Let me tell you about the day that changed my life forever.
It was 1990. I was eight years old. I lived in Kuwait in a great, some might say luxury-like apartment. We were five children at the time. Baba was a respected engineer and Mama was a homemaker. Both my parents’ parents immigrated to Kuwait as Palestinian refugees in 1948. As far as we were all concerned, Kuwait was our home. Until it wasn’t.
Enter the first Gulf war. Iraq had invaded Kuwait. One day we were fine, and the next we woke up to the sound of bombs, gun shots, and the overwhelming stench of smoke in the air. People we knew were evacuating the country; family, friends, neighbors. My youngest sister was born in the United States in 1987, and we were constantly bombarded with phone calls by the American Embassy urging us to get out of the country, because there was an American citizen in our midst. We refused. This was our home. We were born here, we grew up here, we had family and friends here. We respectfully declined, until one fateful day.
We saw a military truck pull up next to our apartment complex. The officers had gotten out, and began to ravage the homes that were abandoned. We heard them in our neighbors’ empty apartment below us. They took what they needed, and left. My father decided to go investigate, because the neighbors had entrusted him with their home. As he was downstairs, I just happened to look out the window and saw that same truck that left a few minutes earlier, make its way back, and that’s when I ran to my mother to tell her they had returned.
My mother tried calling out to my father to come back. But it was too late at that point. The soldiers had already made their way into that apartment again. My mother and I froze in terror. “What would they do to my father?” I remember thinking. Then I heard the awful accusations and the pleading by my father that followed:
“So YOU’RE the one that’s been stealing from this place?” A voice said, that was strange to my ears.
“No! Wallahi (I swear by Allah) it wasn’t me. I came to check in on my neighbors’ home, and make sure everything was alright.” Baba sounded panicked.
“You think we’re going to believe a thief like you?! You should be executed for such a crime!”
All I could do was cry. I was terrified. My mother was paralyzed from fear, and looking at her, I knew there was nothing she could do. After what seemed like an hour of back and forth in my mind, which I’m sure only lasted a few minutes, I heard someone say, “Where do you live? Take us there so you can say goodbye to your family. We’re going to take you and execute you today!” There was a strange silence coming from my father. It seemed as though he had given up fighting for his life. No matter what he said, they weren’t interested in hearing it because they had found the perfect person to take the fall for their disgusting deeds.
We heard the footsteps approaching closer and closer until we saw them. My father was standing in front of me, pale-faced, surrounded by three or four Iraqi soldiers. One of them in particular, he seemed like the one in charge, made eye contact with me at that moment. My eyes, filled with tears and terror, looked back up at this big man in khaki army gear, carrying a big gun, and sporting a giant moustache that covered his entire mouth. He looked terrifying to me. That was the man that was taking my father any minute now to end his life.
Suddenly, he said something that I will never forget until my dying day.
“Look what you did to your daughter? You’re making her cry.”
I looked at him, perplexed. “NO!” I wanted to shout. “It’s YOU that’s making me cry! You’re going to kill Baba for something that YOU did!” But instead, I wept silently waiting to say goodbye to my father forever.
Then he said with a smirk on his face, “You know, I’m going to do you a favor and release you today, only because you’ve made your daughter so sad. But if we ever hear of any reports of theft in this city, we will automatically assume you’re the culprit, and take you in and hang you in front of everyone as an example!”
My father looked at him, and quietly said, “Thank you. I appreciate your kindness.”
“Just go to your family, and don’t make us come here again.” The officer admonished my father smugly.
Then, to my great surprise, I heard my father say, “Would you like to come in for some tea?” I guess Arab hospitality knows no bounds. Thankfully, the officer declined the invitation, and they all left.
Almost immediately, my father was on the phone with the American embassy, arranging for a one-way ticket out of Kuwait.
We were forced to flee for our lives. To leave our home, jobs, loved ones. We were not allowed more than two suitcases. How do you fit your entire life into two suitcases? But when your livelihood depends on it, you do what you must to survive.
Through it all, my family remains thankful. We came to a land of great opportunities. With Allah’s guidance, we thrived here alhamdulillah. Who knows where we would be if we had stayed in Kuwait. Would I be as devoted to my deen as I am here in the United States? Would my siblings and I have become teachers, doctors, account executives, authors? Sure, our journey came with unquestionable hardships, but such is life. It is comprised of trials, and we get through them, and move forward.
I bare no ill will against anyone in this story. Iraq is not the culprit, and as we discover the history and roles of different parties involved in the Gulf War, we come to understand that things are not always as they seem. Everyone’s deeds are with Allah, and He is the Most Just.
Everyone’s story has a beginning and an end. War was my beginning, and everyday, I am working on a happy ending, alhamdulillah.
Country: United States of America
June 2020 Writing Contest