Friday, February 9, 2018

Friday, February 9, 2018
Weather: 12°, icy conditions, sunny

I have the photos, I know I was there, but it is hard to believe that a short week ago I was in Baghdad.
Home has been distracting; too much to do, and accomplishing nothing. This is a somewhat familiar feeling/reaction from previous times away, though those were called vacations. Speaking of vacations, when I went through customs at JFK the agent opened my passport and said "Baghdad? Vacation?" with a tilt of his head and an amused expression. It seems no one visits Baghdad.

Walking the streets with Hasanein and Mazin shows that the face of Baghdad is a tangle, with rubble pushed to the side and trash on the streets. People were curious, friendly, respectful, and never did we fear for our safety. Many people have asked. The markets were active.

Onto this last post. I keep returning to the children and mothers. I wasn't able to assure them with certainty that their children would become well, but I was permitted entrance, with my camera, into the lives they were living on the third floor. It was a peculiar bubble of shared experience for them, in a limbo world, very much outside the normal day to day. I was fortunate to be welcomed into it.

Abdul Aziz, upon hearing good news.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wednesday, January 31, 2018
Weather: 60° and beautiful

Last day.
Almost 1:00 pm here. I thought I would be racing around, but I feel done. The last prints have been made and given out. A generous parent let me experiment with movement photos of her. I took some unsuccessful double exposures. I taped a child crying on the hall. I said goodbye to many of the parents. It's the first time I feel tired. Soon we will have a goodbye lunch with the staff, and then go out for a walk with Mazin. I have not spent a penny.

Photography allowed me to form a relationship (is that what photography is about?) with the mothers. I don't speak Arabic and they don't speak English, yet we all keep on talking to each other and smile and hold hands. Feeling a little emotional.......

Once I get home, I will go through my photos and do a final blog post for Baghdad. I found out the wonderful news this week that I am offered a 2 week art residency at Mesa Verde National Park. I expect to blog there also. I look forward to spending my days outside, instead of under florescents!

One final photo of the office where we worked, and the generous young women known as the 'volunteers' who shared their space and were constantly trying to feed us.


Helen, Dalya (actually a pharmacist), Ban, Noor

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Weather: 60°, perfect, blue skies

I have only one day more here. The mothers ask for photos and I need someone to translate that I can take photos (many photos!), but I will no longer be making prints. I've been making 4x6 prints of the portraits I've taken of the kids for them, and it has given me a bit of a look/connection/affection into their experience on the unit. I break the often sad routine.

The life of the unit in photos:

Iraq plate, with the beautiful Arabic calligraphy

On the wall in the example of the run-down condition of the place

Helen removes the protective plastic from the kick-plates on all the doors. The plastic has been there since the unit opened in this location....8 years ago! To me, it's representative of the shabbiness of the place. It took only about 10 minutes to remove it from all the doors. 

Dr. Hasanein visiting with child and mother

Sleeping boy

Only mothers and caretakers beyond this point! No other visitors on this unit.

The dinner cart

Traditional Iraqi bread

Monday, January 29, 2018

Monday evening, January 29, 2018
Weather: beautiful

Just after I posted this afternoon from the office space Claudia and I have been sharing with the 'volunteers' (4 young women who help out on the unit for a small amount of $$$), and have made it their purpose to keep us well fed, answer our questions and vice versa, and translate when needed. A nurse here only makes about $150.00/week.

I hear crying/screaming from down the hall. A parent has learned that her son is dying and being moved from the ward to a single room. This is what it's like; good news, bad news, quiet, crying, women talking, sometimes laughing, nurses talk. The hall fills with several women in their black abayas and they huddle on the floor around the grieving mother. The unit has an intense limbo feel to it; and the world keeps turning not noticing what occurs on the third floor.

And in a 180° turn-a-round, Mazin picks us up in his car and takes us for a sumptuous late lunch at his home that his wife has prepared. It’s been like this all week. Only 2 more days and I’ve become attached.
Monday, January 29, 2018
Weather: 59°, clear and beautiful

Spotty internet connections in the room I'm staying, and a much more packed schedule than expected has made blogging challenging. And perhaps more so, is that I need to organize my thoughts and decide what to share when there is so much.

Here on the pediatric oncology unit of the Children's Welfare Teaching Hospital, I was able to join Dr. Mazin Al-Jadiry during morning rounds yesterday (Sunday).

The room is shared by 4 patients and their mothers, who each have a cot. Everyone provides their own bedding.

The file system is archaic. The pages of these files are waiting to be scanned....there are 
thousands and thousands of pages over many years.....

....and they're all stored in these battered old locker room type metal cabinets.

The hardest part of being here is photographing and hearing the children in the treatment room. Many cry and weep, and some mothers weep with them. 

In great contrast to the hospital scene, Claudia and I were treated to a day of sight seeing with Drs. Mazin and Hasanein. We walked from the hospital to Mutanabbi St., jam packed with mostly men shopping in the markets. 

It is famous for its book market.

We had fresh squeezed pomegranate juice and....

....visited the famous Shabandar Cafe which was badly bombed during the war, and where we were able to sit for a few minutes.

We ate Lablaby, (chick peas), and then noticed the bucket that the dishes were washed in! 

There are many check points; men on the left, women and children on the right

The Al-Kadhimiya Mosque (double exposure)

and our wonderful hosts Hasanein and Mazin

Friday, January 26, 2018

Friday, January 26, 2018
Weather: 67°, mix of sun and clouds

Looking back to Thursday
The unit where I've been 'living' is one large floor with 4 corridors. Two corridors are dedicated to children with leukemia, two corridors to solid tumors. Dr. Mazin says that about 50% of all Iraqi childhood cancers are dealt with on this unit. Interestingly this is a free and public ward. And the floor just below is private and families pay out of pocket. From what we understand, the care is the same, but on the public ward, only the mothers are permitted in, while the private ward has no restrictions so the dads and families can visit as well. Also, only 2 beds to a room on the private and 4 to a room on the public. Our visit here is focused on the public unit.

I had a kind of breakthrough with the mothers who were reluctant to be photographed. I was making a few small prints and gave one to a parent. I was soon flooded with requests from the mothers who came flocking down the hall with their black Abayas swaying, asking for prints and to come and take more photos. This time I was able to get them to be photographed with their children. 

Please meet a few of the patients here. 

 Everybody and everything out in the hall, including the beds, when a room is being cleaned.


Photographically, these photos, though of sick children, look like the photos I take of any child; a soft expression with eyes right to the camera.