With 46 Indian nurses stranded in a hospital in Tikrit, Shaju Philip meets some of their families in Kerala. Their stories reveal why these young women risk their all to work in strife-torn countries such as Iraq. Photographs by Nirmal Harindran
A short climb up a steep, leech-ridden hill-road ends in front of a two-room mud and brick house. A blue plastic sheet hangs over the broken tiled roof so that rain water doesn’t directly fall onto the cow-dung plastered floor. The wall has a calendar of Pope Francis with his saying, “the humble Church of the poor people”.
Teena V John, 24 | Pottanplavu Village
I prayed to God that let those abducted not be nurses: Lilly, mother of Teena V John
Teena V John’s journey to Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s birthplace in Iraq, began from this house on Vaithal hills at Pottanplavu village in north Kerala’s Kannur district. She is one of 46 nurses from Kerala who are trapped in a hospital in Tikrit, the city north of Baghdad that fell to insurgents last week.
Vadakkemulanjanal John and his wife Lilly, both farm workers, stare at the distant hills as they talk about their daughters — the elder daughter Tintu is a nurse in Libya and the younger one, Teena, is in Iraq. Their son Tijo is a farm worker.
“Teena went to Iraq last August and Tintu to Libya last December. In Libya, nurses are told to be wary of terrorists while they go out to buy provisions. Only last month, Teena had told Tintu that she should join her in Iraq. There was no trouble then,” says Lilly.
The family does not have a TV and don’t subscribe to newspapers. Electricity reached the hills only eight months ago. Last Wednesday, as Lilly tuned in the radio on her return from work, she was shaken by the news that 40 Indians had been abducted in Iraq. Since her mobile phone account had no balance, she went to the nearest house down the hill to get more details.
“I prayed to God that let those abducted not be nurses. I want my daughter alive. We are poor, but we can at least live together. I don’t know what happened there. My fear is that Tijo continued…