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November/December 2004

Discover more articles from this issue.

Voting as a Matter of Faith

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, ushered religion into the center of American politics. In the three years since, President George W. Bush...

Bishop to Knight?—Checkmate or Camelot?

Eugene Kennedy recalls the New York parish of his childhood, a place where men well-known as gangland bosses walked the streets. Not once, said the man...

When 2 + 2 = 5

In Gulliver's Travels Jonathan Swift wrote about the long war between "the two great empires of Lilliput and Blefuscu" over which end of an egg should be...

Iraq Diary

As we drove through the Iraqi countryside, I sat in the backseat of the SUV looking out the window in amazement at the pastoral scenes passing before me....

I’m Personally Opposed… But

In 2003 the soon-to-be-terminated governor of California, Gray Davis, was warned by his local bishop that the governor's boast of making California...

A Complex Relationship

By Mario M. Cuomo, Harold Holzer, historical consultant, Harcourt, 183 pp., $24.00 Reviewed by Charles J. Eusey. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as...

Churches and the Siren Call of Politics

The Evangelical church in America is in real danger today. As if the effort to save people's souls weren't enough to deal with, today's church must...

Faith in Politics

Henry David Thoreau once remarked on the "great flapping ear" of the American public wanting to know everything about everything. And, in spite of the...

Magazine Archive »

Published in the November/December 2004 Magazine
by Brenda Maldonado


As we drove through the Iraqi countryside, I sat in the backseat of the SUV looking out the window in amazement at the pastoral scenes passing before me. With my teammates, Otto and Deanna, I had just crossed from the Turkish border into what is known as the Kurdistan area of Iraq. We were a group of three American nurse educators who had come to teach Kurdish nurses more specialized care. I was curious to see what the hospitals were like there, and the level of nursing skill. I wanted to know what it was like to be a woman living in a Muslim country. And as a Christian, I was also very interested in attitude toward religions other than Islam. There were so many questions in my head, but I was able to enjoy the unexpected beauty of this very war-torn country.

The rolling green foothills were dotted with occasional fields of wheat and barley and an occasional settlement here and there. Behind the hills sharp, rugged mountains pierced the sky. It was hard to imagine that just three hours to the south of us in Kirkuk, soldiers were still exchanging gunfire with insurgents. A war continued to rage on in other parts of Iraq. Out my window were flocks of sheep and goats being tended by a lonely herder in fields of green.

Our final destination was the city of Suleymaniyah, a city of about 900,000 people nestled in a valley just a couple hours' drive from the Iran border. Suleymaniyah is a bustling city with encouraging signs of progress. Many new buildings are under construction, both commercial and residential. There was a new city park being developed just across the street from our hotel. Every day we would see cars decorated with flowers passing by and honking—inside were newlyweds wearing their wedding finery. In the afternoon the children would be walking home in small groups all wearing their school uniforms. Everyone seemed to be carrying a cell phone.

The first morning of class we were each driven to our assigned hospitals. Otto was dropped off at the critical care hospital, Deanna at the pediatric hospital, and I at the maternity hospital. At first glance the hospital buildings appeared very nice, definitely not indicative of a developing country. However, when you go beyond the superficial, there is a glaring discrepancy between the physical atmosphere and the quality of health care. Many patients die daily in Iraq from very preventable causes. The high mortality rate is partly because of an inability to obtain very common medications and blood products, lack of functioning equipment and the knowledge of how to use it, and poor access to current educational materials and training. Interestingly enough, the reasons I just mentioned are all the result of an even larger problem, and that is the lack of a good organizational structure. We were told by several that there is plenty of money for things needed, but there is just no process or plan for how to obtain monies or materials.

One of the first things that I did was to evaluate at what level the nurses practiced. I discovered that the nurses, even though they go through three years of training, are not allowed to take vital signs or to do nursing assessments. They do not have any background in anatomy and physiology, but are then expected to perform highly specialized skills such as delivering babies, inserting chest tubes, and intubating patients for anesthesia. Nurses, prior to being trained by us, did not perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation. They would call for a doctor to come if a patient was unresponsive, and then watch the physician perform CPR. There were so many things that needed to be addressed that we just had to start from square one and cover many of the basics with these "experienced" nurses.

Throughout my four weeks there I was able to enjoy many positive interactions with my interpreter and nursing students. I taught maternity care at the only maternity hospital in the city. My interpreter, Dr. Mariam Baker, was a young progressive woman. She spoke very good English and had a passion for learning and teaching. As we got to know each other better, Dr. Mariam began to share with me the different intricacies of the Kurdish culture. She also shared with me old wives' tales and would laugh because some people still put a lot of stock in them.

I learned of female circumcision still practiced out in the more isolated villages. I also learned that parents would bring in a daughter after a fall off of a bike or a car accident to have the doctors verify that the girl's hymen was still intact, and request a formal document stating the fact. This was to ensure that their daughter would still be acceptable for marriage. Dr. Mariam shared with me that on several occasions she had lied when a young woman had been brought in prior to her wedding to be examined, so that the bride would not be rejected by her fianc

Author: Brenda Maldonado

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