Twenty years ago this year I had the most amazing adventure in Kuwait. I was invited to go on the FREEDOM FLIGHT (sponsored by the Kuwaiti government). There were others invited, too, of course. There were political folks, and journalists, etc. The Freedom Flight arrived in Kuwait City with the Ambassador intending for his guests to remain for three day. But the Ambassador decided that the country had not yet arrived at a safe enough place for all their guests. There were reports of stranded Iraqi soldiers making unexpected appearances in the city. Therefore, the trip was cut short to one day only. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving so soon, so I had my 10 BAGS (yes, 10!) pulled from the plane. After the Ambassador and his guests toured the burning oil fields and various ruins in the city, I did return with the group to the airport. But, I knew I was not getting on that plane! Instead, I had stood with my bags on the tarmac. I stood watching as the ambassador and most of his guests reboarded. I couldn’t hide my smile when I saw the Kuwaiti Ambassador glance out the window to wave goodbye to the people outside. His face flashed with surprise when he spotted me! But it was too late, the plane was leaving and I was in Kuwait to stay for a while. I managed to find a ride into the city and the adventure began!
For three weeks I experienced one adventure after another! One day soon I’ll write about all that as well as the amazing Kuwaitis and other nationaltieis who had remained in the country during the Iraqi occupation. I met some of the bravest people I’ve ever known. People who had suffered tremendous loss, yet they were still concerned about the ordinary Iraqi, for Iraqis suddenly had their own problems dealing with war and violence.
I always meant to write about that unique adventure but somehow other stories took precedent to my own. My volunteer driver was a young man named Soud A. Al-Mutawa. He was a banker, but so many young professionals in Kuwait were volunteering to help writers/journalists find their way around in the war ravaged country. I think I hit the jackpot with Soud. He was so good-natured and one of the bravest people I’ve ever known. I’ve always been daring, and Soud matched me every time. He was younger than me in years, but very mature in his outlook. I was lucky too to meet his lovely family. Soud drove me anywhere I asked to go, even to Southern Iraq, which was quite dangerous. The US military kept catching us and ordering us to leave, but finally after the 3rd time we were “caught” we were taken to the commander of the area. We thought for sure they would hold us for a while, but the commander was surprisingly good natured, even having his photo taken with us, telling us that we had his permission to stay in the Southern Iraq for a few hours, but to be aware it was a very dangerous area, and very unsettled. In fact, every Iraqi we met was incredibly friendly, hoping against hope to be released from Saddam’s grip, just as the Kuwaiti’s had been. Soud and I visited the desert camps where Iraqis and some Kuwaitis were stranded. We visited Marine camps, meeting solderis who were hyped up at the victory. Soud was the best! The only time I saw him uneasy was when I found an abandoned puppy at the refugee camp and insisted upon taking it with us. Soud asked me, “Where are you taking this puppy?” I think he was worried that I thought he would be taking care of the puppy. I named the pup KUWAIT and before the day was over, Kuwait was in good hands. We visited a Marine camp that was leaving for Germany the following day and they wanted KUWAIT as their mascot. Before we left the camp, KUWAIT was fed, watered, and being dressed in Marine gear! Soud and I saw it all.
Here is where I’m going with this story. Over the years I remained so busy with writing about women’s stories, and taking care for my elderly parents, that I lost touch with many of the Kuwaitis I met. I always MEANT to go back to Kuwait, to follow-up, but I didn’t. Shame on me! Last year I was contacted by a very special young Kuwait woman (Lujean Al-Mulla) who was excited about the 20 year celebration coming up for Kuwait’s freedom from the Iraqi occupation. 20 years! I really could not believe how rapidly time has passed. Lujean and I attempted to get media interest in the USA, but failed. The world had moved on from Kuwait. The reason? After the war, Kuwaiti’s gathered themselves up, dusted off, and began working to put their shattered country back together. Those Kuwaitis were a raging success. Sadly, such a success story doesn’t garner much interest in the world news. In my opinion, the Kuwaitis deserve a lot of praise. Not only did they make Kuwait better, most held no grudge against the Iraqis. They knew that Saddam and his gang were the culprit, not the ordinary Iraqi. Few people know about the generous nature of the Kuwaitis when it comes to their Iraqi neighbors. More Kuwaiti’s help out Iraqi’s than any nationality. Add to that, the Al-Sabah family in Kuwait is moving the country in a great direction. Women are being educated in huge numbers while other important issues are being tackled. Hurray for Kuwait and Kuwaitis! I’m a big fan…
While working with Lujean, I began to think about all the very special people I met while in Kuwait after the war. Soud came to mind many times. What had happened to that courageous young man? What had happened to his family? What had happened to Muna, my female interpreter who sometimes traveled with Soud and me. I tried all the contact numbers he had given me, but time had brought change. Finally I asked Lujean for the favor of contacting Soud and giving him my contact information. Lujean succeeded in only a few hours!
When my telephone rang early this morning I grabbed it, feeling strongly that I would find Soud on the line. My feelings were right. How happy I was to hear from my friend from those long ago days. Strong friendships are forged when two people share as many tense moments as I did with Soud.
Now I’m looking forward to a visit from Soud and his wife, and hopefully other family members. Ideally, I’ll soon make a return visit to Kuwait to revisit so many amazing people I met during my visit.
I have a book to finish, but as soon as I write those final words, I have renewed determination to finally tackle the story I’ve been meaning to write for years. The story will NOT be about me, as I really could not imagine writing an entire book about myself, instead will be about all the unique people I have met over my years of living in, and visiting, the Middle East. From Saudi Arabia to Lebanon to Kuwait to Iraq… I have met extraordinary people in all those lands. I am excited at the idea of revisiting those times, and I hope you’ll enjoy the journey with me.
Below you will see a few photos. Photo #1 is Soud (on the right) at a party celebrating wonderful freedom from occupation! I was taking the photos and joyfully watching the marvelous excitement expressed by those young men — although they had dreamed of freedom, they couldn’t believe that it had finally come. (One of the men is holding my book, THE RAPE OF KUWAIT, the only book written about what happened to individual victims on the first day of the Iraqi occupation.) Photo #2 I took in Southern Iraq — Soud is looking over the pitiful food supplies, worrying that the Iraqis will not have enough food to feed their families. Photo #3: Muna (middle) my sweet female interpreter often went with Soud and me to visit various Kuwaitis who had suffered loss during the war. We are in my room in the hotel in Kuwait City. When I arrived in the city, I was told I would have to sleep on the sidewalk, that there was not one single room available in the city. I managed to talk the hotel manager into letting me stay in the hotel owner’s suite, the nicest “room” in the entire hotel. When folks dropped by, they were startled that I had the best accomodations in the hotel. I’ll tell you about the amusing situation that got me the suite when I write the story…