Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Gulf War: Part II – ‘3 Iraqi soldiers’

As the days went by, horrific stories of how men were killed, women raped, children orphaned, houses looted kept flowing in. The good thing was Dad was at home always. He worked with the Ministry of Kuwait, at the ship port in Jaleeb Shuwaikh. Now, with the ship ports and airports shut down, he dint have work.

But mom was on call 24 hours a day. She was a nurse at Ibn Sina hospital and worked for the Ministry of Health. We begged mom to stay back. But she never heeded. Every day morning, she would get ready for work. The moment she wore her nurse’s cap, she would turn to us and tell us in a matter-of-fact tone that she was now a nurse, and not our mother (Is that what they call Multiple Personality Disorder?) She’d go on about the Nurse’s oath and Florence Nightingale (sounded more like Greek and Latin to us).

Eventually, we figured out that nursing was a profession where one was made to promise that the patients will be given more importance than one’s own children.

One of the best things the war taught me was how to be a good sales person. Kuwaiti Dinar, which once held the highest exchange rate, was now as valuable as a piece of paper. We needed money. And the only way we could get it was by selling our furniture, cutlery, clothes, shoes, books and even toys.

Every morning, we sorted our household items into avoidable, necessary and unavoidable. The avoidable stuff was packed and off we went to sell them. People – Engineers, doctors, clerks sat like vendors, by the road side with their stuff littered into a huge pile. These were bought by local Iraqi people who had come into Kuwait. Most of them were illiterate. We heard stories of how a family had sold their washing machine and got into trouble because the lot who bought it from them, said no ‘pictures’ could be seen when switched on. (They mistook it for a TV apparently!)

To us selling each item even for the pittance they fetched us, gave us more joy than it would give a sales man on achieving his yearly targets.

When we were done with the avoidable stuff, we switched to the necessary stuff. I still remember how mom kissed her refrigerator and bid farewell to her oven, with immense pain. The tears in her eyes taught me that we could actually love things that would not necessarily reciprocate and love us back. (Another war lesson learnt)

It was on one such night that we heard the knock on our door. The peep hole showed 3 Iraqi soldiers.

Dad froze.

Mom was at work.

Our Sri Lankan maid howled and hid in the bathroom.

We three were preoccupied with Tom & Jerry.

Dad knew it would be stupid to wait. I had never seen such fear in his eyes. It might be bullets bringing down the door.

The 3 men who barged in had guns which were taller than I was. (I have always been short)

I and my elder brother were so awed by their presence that we knew Tom & Jerry could wait. We wished them in Arabic,

“Salam Alaiykkum”

The men wished us back

“Wa Alaykkum Asalam”.

We asked them

“Kaif Haluk?”

“Al Hamdul Allah, Zein”.

Now, we were talking! Like men.

Dad offered them water or anything they would like to take. He showed them where the cupboard was and told them to feel at home. He assured them we hid no Kuwaitis and said they could inspect.

Meanwhile, we were busy inspecting them. I was more interested in the gun while my brother was keen on the dagger and its leather case. The men looked on for a while. I trust they had an interest on our National Panasonic TV. But perhaps the cartoon brought childhood memories and they chose to leave it with us. They smiled at us and shook hands with us. They chose to take nothing. Ours must have been the only house they left un-touched.

And in a glance, they were gone. Only to return in my memories, once in a while.