Banker helps frantic refugee locate husband

September 12, 1990|By Michael Ollove

Elias M. Shomali normally wears a banker's conservative business suit. Monday, he got to put on his shining armor.

A Palestinian reared in the West Bank and now an executive of Signet Bank, Mr. Shomali came to the aid of a highly distraught young Palestinian woman and her 2-year-old daughter who had arrived Monday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport with 160 other evacuees from the Persian Gulf.

The woman, who had come from Kuwait City, spoke almost no English, had no money, and had absolutely no idea where in the United States she could find her husband, who had come here just before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait to prepare an American home for his family.

For all she knew, her husband had left the U.S. altogether and gone to Turkey or Jordan in the hopes that she had fled there with other refugees.

Mr. Shomali, a senior vice president in charge of Signet's international division, was at the Butler Aviation Hangar No. 2 to help with translations for Arabic-speaking passengers. When he heard of the weeping young woman's plight, he made calls to Saudi Arabia and around the United States trying to locate her husband.

None of the calls produced any information until Mr. Shomali finally reached the woman's distant uncle in Seattle, who had a number for her husband in Riverside, Calif. Moments later, Mr. Shomali had effected the cross-country reunion.

Mr. Shomali, 47 years old and the father of four, stood by the woman as she spoke to her husband, who himself had had no idea where she was. "She identified herself and started crying," Mr. Shomali said. "I guess this was a cry of joy rather than the earlier cries of worry."

For the most part, the arrangements for handling the evacuees Monday did not involve such hand-wringing. By early afternoon state officials, who had marshaled a half-dozen state and private agencies to assist the former hostages, said that all but one family were on their way to their final destinations in this country. The lone exceptions were a woman and her three children who had not yet been able to contact relatives in Texas.

State officials said that by far the greatest need of the former hostages was for money and help with travel arrangements. Helen Szabalya, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Resources, said 34 families received a total of $15,650 in federal, no-interest cash loans. In addition, 46 families were lent a total of $23,172 for air fare, she said.

Yesterday, state officials revised upward the number of former hostages to 162 from the 140 figure they had given the day before. Of those, 88 were children and 22 were men.

Nearly half of the evacuees spent Monday night at the Sheraton International Hotel at BWI. Maryland officials said yesterday that the U.S. State Department has alerted them to expect more flights from the Persian Gulf, possibly as early as this weekend.

If and when more former hostages arrive, Mr. Shomali said he will be there again, ready to help. "I was called to see if I would be available for the next flight," he said. "The answer was a quick yes."

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