Covid-19 Chronicles: Leaving Iraq


I left Iraq in mid-March, to come back to Singapore. At the time, Italy and France were being brought to their knees by Covid-19. Iran, a hop and skip away from where I live in Sulaymaniyah, was ratcheting up its infection count.

I came back for 3 reasons.

3. I’m unwell

I’ve been sick since 2020 rolled around, and have slowly been getting sicker. Symptoms suggest that my immune system is turning on the body that contains it… how’s that for cabin fever?

Also: I’ve had a bunch of respiratory illnesses – asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia – multiple times through my life. I get chest infections at the slightest provocation. Stuff that hits the lungs take me down hard. Covid-19 is a scary prospect.

2. Medical care

Following the point above, I needed to be somewhere with healthcare I can afford, and trust. The fancy private hospital that is my only practical option in Kurdistan is very expensive, especially when I need the ongoing testing and consultation I’m now pursuing in Singapore.

And then, there’s the infrastructure factor. And what mass infection could do to Iraq’s already frail healthcare system if things got bad.

1. Mum asked

My mother has never inconvenienced me for anything in my entire life. In late February, she asked me to come home because of Covid-19. Please. Nevermind if you lose your job, I will support you.

Mum has a 45 year career in nursing. This isn’t to say she’s a virology expert. Or that she’s deciphered Sars-CoV-2. But it does say that she’s worked through more than her fair share of emergencies professionally, including SARS in ’02/’03. Like a lot of medical veterans her age, she’s unflappable in a crisis, and is especially unimpressed when said medical crisis involves errant offspring. Those of you who have parents from the old medical school, you might know know I’m talking about.

For her be dramatic is… Dramatic.

0. The motherlode.

If Mum was that worried about me, then my own anxieties for her shot up. We knew, by March, that older people are particularly at risk. Underlying issues, weaker immunity, etc.

My mum lives alone. If she got hit by this thing, and I couldn’t get out of Iraq, who would be there for her?

So here I am. Finally writing about it 2 months later.

See all posts in this series.


  1. Mark Olwick says:

    I completely support your decision, as tough as it may be. I know you and your Mom will take good care of each other, and I hope they figure out what the root cause of your health concerns so you can get back to being your amazing self soon.

    1. Charlene says:

      I think a lot of it is just age Mark. You know how it goes. Trying not to be to grouchy about it, and generally failing, but I think that’s age too

  2. Sean Hansen says:

    Blessings to you (and your Mom!). I’m sure it was a tough decision, but it sounds like the right one. I hope your ongoing health issues get sorted out soon. It’s been an inspiration to see all the work you’ve been doing, loving anyways and supporting people in living.

    1. Charlene says:

      Awww, thanks Sean.

  3. I hope you get better soon Charlene. I highly recommend t’ai chi for strengthening my lungs too. Glad youre with your Mum and safe.

    1. Charlene says:

      Me too mate. Happy to be back.

  4. Dear Charlene; thank you so much for sharing with us. I can’t imagine working through all of these dynamics. I am older but in reasonably good health and am still anxious and sheltering at home. Please continue to let us know how both you and your mother are doing. Thank her for us for her lifelong dedication to helping us and you stay as well as possible. You two will take care of each other as we all work through all of this. Sending love and light to all. Blessings, Terry

    1. Charlene says:

      Thank you Terry.

  5. Reggie Forster says:

    Good for you! Listen to your mum. Stay safe.

    1. Charlene says:

      You too Reggie!

  6. Thank you for sharing Charlene. As you know, I look after my mother. Put my career on hold. I hope you get well soon. Your Mother sounds extraordinary. Wishing you a speedy recovery. Mike

    1. Charlene says:

      Cheers Mike!

  7. PJ says:

    We only get one chance to do this right … your doing the right thing for sure and just think about the pics we will see from you! Bless you friend.

  8. Ish says:

    I wondered where you were living at the moment. All very good reasons to go back to Singapore. Please you and your mum stay safe and wish her all the best from me! :)

    1. Charlene says:

      I will do. Thank you Ian ❤️

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