Dr Mariwan Majid - a Kurdish cardiac surgeon in Prague


My guest for One on One this week is Dr Mariwan Majid, a cardiac surgeon who lives and works in Prague. As his name suggests, Dr Majid is not originally from this country but from Kurdistan in northern Iraq. He moved here to study medicine over a decade ago and has now married and settled in the Czech Republic. Dr. Majid's native Kurdistan suffered terribly at the hands of Saddam Hussein's regime, and was the scene of a number of horrific chemical bomb attacks in the late 1980s, which left thousands of people dead. I spoke with Dr Majid about the changes he noticed on a recent visit to his home province following the fall of Saddam Hussein's brutal government. But the first thing I wanted to know is what actually brought him to study in the Czech Republic?

"I was born in the city of Halabja in northern Iraq. It was attacked with chemical weapons by the Iraqi regime. Because of that, I was given a scholarship [to study abroad] by the Cours de Paris institute. They chose the Czech Republic for me, and I came in November 1992."

What first struck you when you arrived? There must have been a lot of differences...

"Yes, it was a very difficult time for me, because I couldn't communicate with my family. It was my first time to go somewhere far from home. I couldn't even communicate by post or telephone because there was an embargo on Iraq at that time. The new life was very difficult for me because I had to learn a new language and a new university system. I had no friends and had to come to terms with another culture."

You later went on to study medicine at Charles University, which you did in Czech. Was it a big adjustment?

"Yes it was difficult at the beginning, because everything was in Czech. The first two years were very hard. Things got better in my third year."

After getting your initial degree in medicine, you went on to study cardiac surgery. What attracted you to this field?

"When I was studying, I joined the department of anatomy. I worked as a dissection assistant. From that time on, I liked surgery work. So when I finished my general medical degree, I joined a cardiac surgery centre."

Is heart disease a problem in the Czech Republic? I would imagine that the Czech diet of meat and dumplings is a cardiovascular time bomb...

"That's right. The things that cause heart problems depend on lifestyle, and in the Czech Republic there are a lot of people with heart disease. But they are very lucky, because there are a lot of cardiac centres available in the Czech Republic to help these people. In this respect, I think they have the best situation here in comparison to other states."

You don't look Czech. How do the locals react when they are referred to you by other doctors? Are they ever suspicious or curious about the fact that you are not "one of them"?

"So far nobody has refused to be treated by me. I like to speak with patients when I have the time. They ask me where I'm from and when I say Kurdistan in Iraq a lot of them are surprised. But they understand the problems there, and like to discuss them with me."

You are married to a Czech and now have three children. Are you raising your kids as Czechs or do you try to emphasise their Kurdish roots?

"I try to speak with them in Kurdish, but they answer in Czech. There's no Kurdish community here in Prague, so my wife and children don't have anywhere to go and practice speaking Kurdish. At the weekends [when I'm around] I try speaking Kurdish with them, but we're not at a very good level. But I will try to explain Kurdish culture to them, and to show them pictures of Kurdistan. I also hope that the situation there will improve in the future and that we'll all be able to go on a visit there and I can show them Kurdistan."

You yourself have recently taken a trip home this year...

"Yes, the rest of my family are still there. I was surprised at what I saw, because the situation in Kurdistan is much better than in other parts of Iraq. There are no explosions or terrorist attacks there. People are building. They know that the change of regime is very good. They want peace and democracy."

Now that you've settled in the Czech Republic, do you think you'll stay here forever or would you like to return home some day?

"That's not an easy question for me. I have a family with three children here now. I have to think about them also. I am trying to think of a solution to this problem. I could travel there for some time to work before coming back here again. If the situation got better there and my children could study there and if they liked the idea we could go there, or even somewhere else. But for the time being, I think we'll be staying in the Czech Republic."