I’m back, hopefully on a more regular basis. Here are some pictures I took! Go here for more.
Most are from around my city of Portland
And one from Burning Man – Metropolis
I love science; it describes so elegantly the universe around us. I can see why people see it as lists of dry, arcane facts with no real application; but what science describes, allows not only our life, but our enjoyment of it. Physics describes wave motion through gas, which our brains interpret as music, or words. Light activates chemical groups in your eye that allow you to see the world around you, and through billions of years of evolution, biology describes the process by which the entire world lives. The waste you breathe out is used by plants to grow, and every breath we take in is full of vital oxygen because of plants. Our oceans exist as liquid because water is a bent molecule, allowing ice to float instead of sink; preventing a frozen wasteland from forming. There is so much beauty around us, when you stop to really contemplate what is in and around us, a sense of sublime humility washes over. The components that make you up, allow you to think, and feel, have existed always, have been on this earth for billions of years, and for this blink of an eye, you have the opportunity to utilize a wondrously complex make up of chemicals to experience life. To make it better for those around you, to bring joy and beauty into the world. Before our earth was even a molten lump, a star emitted a photon. Every time you look up into the night sky, streams of those photons end their journey as beauty in our minds.
From a series called Symphony of Science
The last month has been unlike any other I’ve lived through. Most of it was fairly mundane, but punctuated by pockets of worry or discomfort. I knew as each moment hit that the pain was passing, and that one foot in front of the other was the best way to pass through. Not sage wisdom, ants know that standing still isn’t the solution to moving from under the magnifying glass.
Then on Thanksgiving Day a call came in that someone very dear to me, Sharron Francisco, was in the hospital, and over the next month a weekly call came that she was back in. She passed December 22 at 1615 surrounded by those who loved her, the closing of a beautiful life. I’ve never sobbed so uncontrollably; or more deservedly. Aside from the unconditional love she radiated to those around her, the greatest gift she gave was demonstrating that against any odds, life is to be lived. At her memorial each picture that came across the screen showed someone who was in love with life itself, and that energy spread to everyone around her. To her life is a gift to be treasured and used, not buried and forgotten about.
Everyone who comes through our life touches us in some way, bumps and nudges our course in varying degrees. Who we are can largely be gleaned from a third-party by the people we surround ourselves with, and anyone she crossed paths with could be judged better for it. At birth reality places a contract, that we achieve life in exchange for death. That someday what we are must give way for something else. I can’t speak for her, but the price we paid in her passing was well worth the benefit gained by knowing her.
The pain of the month is lasting, just as the loss is. However the joy she brought to my life is without question a trade I would make ten thousand fold. Thank you Sharron.
During my first quarter in biology at Portland State University I had the pleasure of working with Mina Meman for an evening during lab. Mina mentioned she was going to be going on a trip to film a documentary in Kurdistan during the summer and how excited she was to be able to do that. A few months later I saw a documentary titled The English Surgeon and it reminded me that Mina was going to travel to Kurdistan to do something very similar; bring the attention of the world to the medically disenfranchised of her home country, namely Kurdistan.
As a short aside, The English Surgeon is a wonderful documentary that will likely inspire you to at least think about doing great things, if not moving you to action out right. It follows Dr. Henry Marsh, an English neurosurgeon who travels to and from Ukraine to help Dr. Igor Kurilets on his mission to improve the lot of the medically deprived in Ukraine.
Enter Mina. I had to get back in touch with her and figure out how she got hooked up with the group she was going with. I found her email and messaged her, hoping to find an organization that I could get in contact with to do something similar. I was floored to learn that there was no organization, or school group. It was Mina, by herself. If you go to the United Nations website and look for Kurdistan in the list of countries of the world, you won’t find it. Kurdistan overlays parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Armenia & Turkey. There is no official boundary demarcating the region, and they are represented across five countries. This makes the medical situation for the people who are Kurdistan, even more dire. Below is the interview I was lucky enough to get from Mina, she can tell the story better than I can.
S: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
M: My name is Mina Saad Meman. I am currently 19 years old. I am from Kurdistan, Iraq. I have lived in America for 13 years, on and off. My father has worked for the U.S. government for almost two decades. We were forced to seek refuge in America because my family was being targeted back home. I speak English and Kurdish fluently, as well as basic German. I am working to strengthen my Spanish and French. I have a strong desire for people, cultures, languages, and dance. I have a lot of faith in our world.
S: So why Kurdistan?
M: I have witnessed and taken part in a struggle that has lasted decades beyond my existence. My entire family has been affected by the Kurdish conflict. Given the deaths, constant wars, and government restrictions on the Kurdish people, I have found constant heartbreak. I figured that I could take from this heartbreak either a negative emotion or transfer that into motivation. I realize that I cannot help the entire conflict, but I can affect the current health system. I am very disappointed in the health system in present-day Kurdistan and I believe they are in desperate need of assistance and transformation.
S: What is the day in the life of an average Kurd citizen like?
M: The average Kurdish citizen. This is such a broad question; there are Kurds that live in villages and Kurds that live in the cities. The roles that women play are drastically different from men and children. The standard varies from city to village. Kurdistan is spread out among the borders of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Due to variable restrictions in each region, no two Kurdish towns can be found to live the same lifestyles.
S: Have you ever been to Kurdistan?
M: I lived in Kurdistan from 1990-1996. I visited again in 1998, as well as in 2004. I was also in Kurdistan recently, up until August 2008.
S: What is your favorite region?
M: My favorite region of Kurdistan is that in which I was born, which is Hawler. All of my family is there and I have many great memories there! My second favorite region of Kurdistan is within the desert land of beautiful Turkey. I had an amazing experience in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on my drive from Dyar Bakr to Hawler; my life can be defined through the food I experience!
S: What specifically do you plan on accomplishing while you are there?
M: My main “short-term” goal is to expose everyone in more developed nations, such as the United States and the UN, to the Kurdish Conflict. I would like to put an emphasis on the lack of medical technology and the poor healthcare system. My goal, again, is to expose…not exploit. I will be filming a documentary to bring back to the United States with me. This documentary will consist of interviews with medical professions, professors, universities, the health board/committee, and the current president of Kurdistan. Meanwhile, I will also be trekking from various hospitals to clinics all throughout the region and volunteering as much as possible.
S: Are there other teams/groups that have done what you are doing? If so what are you doing differently?
M: I am not aware of anyone recording a documentary with this specific focus. Most documentaries on Kurdistan focus on the war-torn victims of the constant genocide that was imposed by Saddam Hussein’s regime. I want to step back from that focus and show a few different angles on the Kurdish struggle; those angles that we can improve today. We can not bring back victims from the attempted genocide, but we can improve the longevity of Kurds, the sanitation in hospitals, the health education systems, and healthcare funding.
S: Who is/are your target audience(s) of your documentary?
M: Anyone and everyone because, as the cliche goes, every single person counts. Everyone’s involvement with this project can make a huge difference. We have power. How we use it is completely up to us.
S: How big is the team you’re taking?
M: This project consists of Me, Myself, and I. I will be attending this region alone for the first time. My father might escort me into the borders. My dear friend Kaity Miller might also accompany me. If she is unable to, she will be assisting me from American University in Washington D.C.
S: Do you anticipate any problems while you’re there?
M: I will prepare for any and every situation. Having the culture and language absorbed naturally, I feel that this will be less difficult than many perceive it to be. However, my biggest concern lies in border-hopping. Again, this is a concern, not a fear. It is worth every bit of the risk.
S: Is this a onetime trip or would you like to make it a repeat trip?
M: This is definitely an ongoing project. I won’t rest until the health systems in Kurdistan have completely transformed.
S: What is the crisis? Specifically, are there especially underprivileged groups? Regions where healthcare is completely unavailable? Out dated technology? Social stigmas surrounding certain diseases?
M: The quality of health education is incredibly weak. We need to introduce updated information through textbooks, e-books, lab work, and progressive technology. The Kurdish people in general are underprivileged. In the smaller villages, healthcare is almost completely absent. The struggle between Kurds and Arabs for Kurdish independence is also a huge factor in this crisis. We need to educate the general public on the basic health and sanitation guidelines that we are so familiar with here. This can prevent a lot of future outbreaks of disease and health crise
S: From a big picture, what other factors are holding the Kurdish healthcare system back?
M: As I mentioned previously, the conflict between the Kurds and Arabs in Iraq and Syria, Kurds and Turks in Turkey, and Kurds and Persians in Iran is a huge factor in this health system crisis.
S: Do you feel, as in other regions, education is a key factor here? In regions of high HIV/AIDS rates, usually education about safe sex practices or needle use are areas that need constant reinforcement.
M: Education is definitely a great factor in this issue. How can we trust doctors if they don’t have efficient information and adequate tools? What kinds of testing can you possibly get if you have such limited technology? As I mentioned before, we need to inform the general Kurdish public on the basics of sanitation within their homes and workplaces that can cause a severe decrease in future outbreaks of disease.
S: Does the Kurdish government have anything in motion to improve the situation such as medical training, nursing training, research?
M: Currently, I have not found any evidence that the government is taking action to improve medical training or research. However, I found many strong proposals made currently by Dr. Goran Zangana in an article published on KurdishAspect.com. He stated that increasing the folic acid levels in the flour that Kurds consume on a daily basis can make a huge difference in encephalopathy, spina bifida and other neural tube defects in labor rooms and maternity hospitals. Furthermore, eliminating lead from the automobile gas is also a huge issue that needs to be addressed. Dr. Zangana states that lead affects the intellectual capacities and cognitive functions of kids and adults. Moreover, the current paper-based data entry system is archaic and won’t sustain the Kurdish population for very long at this rate. Therefore, adopting progressive technology and modern methods in health education and health services would prove to be a huge advantage to the Kurdish people by increasing the speed at which health services are provided, decreasing the incidence of human error, and by providing a platform for research and data analysis.
S: Do you feel like people will be more or less responsive to you being that you are young, traveling from America, and a woman?
M: People will be more responsive. I’m sure some will be very discouraging at the fact that I’m 19 and travelling alone and having ‘unrealistic’ motions. I can respect their opinions but that won’t stop me. As for those who are more responsive because I am a woman…that’s disappointing. Women have been making their mark in history since the beginning of time, and we should be used to it by now. We can not neglect the success and further potential of women’s roles in society any longer. I have no fear of travelling to the Middle East just because I’m a woman or because I’m 19. That mindset would be a complete disadvantage to our society as a whole.
S: How is the healthcare system in Kurdistan run? Is it socialized, pay for service, etc?
M: Pay for service. There is no such thing as health insurance. You need to pay for operations up front, before-hand. If you can’t? The best of luck to you!
S: What’s your favorite food dish there?
M: My favorite food dish is Dorma/Dolma! I also love Kafta and Hummus. Regardless of what the dish is, it always tastes different there! Kurdish food is SO fresh. A plate of rice and salad here vs. a plate of rice and salad in Kurdistan are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum.
S: What made you want to take this trip?
M: I have always been very disappointed in the health system of Kurdistan. What verified my passion-into-action for this trip was Mountains Beyond Mountains, a book by Tracy Kidder on the journey of Doctor Paul J. Farmer. Rather than just putting this book down and feeling intrigued by it all, I decided that I could do it too. Paul Farmer was barely in college when he made his first trek to Haiti. He had practically no money at all. He had a passion and decided to pursue it. I have my passion, and I will pursue it because no one else can do it for me. Also, I cannot neglect the current situation in Haiti and the work of Partners In Health (PIH) to restore medical infrastructure.
S: Why medicine? Why cardiothoracic surgery?
M: I haven’t always wanted to be a doctor, but I have always known that I wanted to heal people. I never knew how I would do this exactly. I love the world of medicine and the power of healing. Believe it or not, my inspiration to become a cardiothoracic surgeon came from a YouTube video. This was in the summer of 2007, right before my senior year in high school. A famous Spanish soccer player, Antonio Puerta, had a cardiac arrest on the field andi n the locker room during a game that was filmed. He seemed so perfectly healthy so I decided to research further into the situation. I found out that he died from arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy/dysplasia (ARVD), which is a heart disease where the fibrous tissue of the right ventricle is replaced by fatty cells, essentially leading to arrhythmias and (perhaps a series) or cardiac arrests. I began to have a never-ending hunger for knowledge about the human heart. I took advantage of every winter and spring break, every book I could get my hands on. I will find the cure for this heart disease once I work with the team at John Hopkins.
S: What else do you do in your life for fun?
M: This is my fun. Isn’t fun considered everything you’re passionate about? I’m truly blessed because my work is my fun. There is never the need to ‘get away’ from work or find an escape; this is my work and my escape. However, I do love to read. What do I love to read? EVERYTHING. My goal in high school used to be to read every book in the library. After doing the math, I was sad to realize it would take me decades of insomnia.
S: Do you think you’ll write a book about your experience?
M: I have written many books. I will write a book documenting this experience as well. I am not sure if I will move forward with publishing.
S: Is there anything you’d like to say?
M: Thank you very much for this interview, it was a pleasure. =)
If you are looking for more information on the Journey to Heal Kurdistan, please feel free to expand your knowledge and ask questions through any of the following sites:
or email her at email@example.com!
One chance, its all we get here. I keep seeing people here who either did, or didn’t take theirs; the warning should be noted.
In a previous post I spread the good word about Penny Arcades triumphant specialty pieces. My favorite of the trio: Automata, returns with what is so far a truly pleasurable visual experience. The characters are well designed, the atmosphere top notch. That’s all I will say about it, and if you so choose you can experience it for yourself. If you didn’t get a chance to read the first in the series, grab a look here before continuing on. Also, the authors thoughts on the whole thing can be found here.
I need to pay a belated tribute to something that strikes a chord in my soul. For anyone familiar with Penny Arcade, they recently presented a near holy trinity of graphic novel panels; while the first and the last were skillfuly assembled in terms of flow, unique style & dynamic vernacular, the middle, neigh the nonpareil, absolutely hit home with me. Thanks guys.
I wrote this a few years back in college. Just posting it here so that its somewhere other than an unreliable hard drive.
She sat there waiting for me, lovingly watching me walk in, I threw my bags down, tired and drained. Cheeks expelling a rush of air, and with it a bit of the stress that is pulsing in me waiting to pop from my chest like some alien spawn.
She was quiet, waiting. Serene and peaceful. Untouched by my whirlwind life.
I rolled over after a few moments, looked in her direction, and right through her. I’m sure somewhere I saw her, and saw the pain the flashed over her face before being swallowed up by her stoic facade. I reached past her, grabbed a bottle of golden forgetting and poured a memory away in a glass. Some of the caustic liquid sloshing out over the edges and adding to the stains on my grandfathers old oak desk. A monument to his years of hard work, and my years of anguish.
Still she watched. No judgement passed, only sadness as a tear mixed with the whiskey on her face, dancing down till it dropped off into space.
I threw back my head, face clenching and the fire burning down, down, down into the my stomach, and down, down, down I went, further into the nest of oblivion I had spent years weaving myself. From somewhere in my cradle I spied her, sitting there alone, waiting. She would wait for me forever, waiting for me to crawl back out, and waiting for me to slide back down. Waiting for me to scream into the night my loneliness, and waiting for me to blame all my anguish on her. But she would wait.
Hours passed, and when I came around someone had emptied the bottle, a small lake gathering, and settling into the wood of the desk, tracing along the timeworn top until it found a place of rest. How I envied it; to rest. It was probably her, she did it while I slept. But I stumbled past her to the bathroom, tossing the empty bottle into the garbage can, the sound of glass breaking glass and small shards exploding against my arm. A profound sense of relief assailed me and swooning I caught myself against the wall. In my inebriated state I almost allowed myself to drift off again but stopped, re-zipped my fly and stared into the grime mirror at my face. Was that me? I looked nothing like the young man on the wall… he looked happy, with promise in his future. Must be the shit on the mirror, that couldn’t be me. I stumbled back into my room and pulled the curtains, beams of light fought heroically into my dingy room through moats of dust and into forgotten corners. The sun was rising.
With the master of the waking world rose my hope, tears streaming down my face, cutting into the layers of sweat and filth, I swung open the windows, tearing cobwebs away and letting fresh rain cleansed air into the room, its cool body spilling downward while the heat of my personal hell roiled up and out, startling a bird sitting on the line above my window. Ugh… I think I smell burning feathers… What was that sound? Oh, the rain had started again, but it felt nice to even be near it. It felt… what was that word? It felt clean. I turned around, I had forgotten she was even in here with me. She was still crying, or was that rainwater that had gotten in through the open windows? Maybe… warmth? What was that? My arm was warm, brushing off the water with my hand it crossed my mind that the rainwater was likely cold, and then when my hand left a red mark on the strangely white paper laying on the desk i looked down to see my arm was bleeding. My blood, thinned by the whiskey had finally escaped the body I could not. The cuts weren’t bad, just little scratches from pieces of the glass that had skated across my forearm when the bottles collided, and exploded. It was a lot like my life and reality, a collision course, and it would be my blood left in a dark stain on this road. Still she watched. Why was she always watching, was… what was her name again? I forget. Its so cloudy in my mind, maybe some more fresh air. Tendrils of it pulled me forward in my still drunken haze, and I leaned out the window breathing it in, enjoying the scent of flowers from my neighbors window box mixing with the rain still falling. Mmmm… breath it in, life, vitality. My head started to clear, and I remembered her face, on the desk, watching me. Yes, that loving face, she who waited for me.
Another breath in, and out. The footsteps of life. Lean out more, and soak up the fresh, sweat and grime memories, my skin singing and wet, strands of unkempt hair hanging down onto my cheeks. Soon the rain kicked up and started pouring down, I didn’t care, the fresh water freezing me and cleansing me, covering my whole body, filling my work boots and trickling onto the wood floor, pooling around my feet.
Its strange how someone you care about so much, the very reason you live, can fade into a memory, a presence barely felt, but never gone. What was her name?
*Slip* I was flying, this is what that bird felt, with its singed tail, flying up into the rejuvenating rain. I passed a window now, its warm golden glow illuminating a family around a fire, the remnants of a breakfast sitting on the table in the background, laughing and enjoying the moment. A couple sleeping in each others arms, not yet aware of the sun creeping up over the rooftops, and the stranger partaking of a moment with them.
Not even the sound of the rain passing, because the same drops and I had been companions for three stories now. Looking ahead I saw an empty street, not a soul in sight, no vehicles, not even a cat walked its lonely stretch. Just me, and the rain, and her. Tears mixed with rain, and both pooled on the desk with the whiskey, the blood, the history. Mixing, becoming, her, and him.
I at last was at home, and home is rushing up to meet me with open arms. It first kissed me on the forehead, breaking years of secrets open, my mind is free. The fog was cleared. Next it embraces my body, holding me close and not letting go, taking the stress from my chest, freeing it in a torrent. Freedom. As I lay here, slipping into the deepest sleep I had ever encountered, glancing up I see a form walking toward me, is it her? Did she finally move from her perch, to come to me? But the feet were bare. It couldn’t be her, she always wore her shoes. Stained and dirty, with holes in them, covered in the character life brings all its children. Something trailing behind the form, shimmering on the pavement, it seemed to surround me too, is it blood? Whatever it was, it has the warmth I crave. It saturates and cradles my tired form. The feet came closer, and stopped not a pace from my face. I want to look up, but can’t summon the energy, so I groan a quiet hello. “Hello,” the voice said, it was deep, and caring. the feet were covered in grime too, I couldn’t even see his skin for the dirt. Probably a homeless guy coming to collect from those who slumber. But he was hurt, how could he stand? Fresh wounds marred his feet. I felt a hand brush my hair from my face, and his eyes came level with mine. I remember nothing else past that point other than peace.
I really was home, maybe she’ll find me here.
While driving today I chanced upon a news segment on a local radio station that was reporting a strange malady of a lady in England. Since birth she has had abnormal growth of the tissue in her lower extremities. The correct term for the condition is Proteus Syndrome; but it was mentioned that this particular variant of it may be called Sellars Syndrome, after Mandy Sellars who is the afflicted individual in this case. While not poking fun at the woman’s unfortunate circumstance, I wondered if another condition could be brought into existence.
It could be called Selleck’s Syndrome, and I’m sure men would be much more excited to find they had this rather adonic pathology.