Life in refugee camp teaches survival WAR IN THE GULF

February 21, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Staff writer

AZRAK, Jordan - Feisal Ismail, who is 12, is trapped between two wars -- one in his home country of Kuwait and another in the home country of his parents, the east African nation of Somalia.

Because of this, Feisal's home since October has been a drafty tent in a refugee camp on the desert plains of Jordan. His family left Kuwait two months after the Iraqi army invaded, and Feisal's life hasn't been back to normal since.

Every day his meals add up to the same, dreary totals -- a small can of tuna fish, two pieces of bread and a glass of instant milk. After dinner, there is darkness, and no television, so Feisal goes to bed under five woolen blankets that don't keep out all the winter chill.

As he sleeps, he dreams of playing games and going to school back in Kuwait City. Sometimes while he is dreaming, Iraqi Scud missiles pass far overhead, unseen and unheard on their way to targets in Israel.

In the days before his family left Kuwait, Feisal saw little of the soldiers that had come. "I was staying at home, and my mother was saying I couldn't go outside," Feisal said. "So I would watch it on television. They were saying that the Iraqi people had come to Kuwait."

When his parents decided that living in Kuwait was becoming too dangerous, they boarded a bus for Jordan with about 20 other Somalians, including most of Feisal's best friends.

Nowadays, he spends most of the daylight hours playing soccer with those friends, or darting in and out between the hundreds of tents in the camp. As playgrounds go, the camp isn't much to look at. There are no trees, and no soft grass to roll on. The dark brown hills of the desert stretch on and on, as far as the eye can see. And just about the only thing to look at in the distance is the occasional nomadic herdsman leading a flock of goats or sheep.

There is also no school. "It's very hard here," he says. "The weather is too cold, there is not enough to eat, and I miss school." Feisal still gets an occasional treat. One day he got to meet Jordan's Queen Noor. When she came back for a second visit to the camp he made her laugh by calling her "an old friend of mine."

He also watches the bus loads of people who come and go from the camp, headed home to more than a dozen different nations after leaving Kuwait or Iraq. As Feisal strolls through the camp chatting to a visitor in his polished English -- though his best language is Arabic -- he points to each international section as if he were an ambassador at the United Nations.

His family waits for the end of the war in Kuwait, hoping that it will be soon so his father can go back to his job as a mechanic, and his mother can again be a secretary. The wait has already been so long that Feisal's baby sister, now 2 months old, was born in the camp. "My parents, they are very sad," Feisal says. "We cannot get away from here. Maybe we stay here 10 months. Or 10 years."

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