Family feels fear, sorrow and hope after flight from occupied Kuwait


January 30, 1991|By Randi Henderson | Randi Henderson,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS — Annapolis

In her nightmares, which come frequently, Salma is being chased by an unknown and menacing pursuer. She runs and runs, but she can't get away.

Then she awakens, lying on the mattress on the floor of her Annapolis apartment, and she looks around -- at her husband lying next to her, at the bare walls of a bedroom with almost no furniture. And she reminds herself she is safe. That nothing is chasing her.

Her husband, Mustapha, doesn't have nightmares. Instead he has bleak daytime visions of his family, his mother and two sisters, who remain in their home in Kuwait. He thinks of them suffering from food shortages, from confinement, from the constant presence of Iraqi soldiers. He laments his inability to help them, or even to get letters through to them.

Salma and Mustapha -- who asked that their last name not be used -- left their home in Kuwait on Sept. 10, little over a month after the Iraqi invasion. They brought with them their 2 1/2 -year-old daughter, Zainab, two suitcases full of clothing and personal possessions, and nothing else.

Zainab was their ticket out. She is an American citizen. With a foresight that now seems prescient, Salma and Mustapha came to visit a Kuwaiti friend in Oklahoma when their baby's birth was imminent.

"I wanted her to be delivered here. I wanted my baby to be an American citizen," Mustapha says now. Even with no idea what was coming, "I thought about the future, and I thought American citizenship was the best thing I could give her for her future."

So while many of their relatives and friends have had to remain in occupied Kuwait, or make arduous and often dangerous automobile trips to neighboring Jordan or Saudi Arabia, Salma, 24, and Mustapha, 28, were the guests of the American `f government on flights taking them from Kuwait to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

In early September, Salma remembers, "someone from the American embassy called us and they said because Zainab was born in America, she could leave, and one parent could leave with her. But we said no, we didn't want to be separated."

Mustapha picks up the story. "About 10 days later they called us and said they'd take both of us, we should be ready tomorrow. We had less than 24 hours to prepare."

They left the life they describe as comfortable and middle-class with barely a second thought. "Everyone in all countries in the world, their dream is to be an American," Mustapha says. "And they are right."


Kuwait is a land populated by many foreign nationals, but Salma and Mustapha lived there nearly all their lives. She was born in Kuwait, he moved there with his family when he was 5. Her father worked for an oil company, his was a reporter for a Kuwaiti newspaper.

Like most Kuwaitis, they learned English in elementary school. They

met through their families six years ago; he was already making a career for himself as an interior designer and woodworker. Within two weeks of their meeting they were engaged; three months later they married. They lived in a suburb of Kuwait City, the capital.

It was easy to save money in Kuwait, Mustapha says: "We don't have taxes, you don't have to pay for medical care, for schools or university. The government provides all that." And although both their families are wealthy, he is quick to make the point: "I built my life alone."

Their description of how they once thought of Kuwait now seems tinged with bitter irony. "It's a safe country," Salma says. "We always saw it that way."

Even more ironic in light of the invasion is the way many Kuwaitis perceived Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "Kuwaitis supported Saddam in his war against Iran," Mustapha explains. "You could find his picture hanging in a lot of Kuwaiti houses. They named their children after him."

"Now they change it," Salma adds. "It's funny -- and it makes me cry at the same time."

Salma dresses in traditional Kuwaiti garb -- called hojob -- covering all of her body except her face and hands. She chose the tradition for herself when she was 14, she says, although many businesses encourage western dress. She will continue to dress this way here.

Along with most of their countrymen, they didn't anticipate the Iraqi invasion. Mustapha recalls talking with a group of friends the day before. "We agreed, he [Hussein] would not invade. He will let his men do some bombs, some explosions in Kuwait, but he will not invade."

Once they had arrived in the United States, Salma and Mustapha were lent $600 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They stayed in the Sheraton Hotel near BWI for four days, then relocated to Sarah's House, a homeless shelter on the grounds of Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

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