I'm in an Iraqi hospital room, surrounded by five conservative, Muslim women, discussing Michael Jackson. Wait--what?
During our last Remedy Mission in southern Iraq I became curious about what these families think when they see me. When they meet a young, white, American girl do they take me for who I am, or do stereotypes and reality TV characters precede me? What kind of reputational baggage have American media, troops or aid workers left in Iraq that I don't even know I'm up against?
Needing to get to the bottom of this, I grabbed a translator and headed to the hospital ward to ask these mothers, "Who or what represents 'America' to you?" The first few answers were easy-- "democracy", "freedom", "independence."
But these were not the answers I was looking for. I wanted to hone in on who was the singular "face" of America. So we started asking just that, "Which single person represents the United States to you?" The most popular answer? Michael Jackson. I couldn't help laughing out loud. Really? Michael Jackson? I was expecting Lady Gaga, Brad Pitt or perhaps Katy Perry (or President Obama, at the very least). But MJ? And I got this answer from not one but several Iraqi families. Pretty interesting, right?
But the resounding response I also kept hearing was....Dr. Novick! Our very own, world-renowned, rockstar heart surgeon from Memphis is revolutionizing the way Iraqis see Americans. Many of the women agreed that this ICHF team had completely exceeded their expectations on the kindness of the West.
I guess saving their child's life leaves a stronger impression than "American Idol." Dr. Novick--Michael Jackson's got nothing on you!