Wednesday, February 25, 2009

a letter of love to psychiatry

Students of medical college asked me early this morning about why "I" consider anxiety as a disease. It took me some time to talk about the concept of disease, disorder, illness, pathology, suffering, cost-benefit balance of treatment, and quality of life. I asked them if they consider a "fracture in the leg due to car accident" as a disease. I asked them whether they think "pregnancy" is a disease. Should we call a man with a fractured leg as "patient"? Should we call a pregnant lady a "patient"? And what is disease after all? Can you define it?

Anyway I am sensitive these days from those who are skeptical about psychiatry. I don't feel respected in my daily life. I saw a specialist in ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) from Hilla today and I like him very much. He likes me very much too. We kissed each others like we usually do in Iraq and started talking about some shared memories. He asked me before we departed:

- Are you STILL with psychiatry?
- …..? with?
- Didn't change … I mean…. Still sure that you want to be a psychiatrist?
- Well, what to do else? I like it.
- God may help you my friend and make success in your way always.
- Thank you dear, same for you. Byebye.
- Byebye.
Soooo he is kind but, like them, what is wrong?

In that small room he said to his companion with a loud voice as if trying to see what would be my comment: "our thesis in psychiatry is just nonsense, do you believe that someone can really work and do a thesis? Just lies". They laughed anxiously while looking at me. I smiled to them and went out to the outpatient clinic.

A teenage with obsessive compulsive disorder was waiting me in the outpatient clinic. He astonished me by his knowledge of his disorder and he told me that he chat online with a psychiatrist from the USA. He told me that he reads websites talking about obsessive compulsive disorder. Dealing with him made me realize that I am not in a world of ignorant.
After him came three clients, one after the other, all having social phobia, all were university graduates and very clever.
Then a lady from a rural area, no schooling, with marked psychomotor retardation, anhedonia, insomnia, early morning awakening and history of resistant depression came alone. She was enough insightful to say: "I really don't want to come to you doctor, but I got to force myself, cause when the episode will go away I would think this is what I should have been done, coming to you". I asked her about whether she finds life worthy. She told me about her suicidal attempts and showed me her previous wrist and neck wounds. I told her she must be treated inside hospital for few days maybe. She asked me to consult her family and that she will come on the next days.
A lady with a card written on it: "paranoid schizophrenia on zyprexa 10mg/day" came to ask me about zyprexa. She said: "I don't want to go back thinking those strange ideas doctor, I have hurt my daughters enough on the last episode, I want to continue on zyprexa, is this dangerous? Is zyprexa addictive?"

The last client was a small family. Father, mother and her, the most beautiful princess with hearing difficulty and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She turned the room upside down on our heads. She wrote me a letter and drew me a painting.

When they went I felt I am much better and that I like my profession no matter what. Those people I saw today in the outpatient clinic know about psychiatry more, and respect psychiatry more than medical students, ENT specialist, and some other doctors. It is for their sake, and for my sake, that I will continue enjoying studying and practicing psychiatry. Those ideas were coming in my head while I was preparing to go out of the outpatient clinic. The king, father of the princess came to me with the princess who was frowning at her father who said: "please doctor, can you write something for her, I mean anything in a white paper, I am sorry but she wants to take the prescription paper you already wrote and she might tear it, can you just give her a paper with anything written on so that she stop her temper?".
"sure" I said and took a white paper and wrote something like her lines on it and gave it to her. She smiled and hold it up in the sky and yelled at her father: "hay hay!!". Her father kept saying "sorry doctor" and I kept saying "it is ok" we smiled to each other and went out.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ya Zina (=Hey Beauty)

يا زينة ديري لا تاي
ديري لا تاي ومنل قابسة للبراد
يا زينة ريبي للواد
ريبي للواد وجيبي نعناع جديد

Ya Zina make the tea
Make the tea, from the sauce pan to the tea pot
Ya zina go to the river
Go to the river, and bring fresh menthol

I have finished my thesis yesterday and spent the rest of the night watching a film of Maryl Streep and Clint Eastwood named "Bridges of Madison County". This evening I decided that I should take a rest. I opened the youtube and found myself typing "Raina Rai Ya Zina" and hearing that song from the 80s of Algeria.

يا زينة مانيش عليك
مانيش عليك لاخرودوني عينيك
يا زينة كولي واه
ولا لالا ولا تكطيني للياس

Ya zina am not speaking on you
Speaking 'bout you, your eyes have perturbed me
Ya zina tell me yes
Or no no, or cut my hope

Algerian coast in the 80s witnessed one of my earliest discoveries of my body. I saw my extended family for the first time in swimming dresses making some conversation with the sea. I preferred to run like a young wild horse till the sun said goodbye. "Bronzage", said in a French accent, made my old uncle saying: "your color now is so beautiful my boy". It was very rare that he talk to me. His compliment made me feel so happy. One month of happiness ended heralding the return to Baghdad while my mom's tears are in her cheeks while the taxi driver was driving fast next to the sea taking us to the airport. My eyes, not used to see my mother's tears, started pleasing them to stop that silent crying.

يا زينة عينيك كبار
عينيك كبار يدخلو المحنة للدار
يا زينة والزين الزين
والزين الزين وساكن سيدي ياسين

Ya zina your eyes are big
Your eyes are big bringing the ordeal to the home
Ya zina the beauty the beauty
And the beauty the beauty living in Sidi Yaseen

يا زينة والفن والراي
والفن والراي وخارج من بلعباس
يا زينة راني مهموم
راني مهموم منك ماجاني نوم

Ya zina & art & rai
And art and rai coming from Bil Abbas
Ya zina I am concerned
I am concerned, because of you no sleep came to me

Sahara treated my insomnia (March 2005)
Insomnia attacked me on Algeria in 2005 while I was searching for a job and not finding any. I thought I am a tuff guy till I chose one day to visit a psychiatrist. She was a lady psychiatrist. I cried a lot like I never did since long years. She was very helpful. After visiting her I took my Amytriptiline and went to Bou Sa'ada to start searching for a job there. Bou Sa'ada is also called the gate of Sahara because it lies at the start of Sahara. I started sleeping so well there but I found no job during a period of one month. On the night I chose to return to Iraq a Bou Sa'adian family invited me for dinner.
Before we started to eat an old lady entered the room where we were sitting. She stretched her hand to me. She seemed she wanted to shake hands. I put my hand in her hand. She started to take my hand toward her mouth…. And then… I wanted to take my hands back but I thought it would be in appropriate… she kissed my hand… !!! God what to do. I thought for a long second then decided that I should kiss her hand… I took her hand to my lips and kissed them. You know what she did? She took my hand again and kissed it!!!! I took again her hand and kissed it. I am not sure now that we did that a third time but I am sure that the people around us were surprised by this strange greeting of our invention, me and the old lady whom I didn't see before. We were smiling wide to each other when she went inside the house. People decided not to comment on this perplexing incident while I was really feeling more relaxed and more secure. We ate that Bou Sa'adian dish with resonant gusto.

يا زينة كولي لباك
كولي لباك راه القلب رضاك
يا زينة كولي ليماك
كولي ليماك وراه الحب براك

Ya zina tell your dad
Tell your dad that the heart is willing for you
Ya zina tell your mom
Tell your mom that love had healed you

يا زينة ما نيش عليك
ما نيش عليك وراني عل روميات
يا زينة كوليلي واه
ولة لالا ولة تكطعيني لليآس

Ya zina I am not speaking on you
'bout you, I am about the western women
Ya zina tell me yes
Or no no or put an end to my hope

To Baghdad with her tears on my cheeks (April 2005)
I reached Alger. I went to tell my mom that I will go back. I could not bear the weight of her tears. I went out to central Alger. I bought 2 books of Rachid Bou Jidra. I walked in Didoush Murad street. I walked in Bab El Wad. I bought a ticket to Amman/Jordan from the Algerian Airway. I took a taxi late in the evening back home. I took my Amitriptyline and Bromazepam prescribed by that Algerian female psychiatrist two months ago. I slept like statues do. I woke up. I went to kiss her goodbye. She was in her bed, under her blanket silently crying. While her tears were on my cheeks I went back to Iraq.

كي راني ولة مهموم
في هذي كحلة لعيون
نجمة النجوم
كي راني لة مغروم
يا زينة

I am concerned
In this black eyed woman
Star of the stars
I am in love
Ya zina

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Ruins

"My heart, don't ask where the love has gone
It was a citadel of my imagination that has collapsed
Water me and let me drink of its ruins
And tell the story on my behalf as long as the tears flow
Tell how that love became past news
And became a matter of the subject of pain"

Um Kalthum. You know her? You should my friend. Here she is.

"I haven't forgotten you And you seduced me
with a sweetly-calling and tender tongue

And a hand extending towards me
like a hand stretched out through the waves
to a drowning person

And a light searching for a wanderer

But where is that light in your eyes?"

She is Egyptian. She sings in an Egyptian Arabic accent. She refused to sing in any other accent when visiting Arab countries like other singers do. She only sang in Egyptian accent. She never sang a song of somebody else. She only sang her songs. She made an exception. Only one exception as far as I know, and that was in the 1930s when she visited Baghdad. She heard Salima Murad singing "your heart is a boulder rock" in Al Hilal (=crescent) cabaret. Um Kalthum sang Salima Murad's song on the next night in that same cabaret. Salima Basha went angry, while Ma'arouf Al Rusafi calmed down her saying: "you give us your song like serving a fatty ox meat meal, while Um Kalthoum presents it like a Gazelle meat dish, don't worry my dear". I don't know if Salima Basha liked what Al Rusafi said, but it seems it calmed her down a little.

"My darling, I visited your nest one day
bird of desire singing my pain

You've become self-important, spoiled and capricious
And you inflict harm like a powerful tyrant
And my longing for you cauterized my ribs (soul or insides)
And the moments were embers in my blood"

Salima Murad was born in Baghdad in 1905. She was a famous singer and she was the protagonist in the Iraqi film "Alia and Isam" in 1946. In spite of being a Jew, Salima Murad Basha stayed living in Baghdad till she died in the first of January 1974. She was very respectful. She brought respect to female singers. Females singers were seen, and still seen, in Arabic countries as prostitutes in disguise. Salima Murad, Um Kalthoum, Fairouz, and few others brought respect to Arabic female singers and stood tall in theatres all over the Arabic countries.

"Give me my freedom, release my hands
I've given you and did not try to retain anything
Ah, your chains have bloodied my wrists
Why are they still there when I no longer affect you
Why do I keep promises that you do not honor?
I've had it with this prison now that the world is mine"

I was in the minibus when the driver asked me before we go: "this is a novel?".
- Yes, it is about the life of Salima Murad
- Wow, seems interesting.
- Yes, sure it is.
- Naim Kattan?
- Yes he is the writer; he is an Iraqi Jew living in Canada.
- Do you write?
- Not really.
- I write poems, and I study literature in the evening.
- This is great, hope all the success to you.
- Thanks. I like Jerji Zidan. He is Christian. Some consider him as orientalist. Maybe the author of your novel is an orientalist!
- …….
- No, I don't think so. Iraqi Jewish likes Iraq. They are Iraqi. True Iraqis.
- ….. (I smiled)
- …..(he smiled)

When I went out of the bus, he kept looking at me waiting that I greet him. I saluted him. He saluted me smiling. I put my hand on my heart.

"He is far away, my enchanting love

Full of pride, majesty and delicacy

Sure-footed walking like a king
Oppressive beauty and rapacious glory

Redolent of charm like the breeze of the valleys

Pleasant to experience like the night's dreams
I've lost forever the charm of your company that radiated brilliantly

I, wandering in love, a bewildered butterfly, approached you

And between us, desire was a messenger and drinking companion that presented the cup to us"

The novel of "Farida" is said to be about the life of Salima Murad. Her picture is in the cover of the novel. I knew that Nathum Al Ghazalli did marry Salima Basha but this was not clear in the novel. The novel ends in the late 40s while Salima Basha is losing her lover and companion Salim who decided to go to Israel. Novel ends while Salima Basha Murad is alone, totally alone, having a big house, a cabaret, and will have a car and a driver. She was alone, didn't need anyone, but was not sure that she was happy.

"I have had a chance to visit ruins. The first were the ruins of Babylon. As I child, I felt them rarely, it was only later that I realised that they had become an inseparable part of my past, like historical memory, and when I had a chance to see again, in the Berlin Museum, the reconstructed temple to the goddess Ishtar and especially a vase with an inscription in Hebrew, I had a feeling that I was reliving history in the present moment and that my birth was becoming lost in time and that it no longer belonged to me."

From the Speech by Mr Naïm Kattan on the Occasion of the Award of his Honorary Doctorate from the University of Novi Sad

"Had love seen two as intoxicated as us?

So much hope we had built up around us

And we walked in the moonlit path, joy skipping along ahead of us

And we laughed like two children together

And we ran and raced our shadows"

Naïm Kattan was born in 1928 in Baghdad, in Iraq where he completed his elementary and secondary education and where he studied Law. In 1947 he received a scholarship from the French Government to study French Language and Literature at the Sorbonne. He received a doctorate in French Literature. Following that, in 1954, he immigrated to Canada to be one of the most famous writers of Canada and one of its most distinguished professors of literature.

"And we became aware after the euphoria and woke up

If only we did not awaken

Wakefulness ruined the dreams of slumber

The night came and the night became my only friend

And then the light was an omen of the sunrise
And the dawn was towering over like a conflagration

And then the world was as we know it,
with each lover in their own path"

I keep asking myself if there is still a hope that people like Naim Kattan can go back someday to Iraq. For a visit at least. His novel "Farida" reached Baghdad which embraced it and newspapers started to write about it. The welcoming of the novel is not that warm. Many are not finding time to read a novel. But most will listen if you talk to them about this novel. About Salima Murad. About old cabarets of Baghdad.

"Oh sleepless one who slumbers and remembers the promise when you wake up

Know that if a wound begins to recover another wound crops up with the memory

So learn to forget and learn to erase it"

In his speech while receiving the honorary doctorate, Naim Kattan mentioned Um Kalthum's song "Al Atlal (=the Ruins)". And linked it to his memories of his old places. Of Iraq. I went to my neighbor and asked him about this song. He gave it to me after a search that lasted about half an hour. I kept saying: "please don't bother yourself". But he said: "you never asked of Um Kalthum before, I was surprised you ask about her today, I must find her for you".

- Do you know where "Al Hilal Cabaret" was?
- I think in Al Midan sequare in Bab Al Muathem. I got a picture of an old cabaret in Al Midan.
- Is it still working
- Ha ha ha, you make me laugh Sami. Of course not. Look at it. It is forgotten.

"My darling everything is fated

It is not by our hands that we make our misfortune
Perhaps one day our fates will cross when our desire to meet is strong enough
For if one friend denies the other and we meet as strangers
And if each of us follows his or her own way
Don't say it was by our own will

But rather, the will of fate"

He found the song for me at last and I am listening to it since about 5 hours. It is 40 minutes long. Its lyrics were written by a poet called Ibrahim Naji. He was a doctor as far as I know. The lyrics are in the rosy italic font.
At last let us dream that peace will come and stay in Baghdad, in all Iraq, and all people can visit our country, their country, which will regain its charm.

The translation of Um Kalthum's song is taken from this site: