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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The doctor from the Trumpeters' House

When I was in Prague, I found a book from Ilona Borska, a famous Czech author, called the Adventurers with a half-pension. I really enjoyed reading it, I read some child books from her when I was little, but I didn't know she wrote some way more interesting books. One of them is called "The doctor from the Trumpeters House" - Doktorka z domu Trubacu, and tonight, I would like to introduce this extraordinary woman to you. I picked up that book because it starts in Baghdad (awh, Orient, my love) and because the book is "about a woman that lived far ahead of her time".

Vlasta Kalalova was extraordinary even when she was young. At 17, she spoke 7 languages, including Turkish. She left for Baghdad when she was 28 years old, in 1924, being able to secure a loan of 244.000 czk (that is huuuuuuuuuuuuge amount for today, yet alone for back then!) from the Czech president Tomas Garyk Masaryk to establish a Czechoslovak hospital there. While waiting for the necessary permits, she worked in Instanbul for 6 months, living very simply in one room with three narrow windows in a very old house in the old part of town. When she finally was able to move to Baghdad, she established her own small hospital with only one other nurse, driver and a cook, and worked tirelessly at providing the health care and surgeries to especially women, who didn't have a chance to see a physician as most were male. Vlasta was battling lots of problems, including the hot Baghdad summers, prejudices, and the beliefs of the Baghdad people, that believed they can be cured by spells and faith and often sought the doctor when it was too late. She also battled very pure hygienic conditions and high infant mortility.

She enjoyed her stay to the maximum. In her free time she sat on her house's roof and starred at the sky while smelling the scents of the Orient, met local people, made trips to the desert, collected samples of insect for the National museum in Prague, and samples of various diseases that could only be found in Baghdad area, which she sent to Prague for further studies.

In Baghdad she met and married Giorgio di Lotti, whose wife passed earlier from the tuberculosis. Because of her he learnt Czech and they had two children, Radbor and Drahushka. Later, when Vlasta became sick with Dengue fever, the family decided to close the hospital (or pass it to someone else, I dont remember anymore), and move back to Czechoslovakia.

There they lived for a while in Prague and then in her native Bernartice. Radbor seemed to have a mental disability he most likely suffered during the birth, so he couldn't attend school, but Drahushka was very bright and the book shows notes from her diary. Vlasta worked tirelessly in curing people, even through the second World War.

On May 8th, 1945, one day before the WWII ended, the retreating German soldiers shot dead her beloved husband Giorgio and both children (16 and 14 at that time), in the garden of their home. Vlasta survived only because the murderers thought she is dead as well, but she was shot several times. She healed and travelled to the United states and Norway, learnt even more languages (eventually she was fluent in about 14 of them!) She took care of everyone who needed her, even if for a while, and spent lots of her time writing postcards and letters to friends all over the world and missing her family. She never remarried again. Towards the end of her life she was becoming more and more sick and died in 1971, very lonely, after living a very incredible life story.

If you have any questions about her, please ask me, I will try to do some research. If you want to read some more, please visit this link:

Its in czech, but you can use the language tool on google, its pretty good.

As I sit here and cry over this book, I am mad at myself that I worry about such silly things like having a snow for olympics, or that my baby doesnt want to go sleep at of yet and I want her to. I worry that my dishes are not washed and perhaps I need to fill the tank of my car. Isn't it silly? I wish that I live a life this doctor most of us have never heard of (I certainly haven't till I read that other book and I thought I know the Czech literature quite well). I wish that I made such an impact on other people's life like she did. I will never be able to, but I can certainly take an inspiration in her. So this post is a salut to her, and even though she's been dead for almost 30 years, I think it's about time that you get to finally know her.

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