, and play a few songs that I know well. After a while I catch the eye of a little girl who's watching me, and I hold out my violin to her. It is incredibly difficult trying to demonstrate how to play a very technical instrument without speaking the language, but I try, eventually poking my head into the screening room for some translation help.

"Betchenago shanebikra" I say, gesturing with my hand. "Hold it with your chin and shoulder." She eeks out a note and I grin excitedly and say "Bash! Zohr jwan!" enthusiastically, as I've done so often before when I've let kids try out my instrument, only I've never told them it's good and sounds beautiful in Kurdish before. 

Pretty soon there's a small line of children, and I pass my violin around. It's likely the first time they've ever seen let alone played a violin, and I feel like a celebrity as the parents have us pose for picture after picture. Later on while I was playing, some of the parents even recorded some video on their smartphone or tablet. (Something else that surprised and amused me: nigh everyone had such advanced technology -- more advanced than my four year old phone and six, or more, year old laptop. It was something I hadn't expected.)

When there is a English and Kurdish speaking person around, I leap at the opportunity to converse and shamelessly use them as translator as I mingle and try to get to know the many families waiting in that hallway. By now the hall is filled with colorful balloon animals and hats courtesy of Tim, our balloonologist, and we have to keep a sharp eye out for the rainbow-colored soft plastic soccer ball that Jeff purchased and is kicking around with the children. What could be a hushed and painfully boring place looks more like a child's birthday party. 

The day ends around 6pm if my memory serves; we are driven back to the hotel and have some down time before we meet on the top floor for dinner.

This hotel restaurant provided the greatest unanswered question of the trip. 

On the back wall there was a large TV screen, and as we talked, conversation gradually continued to drift to the subjects on the screen. I shall endeavor to describe: there was a bright green stage and backdrop and there was an Muslim man standing in a corner singing or chanting. There were also two women completely covered in black robes -- couldn't even see their faces, with a bright green headband that went around. They were bowing or doing some sort of dance. At some point of the headbands got taken off. We persisted in speculating, though our only conclusion was, "It's unclear." We asked one of the restaurant staff what was going on, but he didn't understand us and our gesturing to the TV, as was made clear when he changed the channel and instead of dancing black-robed women we were treated to an elephant with a paintbrush painting on an easel in the African savannah. 

I guess we'll never know. 


Lorraine said...

Goodness, I love your blog. Why haven't I found it before now?

Thank you for sharing.

Lorraine from The Content Panda Bear

Adelaide Thompson said...

*cries all over you*

You are so amazing, and God is so good. Children and a violin...the makings of the best of stories.


Liz Hericks said...


Hannah Joy said...

Okay, I got teared up at the violin part. THAT IS SO STINKIN CUTE, GIRL. Wow. Yeah, made my day. Keep writing these posts!