Woman stayed behind -- and now looks forward

October 04, 1992|By Doug Struck

KUWAIT CITY -- When Jehan Rajab dug through the garbage to see how Iraqi soldiers wrecked her school, her heart sank. Like much of the city, it was thoroughly trashed.

"I wasn't sure at all Kuwait -- or the school -- could stagger to its feet," said Ms. Rajab, the school's headmistress. "But I thought there's absolutely no point in sitting down and doing nothing."

So she cleaned up with the same determination that saw her through seven months of occupation. When being a Westerner or a Kuwaiti were dangerous, she was both.

A Scot married to a Kuwaiti, she not only refused to flee, but she hid an American in her home at further risk of death -- and secreted a valuable collection of antiquities, to boot.

"I stayed because I've had good times, and bad times, but always interesting times," said Ms. Rajab, who is 58. "Kuwait has given me a life I would not have had in normal circumstances. I guess I was brought up that you stick out the bad times."

The Iraqis, baffled by this feisty woman, never arrested her.

"When others started coming back, there was a lot of mixed feelings," she said of the liberation. "I suppose those who remained felt quite pleased with themselves."

And optimistic: "We all expected miracles to come. Instant democracy. We would all love one another, and Kuwaitis would set to doing everything. Thinking back on it, it was a bit silly."

Her husband, stranded in Jordan by the Iraqi invasion, returned. Together, they reopened the private English school for 1,300 students.

"People say we haven't changed. I think we have changed," said Ms. Rajab. "It's just a feeling. What happened will be in the back of people's minds."

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