domingo, 7 de dezembro de 2014
Mais do Que Só Exercício. a Physical Therapist In Kabul
KABUL, Afghanistan — “I have to tell you a story,” said Alberto Cairo, the irrepressible Italian administrator who runs seven orthopedic centers inAfghanistan for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Mr. Cairo sat down to talk, but he is never still for long. In front of him on the low table in his unpretentious office was a vase full of fresh yellow chrysanthemums with a few white ones. In the course of his brief story a lot of other things would happen in his office, but for a short while, he gazed at the flowers.
“Earlier this year my brother died,” he said. “Not really my brother but my friend, like a brother to me. I was so sad, I was two months in Italy.”
One of his senior staff members came in, an Afghan man. He faced an internal I.C.R.C. review after Afghan women on the staff complained that he had made inappropriate comments. He told Mr. Cairo that he wanted the women to withdraw the complaint. Mr. Cairo suggested that he apologize to them; he said he had nothing to apologize for.
“Do what you feel you have to,” Mr. Cairo said, a little annoyed.
The staff member is disabled, like more than 90 percent of the 280 workers at the Kabul Orthopedic Center. (Originally called the Hospital for War Surgery, the center now treats civilians, too.) For the past 27 years, the war-wounded and amputees have come to the center for treatment, and have sometimes ended up staying on for jobs there as well.
“My brother, my friend — his name was Sergio Silvestris — his birthday was a few days ago,” Mr. Cairo continued. “If I were in Italy, I would visit his grave on that day, and I know exactly what kind of flowers he would have wanted. Crisantemi. I don’t know the word in English.” He gestures at the chrysanthemums on the table. “Yellow were his favorite. I know they are flowers associated with death, but he liked them even when he was alive.”
ONE of the center’s expatriate employees came into the office. No one ever seems to knock.
It was Verbena Bottini, a fellow Italian, who needed to use Mr. Cairo’s microwave to heat up her lunch. She is from a town called Verbania on the shore of Lago Maggiore, in northern Italy. By coincidence, Mr. Cairo has a place on the opposite shore of that lake where he goes on his occasional breaks from Kabul. He says he needs to see water after the dusty aridity ofAfghanistan.
“Isn’t that extraordinary?” Mr. Cairo said. “And she’s Verbena from Verbania. Imagine.” Ms. Bottini laughed.
They have a lot more in common. Both began their careers as aid workers in southern Sudan. Both are trained physiotherapists who came to the I.C.R.C. in Kabul and stayed past their intended one-year tour.
Ms. Bottini is on her second tour. “I love it,” she said.
Mr. Cairo, 62, is still on his first, which began 25 years ago in 1989. He grew up in Turin and then moved to Milan and originally, he had trained as a lawyer, but never practiced. Instead, he decided to pursue a degree in physiotherapy so he could do relief work.
He continued: “So on Sergio’s birthday, Nov. 19th, one of the Afghan staff comes in my office.”
It was one of the welders. Mr. Cairo is famous for building the orthopedic center into a self-sufficient facility where most of the prostheses, wheelchairs and other devices are made from local materials in the center’s workshops. They not only cost a fraction of foreign-made ones, but are also high in quality, and the work provides jobs to disabled people.
“And this man had these flowers, from his garden. He said in Dari, ‘I thought you might need these,’ and gave them to me. Now, this man had never come to my office before, knew nothing about Sergio, and not only that, I have never seen these flowers in Afghanistan before. Crisantemi are very common in Italy, but never in Afghanistan.”
His friend, Mr. Silvestris, was the creative director for the Italian jewelry maker Pomellato. Mr. Cairo recalled how Mr. Silvestris had once organized a celebrity charity affair that raised $800,000 for the Kabul Orthopedic Center.
“Really, he was more than a brother to me,” he said. Mr. Cairo has no immediate family, although he was married once — “Let’s not go there,” he said. “He is my family.”
Or at least the Italian part of it. The phone rang, and Mr. Cairo took the call, speaking in fluent Dari. He then leapt up and threw the window open, shouting to someone outside. Then he made another 60-second phone call in Dari, and people soon began filling his office.
“Why have you stayed in Afghanistan for so long?” he asked a visitor suddenly. “I ask because it is a question people always ask me. For me it’s that the work makes so many people happy: You feel useful; you will never be able to achieve as much anywhere else.”
AN Afghan man named Hashmat walked into the office, with no sign of a limp. He lost both legs and one eye during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s, and Mr. Cairo has known him since then. The administrator had just heard that Hashmat intended to put off making handicap-friendly alterations to his home until after the winter, and urged him not to wait.
“What I really like about this man: He never gave up. After his disability, he got married, had four children, works as a driver. Without legs — don’t tell anyone!” Mr. Cairo repeats the joke in Dari, so Hashmat can join in the laughter.
“He is a good man but a poor person, and he’s illiterate but he’s doing all he can to send his children to school,” he added.
An accountant for the orthopedic center peeled off several thousand afghanis from a roll of bills, and handed over the money to Hashmat. Mr. Cairo worked in one more admonition to get the construction done before freezing weather sets in, most likely any day.
Mr. Cairo explained that he had still had some money left in the center’s social welfare budget to help with the project. “To be disabled in Afghanistan is very difficult,” he said.
Under his stewardship, the I.C.R.C. centers have expanded to provide those who are disabled not just artificial limbs and physical rehabilitation, but also social reintegration, including job training, microfinance loans and education. In 2010, Mr. Cairo was reportedly a finalist for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“You feel useful,” he said. “Ticktock, ticktock, and it’s done. In Italy, it would take ages just to get permission. And here, for $500, we can change a life, just like that.”
He sat back down in front of the chrysanthemums. “I am a religious person, but I believe that when the dead are dead, they’re dead. But what am I supposed to think about this?”
Two inky black kittens had come in. One climbed onto his lap. “Their mother was my cat, but she ran away. Then one night these two showed up. Like they were saying, ‘Don’t be sad, we’re here for you now.’”
A moment later, he was back on his feet, ushering visitors from his office as new ones arrived.
“You really have to come back for the next tournament,” he said, full of enthusiasm again. The center has a gym with a full-size basketball court, and wheelchair teams from the seven centers compete in the tournament, with Mr. Cairo as one of the referees.
“It’s incredible,” he said.
Mr. Cairo is fond of saying that when disabled men take the court to play, they actually seem to fly.