Monday, August 18, 2008

It’s a Different Country…Really

Yesterday afternoon I took a direct flight from Vienna, Austria to Erbil, Northern Iraq. You might not have thought that was possible, but it is. It’s quite an easy flight too, only 3.5 hours! So I was a bit nervous coming here, I even lied to my mom, which by the way I have massive guilt about – sorry mom – but really it’s quite safe, calm, friendly, and very fascinating!

These first few days I am staying in Erbil, which is the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region, which is virtually a separate country from Iraq. It has its own government, language and culture. It is really very different from Arab Iraq, and much much safer. Never the less, I am following my works’ security policies very closely. IRD has a road in a neighborhood that is pretty much all IRD all the time. All three of our programs running in Northern Iraq and nearby areas are housed on this street. We have local security guards at the end of the roads and a British security contractor, named Paul, who is my full time bodyguard! I feel like a celebrity! He's very very nice and I feel quite safe with him!

So I am here to add a 4th program to the collection on this street. My new program is called the Iraq Mental Health Initiative (IMHI). It is a Department of State and US Embassy Baghdad funded program to strengthen the mental health services of Iraq, at the academic, primary health care, and community levels. It is really quite interesting. I’m traveling with a professor/psychiatrist from George Washington University who is well known in these parts. He is Iranian American and has worked here before so he has a lot of great contacts.

This morning we started off strong with a meeting with the Minister of Health for Kurdistan. He’s a lovely guy and very supportive of our program.

From left to right: Dr. Saman from Erbil University, Dr. Amir Afkhami from GWU, His Excellency the Minister of Health of Kurdistan, me, Hameed Kareem the COP for IRD's Humanitarian Action for Iraq Program
After that meeting we met up with an old colleague of Amir and went to the Erbil Emergency Psychiatric Hospital. It’s a new building within the Erbil Hospital and should be quite nice when completed – compared to the history of putting mental health patients in jail in the past.

Erbil is a fascinating city, one of the longest inhabited cities in the world. I haven’t had a chance to explore much yet, but will hopefully be able to soon! We will trave North West to Dohuk and South East to Sulaymaniya over the next two weeks. Lot’s more to come!

1 comment:

Leslie said...

NICE SIS! Thanks for the update! Love, MOM