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Lessons from Iraq

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Lessons from Iraq

I just returned from a medical and emergency management conference conference in Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq. As I look back, I am asking myself, what did I learn? I learned that, it is a lot safer than I thought. The other friends from Europe, America and Asia, share this point of view.

My colleague from Belgium puts it, this way “I thought the moment our plane touches down in this city, there will be bombs going off all around us.” One week, later, there is nothing like that at all.

Before sharing what I learned, I can’t help but share an incident that happened. A colleague, a 61 year old lady from Romania fell really ill and needed emergency ambulance.

She was taken to a nearby hospital. The next morning, when I met her, she said her visit to the emergency room went very smoothly. Fortunately, she had come with her husband. It was very helpful. Big lesson was that that Iraqi hospitals are very effective and efficient in handling their patients.

A Lot Safer
Erbil ‘s 1.5 million inhabitants of Erbil, Kurdistan enjoy relative safety and stability. It comes as a heavy price. Literally every major corner of town is manned with police, or armed guards. Thus, they work hard to ensure nobody compromises their safety.

The first night when I arrived at 1 a.m. at night, I was almost slept at the airport- was too scarred to take the taxi or the shuttle. Turns out, I did not need to be concerned. The Shuttle guys was as polite and as helpful as I could get in my own home country of birth.

Very Hospitable
The Kurdish people are very hospitable. They are courteous, and respectful. This comes across in public areas, getting into the airport shuttles, security counters, hotels, markets, malls, monuments and parks.
Though most of them do not speak English, they are quite keen to explain with gestures until you are satisfied. For one week, I learned so many versions of hand gestures and sign language.

Freer Than Expected
During my stay, I saw a lot of women driving cars and quite a number of women without veils. For many years, I thought that Iraq was perhaps one of the centers of Islamic conservative way of life. Little did I expect to see any lady without a head veil. I was dead wrong!

Thus, in essence, it was not any different from other moderate Islamic nations I have visited such as Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and Indonesia.

Each time I said, “Sala mala kum,” someone responded with a smile back and said “Malekum-sala.” I thought to myself, I like this reciprocal rhythm of respect and show of goodwill. Even in my good old Singapore, I do not always get a return “good morning” from someone in the elevator or a simple wave of the hand or acknowledgement when I go jogging and wave at other runners. Most consider me invisible.

Emerging Affluent Society
In Kurdistan is an emerging affluent city. It is very evident from the trendy sport utility vehicles (SUV)s they drive. For over a week, I did not find any signs of street or helpless people. Ice-cream parlours were busy until midnight. Seldom, did I find any terrifying old beat up car like some of those I have not only seen on US movies or on US streets.

I had the impression that they are fine hang out for the affluent. There was no evident presence of societal vices like alcohol, except significant smoking even in public places.

In summary, I can say my key lesson from Iraq, is that our skewed perception of reality often the fruit of fractured and dented media consumption that ruins our ability to look at others with free and fair eyes. Media ‘s views often stigmatises others. If we fail to correct this flawed view of the world, we end up living in fear or fail to give others the benefit of chance.