May 30, 1991 12:00 PM

A nurse helped children heal, against all odds

With its beige concrete walls and glass door, the Sulaibikhat Handicapped Care Home on the outskirts of Kuwait City looks like a supremely ordinary building. Yet within it, a kind of miracle has taken place. As Chief Nurse Turkia Abdul Kader, whom the children and the staff fondly call Mrs. Turkia, makes her daily rounds on the children’s ward, she finds herself, once again, smiling.

Things were not always as encouraging. During the Iraqi occupation, 40 young patients died in this hospital complex, which also has wards for geriatric patients and handicapped adults. And it was the death of these young charges, most from infection or dehydration resulting from the war-torn hospital’s lack of adequate food and medicine, that somehow seems most tragic. “I sometimes thought I was going to go mad,” says Mrs. Turkia. “One day you’d find three children gone, and the next day, two.”

Before the war, 230 nurses, six doctors and some 300 staff members worked in the hospital. But in time, most employees fled out of fear, leaving just 10 nurses and a few volunteers to care for the entire children’s ward. Without power or water, the remaining staff cooked over open fires and made rounds by candlelight. Food for the children was smuggled into the hospital by the staff and hidden to keep it from Iraqi troops. Even so, one-third of them lost at least half their body weight. Turkia, 46, has not forgotten one child who. a month after the invasion, suffered an epileptic seizure. “She was full of mucus, and we didn’t have the means to suction her properly. She died in front of me,” the nurse says. “I felt this time I was dying, not she.”

Turkia, who stayed behind because, she says,” the children needed me.” recruited her two college-age children to help out. Food became scarce, and there were no lights at times. But another affliction was even harder for the children to bear. When relatives stopped visiting, the patients could do nothing but let go of life. These were the children, she says, who died “of sadness.”

Today there are 114 children from ages 3 to 10 in the young patients’ ward, most feasting on a steady supply of candy donated by relatives; those who are physically able are being taught to dance in preparation for an upcoming festival that is similar to Halloween. Throughout the Sulaibikhat Handicapped Care Home, there are, once again, heard the haunting strains of Middle Eastern music and the trilling, birdlike sounds of little children happily practicing songs. They are the melodies of hope.

One anchorman, a baby—plus a brown-bag launch

When dashing French TV anchorman Patrick Poivre d’Arvor arrived in Baghdad Aug. 20 to negotiate for an interview with Saddam Hussein and report on the 270 French citizens detained in Iraq, he knew he’d get out with a story. But not with a baby.

Florian Barbut, 18 months old, was left behind when, two days before the occupation of Kuwait, his mother flew home to Paris to take Florian’s brother, Aurélien, 4, to summer camp. Florian’s father, André, a Baghdad-based sales manager for a French computer company, unsuccessfully exhausted every legal means to get the child a visa in order to join his mother. Forty-three-year-old Poivre d’Arvor, France’s most popular TV anchor and himself a father of four, says he felt “sick” when he heard the story from acting Ambassador André Jannier. He immediately offered to smuggle the child out in his network’s private plane.

Fearful of the audacious plan because “it seemed too risky” but seeing no alternative, Barbut, 38, packed a zippered brown-canvas bag with a blanket, diapers, Florian’s pacifier and stuffed frog and, finally, the puzzled red-haired toddler himself. The anchorman took the satchel from Barbut in a hotel lobby and headed for the airport-bound bus. Sure that “the driver was a spy,” Poivre d’Arvor led the crew in rowdy song when Florian began to howl. At the airport, the newsman bolted with the bag straight onto the runway while the other luggage was being X-rayed. “I gave it to the pilot and said, ‘There’s a baby in there.’ He put it right on the plane.”

Once over the Jordanian border with their unplanned passenger, “the crew went wild,” says Poivre d’Arvor. “We played with Florian and fed him French fries and champagne.” Alerted during a pit stop in Amman, Florian’s mother, Karolina, 32, met the plane in Paris the next morning. “I was like a crazy woman,” she says. “My husband had called to say he was sending me a present, and I knew it wasn’t an Oriental rug.” Florian, tired and uncomprehending, “was in shock. But he was safe.”

Back in Iraq, the baby’s father agonized for three hours before running to the French embassy for confirmation of the safe arrival. “That was the most intense suspense,” he says. “Those three hours.”

André Barbut was released from Iraq in October, without reprisals. Poivre d’Arvor got that interview with Saddam Hussein—but on his next trip. And Florian was christened in Paris in December. His godfather? The anchorman, of course.

Brotherly love for a few creatures great and small

Occupying Iraqi soldiers ate the fallow deer, the eland and the dorcas gazelle. They roasted 28 wild boar, an African porcupine and a newborn water buffalo. For sport, the soldiers set two griffon vultures on fire, shot a lion in its paw and shattered a monkey’s leg with a bullet.

All in all, only 30 of the 442 animals that once lived in the seven-acre Kuwait Zoo—used as a barracks by Iraqi soldiers after the invasion—are still alive. Yet, were it not for the efforts of two gentle Kuwaitis-Ali Mubarak al-Hohti, 35, a sanitation ministry inspector and father of four and his brother, Suliman. 30, a motorcycle policeman with three children-even more of the animals would have perished.

From the second week of the seven-month Iraqi siege, the two brothers, who have been visiting the zoo since childhood, acted as volunteer caretakers. They begged at markets for rotting food and bribed Iraqi soldiers to allow them to feed the animals. “”Once, when the soldiers don’t let us come for a week, we think the animals are so thirsty, so hungry:’ says Ali. “My friend, Aziza, the elephant [now recovering from a bullet in her shoulder], when she see me finally, she cry. It is bad, so bad, that these sweet animals die.”

Days after the war ended, the al-Hohti brothers were joined in their relief efforts by John Walsh, international projects director of the London-based World Society for the Protection of Animals. Since then, American troops have provided antibiotics and veterinary services, and corporations from around the world have donated a full stock of animal feed and supplies.

And so, at the Kuwait Zoo, the hungry Malayan sun bear who gobbles apples, the free-roaming giraffe who nibbles shrubbery in the cool of the evenings and even Aziza the elephant serve as living proof of a redemptive notion: that, as certainly as there is suffering of many kinds in war, in its aftermath can come the hope of healing.

Even in their darkest hours, the animals of the Kuwait Zoo somehow understood-they need not fear their brother-keepers. “When an Iraqi soldier was near, no animal would come,” says Ali al-Hohti. “But if soldiers were not there, the animals would come to meet us, all making beautiful sounds. Somehow they knew we are the ones who love them.”

A tortured Kuwaiti becomes a martyr for her country

Kuwaiti women are hardly the most liberated in the Arab world; still, Asrar Qabandi was a step ahead. Single and 31, she wore jeans, smoked in public and had her own apartment, which is almost unheard of.

The daughter of a retired Interior Ministry official, Asrar studied in England and earned a master’s degree in computer science from Colorado State University. Says her friend Taghreed Aluqudsi, a professor of library science living in Virginia: “She was in love with life, full of zeal.” A preschool teacher, Asrar planned to open a school for autistic children in Kuwait, where she returned in 1989.

Instead, two days after the Iraqis invaded her country, Asrar Qabandi assumed the false identity of Sara Mubarak Mohammed and joined the Kuwaiti resistance. She would steal computer disks from government offices to deprive the Iraqis of sensitive information, smuggle cash out of the country and food back in. and give interviews to ABC and CNN. “She was tough like a man,” says a fellow resistance worker. “She was an inspiration to us men.” Always in danger, Sara moved from one safe house to another for three months. “She made a decision to pay a human price for this land if she had to,” says Kuwait University Prof. Hashim Behbehani, who hid Asrar in his home.

In November, Asrar, caught transporting Iraqi dinars in her car, was arrested at an Iraqi checkpoint and sent to a detention center where, fellow prisoners say, she was tortured for refusing to divulge her contacts. She had her fingernails torn out and was raped again and again, once in front of her own father. (He was arrested two hours after Asrar and held for two months.)

On Jan. 14, two days before Desert Storm began. Asrar’s body—the right side of her face sliced through, four bullets in her stomach and one between the eyes—was tossed onto the sidewalk in front of her family’s home.

“She prayed for the Americans to come,” says Aluqudsi, “but when they did, it was too late.’ ” Her courage and sacrifice will not be forgotten. Says Aluqudsi: “She will always be a heroine to Kuwaiti women.”

Volunteer doctors provide basics of life to the Kurds

In a cramped plastic tent on a muddy hillside, near the Turkish town of Cukurca on the border with Iraq where some 70,000 Kurds have sought refuge from Saddam Hussein, a French doctor feels a baby’s belly. Though the infant is crying, there is not enough fluid in his tiny body to make tears because he is severely dehydrated. “How long has this baby had diarrhea?” the doctor asks the mother through an interpreter. And then, “Any blood in the feces?” She nods yes, and Dr. Philippe Chazerand suggests that a tube be pushed through little Kamel’s nostrils.

Then he moves over to the next crying child. Already 700 infants have perished in Cukurca. If the refugees remain, it won’t be long before the doctor has learned to say one Kurdish sentence on his own: Your child has died.

Unshaven and exhausted after a 12-hour day, Chazerand, 37, wipes the sweat from his eyes and says, “We are not used to seeing this many people die. ” Not that the doctor is a stranger to suffering. Chazerand is a volunteer with the Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), an international organization that, for 20 years, has sent emergency relief lo distressed countries throughout the world.

Since March, the group has sent more than 100 volunteer doctors and other medical personnel, including a handful of Americans, to aid the Kurds. So far, the doctors say they have helped cut the infant-death rate in the camp to 30 per day from 50.

Chazerand, who lives in Pagney, France, and works for the French public-health system, intends to spend a month of his vacation helping. “It was necessary for me to come here,” the doctor says. “At home I have become as much a bureaucrat as a doctor. My life is too easy.”

Too easy is not a problem at Cukurca. Although U.S. and United Nations medical personnel and supplies continue to arrive, equipment is makeshift, quarters rudimentary, and water—provided by a few mountain streams—is scarce and dangerously polluted. Even the once-fresh air reeks with the stench of excrement and decaying food. And yet, as Chazerand has discovered, the courage of these refugees pushes past the fear and squalor. “What makes our work here less difficult.”” he says, “is that the Kurds are such good people. We have many Kurdish doctors who are working beside us and lots of others from other professions. They are a very proud race.”

Ducking back into the tent to tend to the relentless line of patients, Chazerand can only hope that by the time he leaves, he will have picked up one last Kurdish phrase: Your child will live.

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