At ‘Best Shoes’, Ako ensures a dignified life for him and his family. Ako has…
In 1988, Saddam bombed Halabja, the town I lived in then.
My parents and I hid in a shelter, hoping the planes above our heads would stop dropping their bombs. Three days later, we couldn’t hear the noises any more, and we escaped. We thought it was all over at last. But the bombs were still falling. We just couldn’t tell. They were silent and they didn’t explode when they hit the ground. They were different from the ones before because they were chemical weapons. We stayed still outside our houses for hours. Then, when darkness fell, we fled into the mountains.
Luckily, the wind was blowing the other way and the gas didn’t stop us escaping. The family living next door to us had ten children, all of whom were killed by the gas.
When it first hit, I couldn’t even swallow a piece of bread. I suppose my windpipe developed an allergy to the toxic substances. It stayed damaged for years. It’s only started working properly again recently. My brothers and I were sheltered by relatives. The more the weeks passed, the hungrier we got. We reached Hawar, a village in our province, in search of food. But the whole place was contaminated. My parents moved to Sulaymaniyah, in Iraqi Kurdistan, because my father needed his heart checked. It was months before we met again. My parents worried that I had died.
In the meantime, that first war ended and another one came along to destroy everything again.
I’ve been working at EMERGENCY’s Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration Centre in Sulaymaniyah for 16 years now. Today, I’m the head of the ward that produces prostheses for patients. The wonderful thing about my work is that there are no differences – Kurds and Arabs, Syrians and Iraqis are all treated the same. We don’t discriminate or exclude anyone.
I’ve born the brunt of war. I know what it means to be helped and to help people who’ve suffered as I have. I still remember the day one of our patients told me he’d lost his leg fighting the Kurds. It was just me listening to him talk about it – a nurse, but also a Kurd, taking care of him, his health and future in my hands. We would have been enemies on the front, but not here at the Centre.
There are people out there who would have no hope of getting prostheses if our services were not completely free of charge, they would go on living without arms or legs. We’re here for all of them. Within the walls of this Centre, people have been getting treatment, eating, sleeping and living in peace for more than 20 years. But outside these walls, when will peace finally come?