Name him Saddam...

August 18, 2011

Dear Reader,

This is the story of our experiences during the invasion of Kuwait. We are writing this really late but somehow it seems appropriate given the time one requires to reconcile and build ourselves up from scratch, a fresh life with a positive perspective!

How do you describe the sound of gunfire or rifle fire? Tupp.. tuppp…(?!).. this was the incessant sound that woke me up on that fateful Thursday on August 1, 1990 at 4.45..4.50 in the morning. Keith’s cousin Reaven worked for Kuwait Times and through constant discussions with him, we were quite aware of the danger we were in regarding the impending invasion by Saddam Hussein. Keith had told me, that one could drive from one border of Kuwait to the other border (the farthest border, actually) in a matter of two and a half hours. Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the sea engulfed Kuwait. Iraq was the invader, the Saudi border was impregnable and the sea seemed to be the last resort in case of the invasion as per the analysis that the men made in their discussions, to which I, the recent entrant to Kuwait was the mute listener. Keith and Reaven were both born in Kuwait and I had entered just a year and a half earlier.

It was the best time of our married life. We had visited the Lady of Arabia Church in Ahmadi and a little later on, had discovered that God had endowed on us the gift of parenthood! We lived in Kuwait city, across the road from the Kuwait Sheraton. In fact, we could see the edge of the swimming pool of the Sheraton from our balcony. It was Apartment No. 18, above the famous Raja Stores, that was frequented by many of our Indian folk, especially on Sundays. Yes, on Sundays, the area around our building was packed with people since the Kuwait City Church was at a walking distance and the Souks were aplenty around there.

I was apprehensive about waking Keith up since he had warned me about not upsetting myself about the situation. Since the beach was close by, we had often heard shot-like sounds and thought that perhaps people shot birds on the beach. It wasn’t a beach that people visited, and not one that was maintained in any way.

For about ten minutes I listened to the ongoing sounds and then nudged Keith. He sat up ramrod straight and said” Rifle shooting, Oh, my God!” We scrambled to our glass enclosed balcony and at the roundabout, which was the beginning to the City, were the Iraqi trucks, all sporting red flags, soldiers shooting at the ground, etc. “We are finished” was what Keith said sadly.

He walked to the door opposite our apartment, rang for Mr. Rajan, our neighbour, who, with his three cousins, came tearing onto our balcony. They stared wide eyed at the ongoing scene for over an hour speechlessly, us included. The soldiers stopped every car entering the city, made the drivers of cars, get down, and walk with their hands folded on their backs towards the desert where we supposed they were made to sit, while soldiers drove the cars away.

I seemed to be the practical one. Around 7 A.M., I started calling up our friends who came from Salmiya generally, to work in the city, to not come in. ” Please tell your neighbours also” I remember saying.

At about a quarter to 8 AM, I suddenly remembered that we had not informed Keith’s classmate and friend who lived in Salmiya. His wife picked the line and said that he was starting the car to go to office. As I managed to get him on the line and blurted out not to come, our doorbell rang.

Cross the border into Iraq from Kuwait and one could see the disparities in income in the types of residences around. Kuwait was definitely not the same. No Kuwaiti lived in apartments, they all had Villas. The soldiers pounding on our front door obviously did not know this. They did not want resistance from the surrounding apartments apparently and were searching for any men who could possibly resist their invasion of Kuwait.

“Maybe its’ better not to open” was our first thought. When the ringing and pounding continued, we felt that they would certainly break the door open. Adrenalin must have surged because I definitely did not want them to break down the door, we were not thieves or criminals of any kind to be hounded.

Keith opened the door. There were four men, two of them ran in and stood at attention on the two doors leading from our sit out. They carried bayonets.  They were covered with dust from head to toe. Their knee length boots, looked as if they had trekked overnight in the desert. The third ran searching all over the house as we stood watching. I could feel the rage build up in me, my little home which I was preparing with new curtains and carpeting for the new arrival, being combed …..

The fourth was noticeably an Officer. Once the soldier searching assured him that our house was safe and there was no none except the two of us, he pointed to Keith and said, ” Barra , barra!” (meaning out, out!)

Keith, in his Arabic, (did not know the Iraqi version) told him he wanted to wear his patloon, before going out, and he required “One minute”. The Officer was visibly convinced that we posed no danger to them because he seemed to relax and said, “Why one minute? Take two minutes!”  This was in half English, half Arabic.

We went in, Keith was wearing his shirt and I searched for his rosary which he always has in his pocket before leaving the house. When my hand touched the rosary, a thought came to me. He says to come and Keith should go? Why? And why am I stupidly preparing him to go with them as if I am sending him to work?

“No, you are not going, come out” I told Keith. I, as a teacher have always got respect from the students of all nationalities that I have taught in Kuwait, Syrian, Sudani, Cuban, Iraqi, Egyptian and of course, Kuwaiti.

I held Keith in my left arm, faced the officer and said,” La Haji, not sending!”  He was very surprised, of course. “Madame, I shoot!”, he said.

“Walla Haji, shoot” I said. Speeding cars have slowed down on Fahd Al Salem Street to allow me to cross the road, if I do not use this advantage now, then when could I use it?

“Madame, I shoot both!” he said. “Haji, shoot” I remember saying. The quivering had begun inside me, by then.

He suddenly barked an order. The two soldiers at the door clicked their heels and ran out the door. The third had already left, I had not noticed when. The Officer went out the door, “Moo ithla!”(Don’t come out!) he shouted. With his hand on the door handle, he smiled at me, banged the door and disappeared. We sank on the sofa and trembled for the next half hour.

That evening, as we peeped once again into the street below from our balcony, we saw soldiers walking from the Souk with bulging pockets. Imagine four pockets, two on the chest and two in the trousers full of loot. We have seen dumbstruck, one soldier with bulging pockets, stuffing back into his left breast pocket the gold chains protruding out! And then the pilferage began in full swing till we last saw soldiers carrying out the furniture and finally, believe it or not, the dustbins from the offices in the Souk, all within a matter of about the next four days.

At the roundabout was a garden. We had decided that we would take turns to take our baby there in fair weather for running around. That evening, from our kitchen window, we saw the Iraqis in the garden, setting up cannons towards the sea.  One cannon faced our building. Our building would be blown first and then who or whatever was in the sea was to be the target. Were we afraid? I really do not know how we felt, perhaps you develop an apathy or are still in shock unable to absorb what is really happening around you.

The commandos seemed to have left for the Saudi border and then came the very young and the old men as soldiers. The perfumes, the shampoos, the sunglasses, were all that these late comers took.

Keith was worried about the food. Two days after the invasion, a friend phoned in to tell us that shops were selling whatever they had. Keith went out and bought us half a sheep! Thanks to his vision, mutton and rice was all we ate for the next and the last two months of our stay there. We also had plenty of rice, grams and dhal left to share with friends before we left.

The soldiers made friends with Keith. Iraq had declared Kuwait to be the 19th district of Iraq and the phone lines to Iraq had opened. The telephone connections to the rest of the world were cut off within about eight hours of the invasion. Keith is generally good humoured and loved by people in our vicinity but I certainly did not appreciate him bringing soldiers home to telephone Iraq! “He says he has not seen his family for seven years, he had a just born son when he last left!” was the justification.

This soldier brought me a string of fish a little later on, probably to show his appreciation, which I did not accept. He probably thought that I did not eat fish and so he came in again with a water melon, which again I refused to accept. “I am not namak haram” were my thoughts, right or wrong I cannot rationalize, because at that point of time, our world came tumbling down even before we started to build it.

There was one more significant visit from three soldiers. Keith had opened the door, the officer, with a red band on his shoulder had just entered. He saw the Crucifix hanging on the wall of the sit out and said, ”Ana Ben, any problem, phee..” (I am Ben, any problem, please whistle!) as he pointed to the Souk opposite our building. He had offered to come and help us in case of need and had pointed out that he had an office in the Souk.

One day, three soldiers came as we were eating lunch. “Madame, if you get a boy, name him Saddam. If its’ a girl, name her Hala” they said unnecessarily. Keith yelled something in Arabic and surprisingly they left, muttering something as if they were ashamed. Somehow a wild arrogance had come upon both of us. We decided that if God had deigned us to be parents, we would fight any man who thought otherwise.

I had taught Commerce at the Indian School, for about a year and decided to leave because Polyglot where I worked part time wanted me Full time and no school bus travelling was involved. At this juncture, the late Rev Sr. Alba invited me to join them in Carmel School as their first Commerce Faculty for the Standard Eleven that they began that year. I agreed to do a short term stint there. A week before I was to join Carmel School, Fr. John Pinto from the Kuwait City Church phoned to tell me that a certain Carmelite priest was due to give a speech on vocations, for children above twelve years in the Church, but was not able to make it due to visa problems. Could I stand in? It was 8 PM and the talk was at 10 AM the next day. On my subject I am always prepared, but on vocations? Well, it was a nice challenge and the theme I spoke on was on how to do, whatever you do, well.

As I ended the talk by singing ” Do what you do, do well, boy, do what you do, do well… Put in your love and all of your heart and do what……(Since the session was closing and it was time for lunch, there was no risk of the youngsters walking out on my singing). One of the Reverend Sisters attended my talk. When I received the allotted Time Table, the previously assigned VII Standard Moral Values Class was reassigned to give me the XI Standard Moral Values Class. The lovely girls and I (27 years old then and always young at heart) had a whale of a time even as we did serious work. I had told them that I would not be joining back after the summer vacation. They gifted me a large potted plant which I treasured. This plant I gifted to one Iraqi Lady who with others had come hunting for goods into homes in Kuwait, with the promise to look after it well.

Water and electricity were affected. Lights in the city started to fail, water was not forthcoming even after the usual calls. This we thought was reason enough to plan our return home. I needed medical attention, the local clinic was unusually uncaring, probably overburdened with work that was mandatory with soldiers filling the clinic all day. I remembered with sadness, my previous visit to the clinic where my completely veiled, (except for her face) beautiful and kind Persian lady doctor had spoken so well about my health.

Reaven, Keith and friends from Reaven’s building planned our journey. A bus was arranged for about twenty of us to go by road to Baghdad. We intended to board a flight from Baghdad to Amman from where Air India had arranged for travel to India. And everything went as planned with the natural hitches expected of travel during war.

Yesterday was the first of August. As I sat in my cabin in the MBA Department of Bangalore University, whose proud employee I am, students applying for the Post Graduate Courses in the University came in for attestation of Marks Cards. God has certainly brought us a long way, was the thought that came to my mind when I realized the date as I signed and put my seal on the documents.

One last thought I want to share is that when life closes one door, God opens 20+ windows, all French windows at that! Cheerio! 


Cynthia Menezes Prabhu Archives:

By Keith and Cynthia Prabhu
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Comment on this article

  • Vinay Prabhu, Bangalore/New York

    Wed, Aug 24 2011

    I remember Keith and Cythia like it was yesterday at our Darwaza apt. I used Keith's razor for my shaving needs, a bit too early in life and Cyhthie had privy to all my adolescent secrets...

  • Charles D'Mello, Pangala

    Tue, Aug 23 2011

    i still remember the day. I was in India and we had celebrated my daughters Christening ceremony on August 1st at my Saadu's house in Kinnigoly (Who was in kuwait then) day morning we all were shocked to know that Kuwait was invaded by Iraq...from them till January 1991, we all were in telephone call and even no clue what is happening there..

  • Donald Roche, Mangalore /Rosario parish

    Sat, Aug 20 2011

    Hi Author(s), Congratulation for giving 'Daiji' readers, intersting articles like 'name him saddam', walking tall' and 'what really matters'. Your life experiences are really thrilling one!. The name 'Keith'took me down the memorylane and I rememered keith ,narrating any incident(s) beautifully without any stop. Also I remembered him keeping Rosary in his pocket. I am really happy to note that his life partner Cynthia, who can describe(write) incidents interestingly beautiful. Keith and Cynthia you are great for the fact that you both stood by each other in all the time . Keith T L S Prabhu and Cynthia after reading your article I utter myself 'Faith Saved him.'! O.K. Keith don't name him (?) saddam, name him Saadu Maam.

  • Bennet Vas, Kudlaa / WA

    Fri, Aug 19 2011

    Dear Keith & Cynthia, brought back bitter as well as sweet memories of the invasion. Indeed it was an experience in-itself. I liked the last line of your article - and I am very happy that you and Keith have done well for yourself, given the setbacks you have had in the year 1990. Grit and determination and the fact that you both stood by each other have paid rich dividends, keep writing - and all the best ....

  • Elsie Jane D'Souza, Bangalore

    Fri, Aug 19 2011

    A true life-story, depicting war-time experiences is indeed enlightening. We had heard & read about the Iraq invasion of Kuwait but the true life experience brings out the inner strength & courage shown.
    Great article, taking us down the memorylane.

  • Andrina Pais, Bajpe/Singapore

    Fri, Aug 19 2011

    A very clear picture given about the war that had shook the beliefs of most of the indians working there.But most of all i appreciate the thing you mentioned about do what you want to do,love it and yes i follow it as well.....thanks to you.

  • Ivan Saldanha, Saudi Arabia

    Thu, Aug 18 2011

    Great artice as we also had similar experiences but not severe as we lived away from Kuwait city centre. One simple correction, Kuwait was invaded on Thursday, 2nd August 1990 as i still remember the thursday i went to work and got stuck in the traffic at Kuwait city as most of the people were not aware that Kuwait was invaded. We mistook the Iraqi Soldiers as Kuwaiti. Luckily we could return by 10 am. Next two months was just wait and watch, listen to BBC etc

  • Gracy, Bangalore

    Thu, Aug 18 2011

    Nice and a very true one.. I was a three year old kid when my parents left Kuwait during the invasion. they left because they feared for my life! I have heard the same one from my parents too.. It must have taken away people breath at that time!!

  • geoffrey, hathill

    Thu, Aug 18 2011

    It's very true that when life shuts doors, He opens windows and it's equally true that if we keep gaping at the shut door, the open windows will go unnoticed.

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