I remember Alaa' as being one of the most decent of the bunch of people in my year, an outsider from Najaf, very bright, quiet, polite and very generous, he went on to become Dean at one of the newer medical schools, and when he contacted me and asked for my help with one of his trainees I did not hesitate.
Telephone calls, emails and contact with my own ex-supervisor, an Italian medic, and an international research expert in acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, I reassured her regarding the finances, told he came recommended by someone I trusted and eventually an agreement was reached.
The university is pleased, he is pleased, he and his family arrived, a fully paid three year PhD programme starting in September, preceded by a language course and unbeknown to sponsors and supervisor plans to take the registration exams that if passed allow medical practice in the UK.
I had just poured my first coffee of the day, and turned the screen on to scan a few emails before the day started, when the phone rang, no caller ID I answered expecting the on-call doctor updating me on the bunch of in-patients, instead it was Dr Q
"Sorry to call so early, but I need your help...am meeting the head of the department for the first time today and need to write her an email..you understand I am sure, when when I met the team at the institute it seems they did not understand and it was awkward....how do I phrase it to explain I cannot shake her hand..."
I remember the first time a man refused to shake my hand, I was shocked, and deeply offended, to me it felt like a personal snub, I was not good enough, not clean enough... how dare he I wondered.
I am still uncomfortable about that first meeting, he was elderly and thankfully his son and grandson both of whom studied in the UK were different.
I gave a few words of advice.. don't say I am sorry...the British don't start letters in that way, explain that you don't want to cause offence or embarrassment....say that your religion prevents it...
all the time I am thinking back to that meeting in Baghdad, that elderly man who had refused to shake my hand....an experience I would rather not repeat.
"Thank you so much dictora... I am so grateful... really you must come to visit us some time..."
I am sure we will meet one day, maybe at the institute, maybe at a meeting..good luck with your meeting.