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Expat shares experience of invasion Keep Kuwait history alive

The Iraqi invasion is something that no citizen will ever forget, it will be carried to the grave, it will be passed on to children, because it's practically part of being a proud Kuwaiti.

Although horrifying, the invasion was a historical event that symbolized Kuwait's strength in perseverance and overcoming hardships, as citizens and non citizens united with the men joining the resistance, youth going on food runs, women cooking food for the whole neighborhood, the whole country came together as one big family, caring and protecting each other, regardless whether they were Kuwaitis or foreigners, at that point, they were one.

We have heard numerous stories about the invasion from senior citizens, some are too horrifying that tears flow before the story is finished, some were too humorous that one would not believe it happened during an invasion, and some people that witnessed the invasion are too traumatized that they have not spoken about what happened ever since.

However, not so many stories are heard from foreigners, for most of them fled the country at the beginning of the invasion, but there were some that considered Kuwait as their home, that leaving was not an option, to them, leaving was an act of surrender, they shared the same love for the country as citizens did, leading them to stay with their friends and families in Kuwait and endure the invasion with them.

Karen Al-Anizi was amongst those people, a British woman that considers Kuwait her home, married to a Kuwaiti man who she met back in the UK before the Iraqi invasion, Karen firmly rejected her husband's request for her to leave and head back to the UK during the invasion, as she cares too much for her husband, family and friends in the country.

She later wrote a book with the title "Letter Home," where she spoke about her personal experience during the invasion, as she deemed it important to share her experience with the world.

 

Question: Tell us a little about yourself...

Answer: I have been in Kuwait for 33 years now, most of my working years I have been here in Kuwait. I met my husband Salem back in the UK and 6 months later we got married and I moved back here with him. I also spent a few years in Lebanon, as my husband had some business over there. Incidentally that was during the same time that Israel was bombing Lebanon. My poor parents used to tell me to "go and live somewhere sensible with no problems"!

 

Q: Were you in Kuwait throughout the Iraqi invasion?

A: I was here in Kuwait throughout most of it; I left on the 10th of October. The deal was that if I left, then the whole family would leave as well, and my husband would follow, because at that point if any Kuwaiti citizen was found harboring a foreigner, they would be executed, so I was kind of a threat to have around, which was a horrible feeling to be honest, knowing that your presence endangers your whole family, but at the same time you don't really want to leave them. When I say "family" I mean family from my husband's side as we were all close during the invasion. Eventually they later succeeded in convincing me to evacuate, and take the last convoy out of Kuwait organized by the American Embassy, telling me that they would follow.  But once I had gone, they felt more secure and didn't leave. They didn't leave until they felt real danger threatening their lives, as the Iraqi military were looking for my husband's brother who was in the police force, and they eventually discovered our house and arrested all the men for interrogation. They were later released in the middle of the night, and that's when they decided to leave, because the next time the Iraqi military returns, it might not just be an interrogation, they might not come back, and if they did, they might not be alive. So my husband decided to get everybody out, and to him, it was the hardest thing he ever did, leaving his country and everything he had ever known and held dear behind, not knowing if he would ever come back. It was very emotional to me when we spoke about that day, because when you get to the border, the Iraqi military would force you to sign away everything, including your identity, saying that you have no ties to Kuwait and have nothing to do with it. My husband described it as the worst feeling ever, it was like they were taking everything away from you, everything you have ever known. He successfully got his family out and into Saudi Arabia to stay with some relatives there, and he eventually managed to follow me to the UK.

 

Q: What about your side of the story?

A: Well the last American convoy took us to Basra, where we thought we would take a plane back to the UK, but the plane landed in Bagdad instead, where we got off only to find TV cameras filming us, in an attempt to make people think that Saddam Hussain was kind enough to allow the foreigners to leave, and such other things that they wanted to publicize. Only after that media stunt, were we allowed to board the plane heading back to the UK. Until my husband managed to reach the UK, I had no means of communicating with him, which made me realize what it was like for my parents while I was still in Kuwait, horrible. Back then there was no internet, no mobile phones, and international phone calls were cut off, the only way to send out messages was through the British embassy, alongside Gulf Link, that the BBC world service had setup, a service that allowed friends and families in the UK to broadcast messages via the radio to Kuwait, you would just have to tune in to the BBC world service at certain times of the day to hear the messages. Fortunately my husband heard the messages I sent through the BBC, assuring him that I was fine. I also sent messages to a friend of mine who recorded it. She lived close to our house in Kuwait, she didn't leave, she stayed throughout the whole invasion with her family, I was very worried about her, but thank god, we were all very lucky to come out of it fine, considering what happened to other people. Some stories you will never hear, because it's simply too horrifying for it to be shared.

 

Q: What inspired you to write your book "Letter Home" ?

A: When we were in Lebanon after the invasion, we met a group of friends, and whenever we were introduced to other people and they found out that we were from Kuwait, they would always ask if we were there during the invasion, and I used to tell the whole story every time, leading one of my friends to suggest writing a book about it, which made sense at the time considering I had no work. During the invasion, I started writing a letter to my parents, in the hope that someone heading to the UK would take it with them, which ended up like a 50 page diary, and when I started writing the book, I used the letter as the basis of the book, because it explained the situation in a daily manner. From that I wrote about what happened before and after. Writing the book was very cathartic, and it brought back a lot of the emotions as well.

 

 

Q: Tell us about the book and its content...

A: It's basically a true story of what happened during the invasion from my own vantage point, using the letter that I wrote as the foundation.  I ended up personally handing the letter to my parents when I got to the UK, as I was not able to get it to them earlier. The book also tells the story of my journey back home to Kuwait, and what happened to Salem, and how we were reunited.  I also mention what happened to other people in the book and where they all ended up. There are a lot of books out there that talk about the invasion, but they are sort of generalized, my book is more personal in that sense.  I have been lucky with people coming up to me and thanking me for writing the book, because there aren't that many books around that has a similar approach. Once I met this kind Kuwaiti lady that thanked me for writing the book, and told me how she made her husband read it and her children as well, because they didn't know what it was like for people in Kuwait during the invasion. This is true, because some stories were not told, especially from foreigners. They announced that any foreigner caught would be taken in as Saddam Hussain's "guests”, but in reality they were going to be taken to places that the Iraqi military believed would be bombed if the Allied forces were to bomb them, leading a lot of foreigners to hide away, completely relying on Kuwaiti citizens to feed them and protect them. They had drop off points for food and such to keep them alive.

 

Q: How did you come about publishing your book?

A: I first published it a while back now, through a Canadian based company that had an office at the UK at the time, making it available in online bookstores, initially just getting the message out there. But when I came back to Kuwait, I realized that it was difficult to order books online, which made me decide on printing it here just last year. So it was only recently that I managed to get it out in bookstores here in Kuwait.

 

Q: What was the public's reaction to your book when it got published here?

A: It was very positive I'll have to say. I take it to the seasonal Bazaars, and I usually do very well, getting people interested and talking about it. I have been told about similar books that have been published by other foreigners that were present during the invasion, but I haven't seen them and I can't say if they have a similar approach as my book.

 

Q: Would you mind sharing some of your stories about the invasion?

A: I think that one of the scariest times was when I was at my friend's house, who is also married to a Kuwaiti, we used to get together quite often during the invasion keeping each other company. To get to her house from mine, there were Iraqi check points everywhere, so I had to put on a Burga and Abaya, which was quite difficult to wear considering I don't normally wear them, whenever I went to her house, and made sure I didn't speak at the checkpoints on the way there so that the Iraqis wouldn’t know that I was a foreigner. One day when I was at her house, we heard that there was going to be a search conducted by the Iraqi military, in order to look for weapons that the resistance were distributing, and were hidden away in every house. When night fell the resistance would start shooting at them and they would have no idea where it was coming from.  They were coming down the road searching each house they passed, and we were sat there petrified because although my friend speaks good Arabic and I speak a little bit, you can easily tell that we were foreigners, so we were covered up in Burgas and Abayas sitting there waiting for them to come. But just before they reached our house the sun had set, and they called it off. They had already been to my house, where I would have been if I hadn't gone to my friend's house, but they didn't reach us, so we were quite lucky there. There are a lot of funny stories too, because the zoo let the animals out, since there wasn't anyone there to look after them. A friend told me that that while he was driving, he saw a Zebra just casually walking down the street! Another story was about my husband's friend whose car had a flat tire. While he was changing the tire, he felt the car rocking.  As he looked around the car, he found a man removing the other tire, the man looked at my husband's friend and told him that I found this car first, you take two tires and I’ll take the other two! There was a lot of looting going on during the invasion because of the disorder it caused, which is why that man was trying to take the other tires.

  

Q: Did your experience of the invasion have a psychological impact on you?

A: The experience was an emotional rollercoaster, because everything was basically rumors, one person would say something like "we've seen American soldiers in Ahmadi," and it would spread throughout Kuwait like wildfire, people would rejoice only to find out later on, that they were rumors. Some days were just really boring, because you can't leave the house, you can't go to work, there was nothing to do, and there was no TV. We had this video library that we would shift from house to house, just to kill some of the boredom. Other days were really frightening, because you would have random soldiers just outside your door, and you never know what's going to happen next. People were jumping from feeling positive to being depressed to frightened, and the propaganda that Saddam Hussain was putting out at the time didn't help. He used to say that Kuwait was going to be a graveyard, and that he was going to use chemical weapons. I remember making gas masks because we thought that we were going to be gassed, but thankfully none of that happened and we were very fortunate to come out of it in one piece.

 

Q: What about the community during the invasion?

A: The community was fantastic, everybody looked after each other, sharing their food and other necessities that one might need. The young Kuwaiti lads would go to the bakery to bring bread, throwing bags of bread over the wall, distributing them to the neighborhood. Although it was a tragic time, the community spirit was wonderful.  Salem's grandmother said to me that this is just like the olden days, when people didn't care about whether you've got the latest Mercedes or not, they only cared about each other. 

 

Q: Considering you were present in Kuwaiti before, during and after the invasion, have you noticed significant changes in both the people and the country as a whole?

A: Kuwait has changed so much, when I first came to Kuwait, the only restaurants were in hotels, and some fast food places here and there, but since the invasion, people that were out of the country brought back coffee shops, restaurants and shopping franchises.  We never had coffee shops before the invasion, now there's a Starbucks everywhere you go! Numerous restaurant franchises have been brought in as well, to the point that you can never decide what restaurant you want to go to nowadays. Before, there were only a handful to choose from, and if a new one opened, you would go there. Not just because of the invasion, but because of the development of technology, the young people are more westernized now; they are very different from how they were before.

 

Q:  If you had one message to get out there, what would it be?

A: Because there is a whole new generation now, that doesn't really know about the invasion, we need to educate the children about this particular event in Kuwait's history, let them realize how fortunate they are, what it was like for their parents or grandparents, how quickly everything changed overnight for Kuwait.  Keep that history alive by taking them to the Kuwait House of National Works museum or talking about personal experiences of the invasion and letting them know about the sacrifices that the people of Kuwait and the allied forces made, to get Kuwait back into the hands of the Kuwaiti people.

 

Biography

Karen Alanizi

  • Born in Farnham, Surrey, UK in 1958
  • Lived in Nailsworth, Portishead and Weston-Super-Mare, settling in Saltford, Avon
  • Attended Wellsway School in Keynsham
  • Gained an HND in Hotel Catering and Institutional Management from Sheffield Polytechnic in 1979
  • Married and moved to Kuwait in 1981
  • Invasion started on 2nd August 1990
  • Left Kuwait in October 1990
  • Returned to Kuwait in 1991
  • Spent time living in both Lebanon and Kuwait from 2002
  • Returned to Kuwait to be with family for allied attack on Iraq in 2003
  • Awarded MBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003 for raising money for Leukaemia Research Fund
  • Evacuated from Lebanon by Kuwait Embassy during Israeli bombing of Lebanon in 2006
  • Wrote and published Letter Home (on line bookstores) in 2006
  • Published Letter home in Kuwait in 2013

 

 

* The book “Letter Home,” is available at Jarir Bookstore, Q8 Books and Kuwait Bookshops.  See website at www.karenalanizi.com for more information and pictures of the invasion. 

 

By Ahmed Al-Naqeeb


By: Karen Alanizi

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