Kuwait — my first experience overseas


These photos were taken by Stephanie McGehee after the invasion of Kuwait. The last oil wells were capped just prior to my arrival in 1993. In a weird and frightening way, these fires were beautiful, and seemed to have a life of their own. The reflection you see is a lake, but not of water, it is oil.

Here are some of my memories from that time.


I went to Kuwait in 1993, right after the Gulf War. I still remember my first impressions in the airport. Everything was WHITE – seriously white. The person who met us was dressed in white, except for his very shiny black shoes hidden by his long white robes. It was so white it was unnerving. When we went to get into the car with our greeter, my companion and I both tried to get into the back seat. I remember him turning to say in near perfect English, “I do not bite, one of you can get into the front.” I immediately did so. Later, I learned he was the nephew of our employer, one of the wealthiest men in the world.


Even so, everything outside was white. The sand, the buildings – white against blue skies. AND it was HOT. It was August, and the desert heat created waves. The air shimmered with the heat. It felt a bit like walking into an open oven. Everything was air-conditioned. Cars were especially made to support heavy-duty air conditioning units. It was not unusual to find cars in the parking lots with motors running, and the air-conditioning going; the doors locked. Just by briefly walking outside jewelry, such as earrings, and bracelets became hot against the skin.


Prior to this trip, I had never been on an airplane. We had just traveled close to 27 hours on a trans-Atlantic flight from Boston, MA to Kuwait City, Kuwait with a layover in London. We were placed in economy class in the middle row of the center. I had just come from Vermont, and I definitely felt like a country hick. The plane was big, and crowded. Only those who know nothing about planes, allow themselves to be put in the center of the middle aisle. Movement was near impossible and, I have removed sardines easier from a can, than removing my body from the seat to stand up.


We were tired, and I was emotionally spent. I was hoping they would take us to a hotel room. Instead, being a good host, we were taken to his home. The house was marble. The walls were concrete and the floors were marble. He had a large undisciplined Irish Setter that spent its time running, or rather sliding across the floors. We were generously treated to some wonderful Kuwaiti/Arab treats, and extended conversation. Many, many, and even more questions were asked about our role in Kuwait. What did we know about learning disabilities? How did we plan to set up a school? From where did we expect to draw students? My head was spinning, and soon I had to beg to be allowed to return to our rooms. I could no longer remember my name, let alone what I was doing here.


I had found this position by accident. Recently, I had finished a position created in hell. It was as a coordinator for the State of Vermont’s therapeutic foster care program in Southeastern Vermont. I had come to the realization that trying to put band-aids on bleeding jugular veins, which were the children in the system, was more than I could handle. So I quit, and there I was, sitting in the library when I came across an ad in the Boston Globe advertising for people to start a school in Kuwait. It was a small ad, about 6 lines in small type. They needed a school psychologist. It was 1993, two years after the first Gulf War. I always wanted to visit the Arab world, so I figured “Why not?” and off I went. And here I was, exhausted.


Our benefactor taking pity on my colleague and I called a driver to take us to our lodging. I, at least, expected a room with a decent bed and shower. We found ourselves at what looked like temporary housing shelter. It was a lot filled with mobile units. We were shown one of them, and told we would have to carry our own luggage. Our driver explained he had had a heart attack and, therefore, could not lift anything. I dragged my duffel bags to the housing unit. Looking around, I saw a metal shack reminding me of a trailer I once had for living quarters. When I turned the water on, it was black. When I went to take a shower, it was necessary to let the water run for about ten minutes before it came clear of what looked like black sludge. Apparently these buildings had been unoccupied since the invasion of Iraq, and the taps unused.


At least there was a fridge and drinking water. We came to discover, our driver had been given plenty of money to find us a decent hotel. He decided we were only teachers, who would not know any better, and found us this converted construction camp. He pocketed the rest of the money. When we opened the door in the morning, we were confronted with a white expanse of the finest sand I had ever seen. The sun reflected off this blazing expanse, blinding my eyes. The white sand flowed seamlessly into the bluest water making up the Gulf of Arabia, once known as the Persian Gulf.


Our driver came to take us to our new apartments. These were in an old building on the outskirts of Kuwait City. Surrounding the buildings was sand, endless expanses of sand. Now, gentle reader, remember I came from Vermont, the land of Green Mountains —- endless green mountains. The floors of this building were marble, and the rooms large with floor to ceiling windows. It was an old building from before the Iraqi invasion in 1991. The building had been refurbished, and we were among the first ones in there. It was close to the Gulf. The building in front, with a sea view, had been shot through from when the Iraqi came down the coastal road. There were large holes from where the tank shells had struck the building.


A new woman came to meet us at the apartments. She was the Aunt of our employer, and was totally shocked to learn we preferred to stay in these apartments, rather than the hotel where we were the night before. She felt they were not clean enough to house us. It was many months before she learned what the Driver had done. We did not think to tell her why we wanted to move. We thought she had approved where we were taken. We never thought the Driver would steal.


This was my introduction to Kuwait. It is probably a good thing I was dazed from traveling, and not completely aware of my surroundings. If I had been, I probably would have gotten on the next plane out of town.




It was dusty, always dusty and it was worse in the sand storms. These storms would come like snow blizzards, except they were made of sand. Just like in a snow blizzard, it was almost impossible to see the road. We could not drive, as the roads were slippery. And leaving your car outside was a bad idea for after the storm passed much of the paint on the car was gone – sand blasted away.


It was a land of extremes. Even its people are caught in these extremes. One of the biggest mistakes people make about the Middle East is to think that because the people were becoming, and wanting to be modernized that they were westernized. The two are not the same; they are not even equivalent, and while the Middle East did rapidly become modernized, it did not become westernized. They maintained their traditions while updating homes, and buildings, and cars, and technology.


When we arrived in Kuwait in 1993, its people were still becoming used to what it meant to have oil money. There were super highways, recently built, three lanes to a side but still a novelty. If, while driving the roads, you saw someone you wanted to talk to, you pulled up beside them, honked and rolling down your window, you carried on a conversation with the traffic backing up behind you. I say “he” as the vast majority of drivers were male. In those days, women were a rare sight on the road.


Often cars did not use lights at night because they feared the battery would wear out. One particular night stands out in my memory. I was driving quite fast on the road home. The roads were new, and made fantastic speedways. I realized there were cars coming up particularly fast behind me, and quickly pulled over into the slower lane to the right. I suddenly realized there was a dark shape directly in front of me. Putting on the brakes, I rolled to a stop just as I came to the rear of a cement truck, with no taillights and moving quite slowly at about half my speed. I remain grateful that I took note of the dark shape, and slowed in time to avoid a major collision.


Speeding was a common sport among the young. Racing on these highways was often seen. I would look in my rear view mirror and see cars coming at me quite fast with rapidly blinking lights. When this happened, it was best to remain in my lane and not move. To try to move out of the way of the approaching car was suicidal at best. The cars were moving too fast to make a correction. The drivers counted on my not moving from the lane I was in. The cars, when they passed, were moving fast enough to cause my car to rock from the vibration of the speed.


In an attempt to stop this behavior, the police came up with a unique plan. Any cars, in an accident, were left on the side of the road for all to see. I saw cars bent in unique shapes, I would have thought impossible if I had not see them with my own eyes. Young Kuwaiti men felt it a right of passage to totally wreck the first car they were given. More often than not, they ended in the hospital in a coma. Many died, but they were not deterred. I heard stories of cars becoming airborne from speed, and I saw the results.


We had come to found a school for children with learning difficulties. We were the first of its kind in the Middle East and this proved to be an amazing experience. We started with one child. When I left eleven years later we had 156 students, and we had assisted in starting a school in Qatar as well. The school became part of the Qatar Foundation. Both schools are still operating. Little did I know I would stay in the Middle East for fourteen years, and then go on to remain overseas for an additional 7 years, in Africa.


At that time, there were four of us who came to start the school. Two would leave the first year and two of us would go on to remain. The building we moved into for the school was being renovated. It was a home with bullet holes through it. When you were inside you could see the outside. Workmanship was completely, and totally done by hand. There were no construction machines. Electricians tested whether an electrical socket was viable by sticking a light bulb with wires attached into an outlet. If it lit up, then it worked. The only problem was we blew out computers before it dawned on us, you could not tell which was the ground wire in this manner. Since the electricity was 220v, this proved very hazardous to out electrical equipment like printers. I thought it would make a large noise when this happened but it does not. One plugs in a printer and it goes “thhpt” and that is it. It no longer works. There is no fanfare, just a small innocuous sound that signaled the loss of a 500 usd piece of equipment.


We found out also, this equipment is not discarded, you find someone to repair it. We found a fellow from India who was amazing as he could repair anything, and he did. He repaired printers and computers for us and his price was fair, except for one small thing. He liked liquor, which was interesting as Kuwait was a dry country, and mostly his price was bottles of liquor, which we learned to smuggle into the country with amazing ease. I can now admit this, as we are no longer there.


We not only learned how to smuggle in liquor, we learned how to make our own wine. When we went to the grocery store to buy ingredients the clerks would tell you what you were lacking. There was one major store we used called the Sultan Center. It was the first store to cater to Westerners, and it became a major chain in Kuwait. At the time, there were only two or three stores, small by Western standards, but adored by us expatriates. When anything arrived like “After Eight Mints” the word would go out and we would all rush to buy before they ran out. When we bought Rabina by the case, for making wine, the clerks would tell us how much sugar we needed. We would make our wine and then share the best bottles with others. And the wine was good – we were creative.


We also had friends, who made their own gin, flavored liquors, and anything else made form pure grain alcohol. Computer cleaner was used, as was medical grade alcohol. It was possible to legally bring these items into the country. Obviously, they were not always used for their intended purpose. But, these items had to be seriously diluted as the proof was far more than was safe to ingest. But put juniper berries with some computer cleaner, and the gin was quite good. The British were superb at alcohol innovation.


All luggage was searched by hand at the airport. We learned to wrap bottles in aluminum foil to deceive the x-ray machines. The other trick was to put it in flat water bottles, called a platypus. These did not show up on x-rays and held about a fifth of alcohol. Some ex-patriots, traveling with children, would make them cry as they were going through customs. This would cause the customs agents to push them on through the line. There were all kind of tricks developed for getting liquor through. And, of course, one could always just buy it on the black market in Kuwait


Tanks were everywhere. It was 1993 when we arrived, right after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. Tanks were left littered on the streets, and there were many buildings with HUGE gaping holes left by tank fire. The tanks were used as landmarks. You drive out the desert road, and at marker 51 you will see a tank on the left side of the road. You turn left on the road right after the tank, and it will take you to the chalets. Kuwaitis had their homes in the city, and their chalets on the water outside of town. So much had been destroyed during the war, so very much.


After the invasion, Kuwaitis and ex-patriots alike returned to find their homes looted, jewelry stolen, and terrible destruction. The Iraqi, apparently, were overwhelmed at the amount of wealth in Kuwait. Understandably, they looted the gold markets, and the homes.


Gold markets were an amazing site. There were large market areas, with shop after shop filled with gold. It was all open to the streets and nothing was guarded. My friends and I kept thinking, that if this was in the US, there would be armed guards everywhere. We hardly ever saw even security guards in the area. At night, iron gates were pulled across the front of the store and locked. We did hear of thefts, but these were rare. I personally, did have thefts occur. But these were crimes of opportunity, happening because of my own foolishness in not locking away valuable jewelry.


The Gulf was amazingly beautiful. We were often invited to spend the day with the friends we had made. We would travel an hour’s ride to get into the desert to the chalets. The water was exquisite, and we would walk along the beach amazed at the whiteness of the sand, and the contrasting blue of the sea.. The Gulf was moody. It changed color according to the mood of the day. I drove along the Gulf to get to work and each day it changed color. Our days were filled with adventure. We climbed the tanks we found in the desert, and we explored. We did not know the tanks had residual radioactivity in them. We found this out —- later.


My colleague who loved to crawl over the tanks would later contract prostate cancer and die from it. We never really knew whether or not this might have been from playing on these tanks. Many children, both in Kuwait and Iraq, had birth defects. Many died. Many who lived had serious health issues. Asthma was a HUGE problem. During the Gulf War it rained fine oil sediment. The fires in the fields were so thick. Anyone with breathing issues experienced serious difficulty. We had arrived shortly after the last oil fire was put out but the air was still thick with particulate matter, causing considerable difficulty for children.


The concept of Arab hospitality was not an idle one.


Lebanon, my Lebanon Part 2

We traveled up the mountains to the home of my cousins in Amyoun. It is a beautiful little village. The old part of town has very narrow streets. If you stood in the middle of the road, you could touch the houses on both sides. The houses are made of stone. They look like they were carved from stone. The interiors of the homes are stone as are the floors. The roads are steep, and wind through this small area giving character and grace to the village. My favorite activity of the day was to rise early in the morning, and walk the streets. The towns were close together, so it was an easy walk to go from Amyoun, my father’s town, to Couspah, my mother’s town. It must be clearly stated that Couspah was known for its ice cream. It was truly a gift.

My father’s home is located across from a steep cliff. Although it is not in the old part of town, it is still old. It is a large home with tall, long windows, and floors of stone and walls of concrete. My aunt lived here by herself for many years. When I met her, she was around 95 years of age. Her posture was erect and her back straight. She never married, and neither did her brother, who shared the home until his death in the mid 1950’s. He was a heavy smoker, and that is what most likely killed him. The home has been taken over now by squatters. Apparently, in order to get them out we have to pay for them to leave. Lebanese law has its peculiarities. People who left Lebanon are seen as wealthy because we live in America or Argentina or Brazil, etc. Those who stayed seem to feel entitled to compensation from those who left. It is a strange entanglement leaving one wondering about the trustworthiness of relatives.

The cliff across from the house is known as the Hermit’s Cliff. It is riddled with caves on the shear side. There was a Church on the top of the cliff. The hermits would go into the caves to live out their lives. They could see out but never left the cave. Apparently food was lowered to them. There is a large flat space in front of the cliff. Each year there is a Festival of Olives celebrated, where a queen is crowned. I went with my cousins to this festivity. As I sat there, I stared up at the Hermit Cliff, and imagined I could see them staring out watching the scantily clad young ladies competing for the title of most beautiful. The juxtaposition of the two was almost overwhelming. The scantily clad men sitting in caves above, devoting their whole lives to finding God, against the scantily clad girls below devoting their young lives to the Goddess of Beauty or Lust, depending upon your perspective.

One memory from my first visit stands out very distinctly. So many of the houses were in rubble from repeated bombings during the civil war. The house next to my cousins’ had half walls, almost no roof nor floors. It was a two- story building, where in one corner was a relatively intact room. A number of Syrian laborers lived in that second story room. They reached the room by climbing broken stairs, and then walking some narrow beams to this area, where they were camping. I could only guess how bad conditions were in Syria, if this was considered a step up for them.

We had just finished lunch in my cousin’s kitchen. She was a wonderful cook, and had gone out of her way, while I was there, to make the foods I loved. After we finished, my cousin’s husband took the plastic bag filled with garbage from where it was tied to the kitchen faucet. He walked with the bag out onto the porch where I was standing. He then walked to the edge of the second floor balcony, and began to swing the bag faster and faster. When it reached just the perfect arc, he let it go, and it flew smoothly into the house next door. It landed on a pile of garbage on the floor. Seeing me staring, he said, “Don’t worry. We burn the garbage each month. I thought about those people I had seen walking in the rafters, and how they were living above a garbage heap infested with rats and wild cats. And then I was told, “What can you expect? There are no garbage collections. Seventeen years of civil war did this.”

One of the wonderful memories I have, from this visit is taking long rides through the countryside. My cousin’s husband took us for drives, and we explored the area. We stopped whenever something looked interesting. One time we stopped in the Druze area, far up in the hills. The Druze have an interesting religion, hard to define, and not easily categorize. They are not Moslem or Christian, and maintain silence about specifics. We stopped at a home, a small concrete house. It was clean and neat, but bare. He invited us to share coffee, and we did while the men discussed where we were, and obtained directions to the next place.

We were soon on our way, and soon we stopped again. We were traveling through a small village. All of the inhabitants were in the streets in what looked like a procession. Before my comprehension caught up with the situation, my two cousins were out of the car and talking to whomever they could find. Soon, they returned to tell us, this was a funeral procession for a young man who had committed suicide. They had found out the age, the family history, and why, most likely, the young man took his life. These women would have made fantastic detectives. I sat in the back seat, marveling. I wondered what would happen in the United States, if I had acted similarly. These experiences demonstrated to me the close communication between strangers, and how they were bonded together.

I wondered how, in a country where total strangers could invite me for coffee, open up about the suicide of one of their young in the village, the people could then divide into forty-seven different factions during a civil war, with the result of brother killing brother. Within my own family, one cousin bombed the home of another.

Lebanon is an amazing land of contradictions. The greatest export from Lebanon is its people. We have moved all over the world. The Turkish occupation, the extreme poverty combined with incredibly high prices, and the constant instability of the region, has force the people to leave. We are everywhere from Argentina to Senegal. We are known as chameleons and blend easily into our adopted countries, often making major contributions. At one time, it was known as the “Paris of the Middle East.” The people are proud of their fluency in French, preferring to speak French than Arabic.

The Lebanese women are known for their beauty. It is not so much their beauty, as their incredible ability for fashion and dress. Once, on another visit to Lebanon, I was in the South of Lebanon at a party sponsored by the sister of the then President of the country. The women were dressed in exceptionally tight clothes, and very expensive ones. One woman was dressed in a pants suit costing 1500 dollars. I was told she would wear it once; President Hariri’s sister had bought it for her.

Once, when I asked my cousin why the young women wear such incredibly tight clothes, I was told, “how else do you expect them to attract a man?” In a country that demanded a woman be a virgin on her wedding night, I fear that she might obtain more than she bargained for.

Much of the behavior I observed was a result of the extreme poverty in Lebanon. It was not unusual for a family to select the daughter considered the most beautiful, and spend all of its resources on her. The living room of the house was outfitted in the best of furniture, while the family slept on mattresses on floors. The girl was dressed in the best to ensure a man with money would want her. The man, once married, was then expected to support the rest of the family. There was a joke circulating at the time “What is the first thing a Lebanese woman looks for in a man?” Answer: “The size of his wallet.” The women are indeed very practical.

This is not unusual in the world. I have heard of similar situations in Thailand, Philippines, and in other countries in desperate straights.

Traditionally, I do not wear make-up. I do not enjoy the feeling on my skin, and I tend to lick off the lipstick. Given I am concerned about how many chemicals I consume, I prefer other forms of poison. One woman, I made friends with, looked at me one day. She looked at the way I was dressed, and then said, “I think it is wonderful you do not care how you look.” She could not understand why I was upset. Also, the women keep themselves very thin. The fact I do not was repeatedly remarked upon. The women may appear to be concerned with appearances more than anything else. The concern for how one looks was definitely absorbed by my mother. I fear she experienced great frustration in trying to get me to care. I give her credit for trying, and that, my friends, is a story for another time.

Lebanon, my Lebanon. Still in spite of it all, it is a land of amazing beauty. It is most known for its cedar trees, the Cedars of Lebanon, renowned since Biblical times. My cousin’s husband took me to see the trees. I had always heard about these amazing trees. I was told you could see them as far as you could look. I came from Vermont. I was expecting large expanses of trees like I experienced there. As we drove higher and higher up the mountain, I became increasingly excited as I looked forward to seeing these splendid trees. When we were almost there, my cousin’s husband said, “Look, see the Cedars are there.” I looked; I saw nothing. “Where?” I asked. “There,” he replied. “Aren’t they beautiful.” He was growing impatient with me. He and I were not getting along. Once he found out I have a fear of heights, he found it very funny to drive as close as he could to the edge of the road. The mountains are indeed very high, and there are no guardrails with very steep slopes at the edge. I did not find him funny.

Finally we reached the area he was pointing too. There was one very large and ancient tree surrounded by a fence. During the civil war the trees were sacrificed to keep warm and, they were sacrificed to make objects for tourists. Thousands of years these trees had stood. They had formed the masts on Roman ships. The wood was prized because insects did not like it. The trees were ancient when Christ walked the earth. The mountains had been covered in them. In less than fifty years, Lebanon had gone from the Cedars of Lebanon to the Cedar of Lebanon. My homeland was making me seriously depressed. Fortunately, there are plans to reseed the trees before they are totally lost.

Lebanon Part 1


To this day, I am not sure what I expected to see the first time I flew into Lebanon. My Mother always said

“Lebanon, my Lebanon. The Mediterranean waters are blue, blue (with an emphasis on a long drawn out blu-u-ue). The countryside beautiful; the city of Beirut, like something from a dream.” It always gave me the image of a Disney production, and at the very least, I expected to see Tinkerbell flying around the city waving her magic wand. But that is not what happened, nor is it what I saw,

My mother saw it as a magical, fairy kingdom. She left there when she was fifteen, after she was married to my father. She remembers Lebanon this way because it was where she was the happiest. She told me wonderful stories of how, as a child, she roamed the hills behind her house, She would ride a donkey through the orchards filled with lemon, and tangerine trees. From her hillside, she could see the Mediterranean, and she would sit there for long hours staring. When I visited her home, I went up the hill behind her family home. Yes, there was an old Roman ruin there. When I sat upon it, I could see the Mediterranean off in the distance, and it was a beautiful blue.

When I arrived in Beirut it was not the beauty I expected. The first place my guide took me was to the Green Line in the center of town. This is where different factions fought with each other. One side was on one side of the road, the other, on the other side and, they shot at each other. This was during the civil war in Lebanon that took place from 1975 to 1990. I visited in 1995. Very little had been done to repair the damage. The Green Line road was criss-crossed with electrical wires, like a giant, ill formed spider’s web made by a very drunk spider. Everyone had electricity but no one paid for it.

The buildings were largely bombed out shells. People lived in them. Two or three stories of buildings with gaping holes, and minimal plumbing were seen. What must it have been like for these people who had lived together in peace for so many years. Lebanon was a land where Moslems, Orthodox, and Eastern Rite Catholics lived in peace for many years. Together, with the help of the French, a land rich in heritage and architecture was built. But beneath the surface simmered tribal hatreds breaking out in 1975 in a civil war basically destroying the country.

Lebanon is a land approximately 120 miles long and 60 miles wide. It is known for its beautiful mountains and incredible location on the Mediterranean. At the height of the Civil War, there were approximately 47 different factions. My mother did not think it amusing when I said, this would give each faction less than a square mile to control. Hyperbole, yes, but pretty much true.

Brother turned against brother. My cousin had her house bombed by another cousin, who had joined another faction. My friend tells the story of a man who had two sons. Each night they left the family home, and went to fight – each for a different party. One night the father took a gun, and killed them both. He could not endure the thought they might meet in battle and one forced to kill the other. It was a gruesome and bloody time, and here I was staring at the remains.

I was raised to be very proud of my heritage. In many ways, I considered myself more Lebanese than American. I was soon to find out this was not reciprocated.

Lebanon, my dear Lebanon. Land of my mother, and my father. I had heard so many stories growing up, it sometimes felt that is where I lived, in Lebanon. I was raised bi-culturally. We had one culture at home, and one outside the house. At home my parents spoke Arabic to each other and English to us. When my sister was small, the school would not allow her to stay because she could not speak English, and the teacher could not understand her. She could not return to school until she was able to speak English. Not wanting the same thing to happen to me, I was raised able to really understand Arabic but speaking was limited. I never felt part of the culture at school. My friends were limited. I was not accepted. I was often asked why I looked “different.” “You don’t look like the rest of us.” What was that supposed to mean. Once I was told, by a boy I had “bedroom eyes.” I had no clue what he was talking about. Now, I wonder if he knew. We were in the seventh grade, at the time.

All this to say I was really looking forward to being in Lebanon. At last, I had come home. This is the land where I belonged.

I looked around at bombed out buildings with people still living in them. I saw children playing in the middle of the streets, and in between buildings in dirty, muddy water. I wondered about their sanitation system, or lack of it. My friend’s fiancé was driving me, and he took a perverse pleasure in showing me all of the damage done during the civil war. Whenever I asked questions, or was surprised by what I saw, he responded by saying, “What can you expect after seventeen years of civil war?” This was the excuse for everything. There were no garbage pickups, and there had not been for many years. As far as the eye could see until the line on the horizon, was garbage. When I took pictures, I had to raise my camera in order to obtain a picture without garbage.

As we left the city, and started the ride up the mountain to the village where my mother was raised, we suddenly were engulfed with overwhelming traffic. The three lane highway suddenly accommodated five lanes of cars – all beeping and hollering at each other. Khaled, my friend’s fiancé, rolled down the window, and started screaming at another driver across the way. Unfortunately, I understood what he said. It always amazes me the first thing we learn in a foreign language is how to swear. I could not speak Arabic fluently, but I could swear like a trooper. I understood it all, and it was embarrassing.

After we left the city limits and started into the villages, we were confronted with road blocks. I was told not to speak, not to let them know I was American. This happened about every five kilometers. There were conversations, and I, fortunately, was hardly noticed in the back.

Letting Go

I am downsizing or, as I prefer to think of it, releasing my possessions for someone else to love. Although I am influenced by the need to provide financial support for myself to allow me to write, that is not the primary reason. Neale Donald Walsch wrote a book “When everything Changes, Change Everything.” For me, everything is changing, and it is a feeling of needing to catalyze this change.

This process has often been a part of my life. As a child I never owned much; no one did. As I grew, I accumulated things, and then I would either lose them, or give them away. Prior to going overseas in 1993, I sold everything I owned. When I moved to a different country, I often gave things away, and on a few occasions sold items. But now, I have twenty years of accumulation, as like in 1993, I feel a need to make room for changes in my life. To make room for new things; new experiences to take place, is my soul’s need. Through the years as I traveled, I purchased many wonderful rugs, paintings, jewelry, and all manner of things. I had many wonderful items given to me. Each carries a story, and I will share the story of my treasures when the time comes.

Part of me wants to keep everything. No, my mind yells, we cannot sell that. It is special. Don’t you remember sitting in Khaled’s store and speaking of this treasure with him, and sharing tea together with him, and Ron. Both have left for new worlds; new experiences; new dimensions. No, my mind yells, how can you sell that rug? Don’t you remember sitting in Hussein’s store listening to the stories he spoke of the rugs. He wove magical tales with the magical pictures in the rugs. We sat upon piles and piles of rugs. The area felt snug, and truly cozy with the remembrances of centuries. But we must, my soul responds, as it is time to recall these stories in writing, and to relay the lessons of a life well lived. We will have pictures, and as I stare at the pictures, I will dream of past experiences. I will weave my stories like Scherazade in A Thousand and One Nights. She wove her stories to stave off death. She left each story unfinished, and the Shah – hungry for more – would allow her to live another day. Until after a thousand and one nights, he realized he loved her. Her stories were his redemption. What do I stave off with my stories? What do I accomplish with my stories? Will I redeem myself? Will my stories leave you, my reader, hungry for more?

For as I am releasing my goods, I am releasing my mind and its accumulation of lessons learned in this life. It does not matter if no one reads these or cares about them. I do it because my Soul cares, and my Soul needs to experience the rest that comes with resolution. My Soul is releasing much, so it can truly unite with who I am, and truly release the Being within who is struggling to shine through

Remembering Gratitude

Sometimes it is so easy to whinge and whine about my life. When I lived in Rwanda a young teacher related this story to me. I thought I would relate it to you as a way of remembering each moment in gratitude. Jean has now come to the United States to live. He graduated form a premier University in Rwanda where he attended on a full government scholarship. These go to very few students. Always at the tope of his class, he is now seeking to attend one of our premier schools and to further advance his career in engineering and technology.
I had recently asked him to tell me this story again and this is what he reported:
The carrying rocks story is from 2004 when I was a senior 4 biochemistry major on summer break. Our daily livelihood depended on the crops we grew. My village faced a long period of drought dating from late 2000’s. We cultivated beans, sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes yet there was no successful harvest. A friend of mine got me a job at a construction site as a construction worker aid where we had to carry bags of cement, load /unload delivery lorries, do all the mixing, and rebar all with our bare hands. After that, my whole family, including my two sisters 12 and 14 years old at that time, also worked. I was 16. My mother also obtained a job at another school construction site so she could buy a kilo of corn flour to eat at each meal. The most saddest part of this work experience is that we even had to strike in order to get paid because they did not want to pay as after all. We were borrowing food from local stores hoping to pay when we receive our wages.

Iraq after Saddam

IRAQ (right after Saddam)

The year was 2003, and I was living in Kuwait. To say we were excited would be an understatement. Saddam Hussein had been found in an underground tunnel, and for the first time, in forty years, it was almost possible to visit Iraq. I say almost, because it was still not possible to obtain a visa. Visiting Iraq was a dream for the Director of the school, where I was the Asst. Director. He and I often spoke of how amazing it would be to go there. The news then came through; he was invited to come, look, and to advise about setting up a school there. His fiancé, and I were invited to go along. We were beside ourselves with excitement.

We were headed to Diwaniya. And yes, we were illegal. No one in Kuwait knew we were going. And most definitely, our friends at the U.S. Embassy did not know. And, as I learned later, had they known we were going, our passports would have been confiscated. When I returned, I was treated to many lectures about the folly of our actions. Looking contrite was not easy, as I was exceptionally happy to have the chance to take this trip. It was not possible to get a VISA to visit, and that was disappointing, as it would have been wonderful fun to have a stamp from Iraq. Going through customs is an experience when you have stamps from Pakistan, Syria, and Lebanon in your passport. Having one from Iraq would add an additional dimension of deep explanation.

From the time we arrived at the border in Iraq, we were instructed to wear flack jackets, built to handle at least ten rounds from an automatic weapon. We were guarded by Blackwater troops, considered the best in the business. Blackwater troops at that time were considered the elite guards. They were an interesting group of men. From the first time they guarded us until we were delivered home, we were never left alone. Often these men surrounded us and, when we moved, they moved. It was as though they anticipated our every move.

They all looked like Rambo. and I mean this seriously, right down to the dark glasses. We were there as guests of the Governor in the Diwaniya area. One man was an amateur ornithologist, and was tracking the migration of birds back into the Diwaniya area after the war. The camp where we stayed had a small pond behind it with a large number of mosquitoes, and these mosquitoes brought birds. The military wanted to drain it, and James was strongly opposed. When he was on guard duty on the top of the buildings, he was also tracking birds as well as the human predators. No way could he allow them to drain his swamp.

The vehicles, we rode in, were bullet proof, but beyond that two of us sat in the back with a guard, and there were two guards in front. Being a curious sort, I asked our guard about the weaponry he carried. There was an automatic weapon in his hand, a gun in the back of his belt, and an automatic weapon in the pocket of the seat in front of us. If all of this failed, he had a small gun attached to his calf above his boot.

The drive from the border of Kuwait and Iraq was one of the most boring rides, as far as scenery goes I have ever traveled. There was nothing to see. It was flat with very little vegetation or people. This was an area of Iraq where the people had displeased Saddam, so there was no updated infrastructure – only a road through endless stretches of dirt and sand. This was the land that had seen the boots of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. These soldiers had kicked up enough dust to create one of the most intense sandstorms I had ever experienced. During the second bombing of Iraq, I was in Kuwait. I could not see out the window of my apartment for days, as the sand was so thick. The sand was very fine, tending to come in through any cracks around the windows. It would form little piles on the inside of the windows, and accumulate on the furniture, requiring frequent vacuuming. We were unable to leave out homes because of the thickness of the sand. The sand loosened by the boots of the troops marching across the desert, was carried by strong winds into Kuwait. I could not see the edge of the balcony, about five feet from the door of my apartment.

The camp, we arrived at, was specifically for mercenaries from several countries. Black Water were hired on a daily basis to protect the appointed Governor of Diwaniya, an American diplomat. The camp was composed of trailers surrounded by concrete walls. At least when we were inside the camp, we did not have to wear the flack jackets. The Governor arranged for us to visit Babylon. Here we were, the first “tourists” in 40 years…………and what an amazing place to visit.

As I stood in the middle of this relic, I realized I was at the site of the Tower of Babel. I stood in the courtyard where Alexander the Great spent his last days. I saw the walls where once had been the hanging gardens. I saw the remnants of mosaics and statues and I saw incredible destruction. The place had been savaged during the second world war when all of the statuary and anything that could be carried was removed by the Germans and placed in museums. But even so, as I stood there I could feel the thousands of years of history. This was old – so old, and we were so very young. If you listened you could hear the chariots, the crowds, and the lions. As I stood there quietly, I began to “hear” the crowds, the roar of lions, and the noise of a major city center. Saddam envied Nebuchadnezzar, feeling that he, Saddam was greater than this ruler of old. He decided to restore parts of Babylon, to reflect his own glory. He started with creating stones with Arabic writing on them, stating the Arabic equivalent of “Saddam was here.”

Saddam’s palace was grand. He built it overlooking the court of Alexander the Great, so that it would be known he was greater than this ruler of old. The palace was on a hill. Saddam, and his sons built their palaces within view of each other. The legend says they did not trust each other, and always wanted to know what each was up to. The sons, and their father, continually plotted to kill each other. The people did not know these palaces existed. In an amazing display of human manipulation, they believed Saddam lived in poor houses like his people. They never looked up. To do so, to look up, and to see his place was punishable by death and so, they never did. He had fifty palaces, and each was grand.

The one we visited was not finished, and had been stripped of all its finery before we arrived. And yet, it was still amazing. The rooms were huge, the ceilings grand, and the bathrooms amazing. In each corner of each room was a ladder. It was a straight ladder rising up through the floors from the basement floor to the roof. At all times, he (Saddam) wanted easy access for escape, and so each room had multiple exits.

We arrived in Iraq at the time of the celebration of Ashoura. For the first time in forty years the people were allowed to celebrate this festival. Saddam forbade any celebration that singled out one group of people to the exclusion of others. He forced unity. We saw miles and miles of pilgrims all headed for Fallujah, where a holy shrine was located. Miles and miles of people on foot, carrying flags, and walking with no provisions — just the clothes they had on. No food, no shelter.

The only one who was providing for them was Muktida Sidar. He had tents along the way giving the people food, and a place to rest. No wonder Muktida Sidar was so strongly supported by so many people. He fed them; he cared for them. He became the leader, one of the most influential religious and popular figures in Iraq. His popularity is largely due to his care for these people. There were so many people walking, walking, and all headed to Fallujah.

To say this part of Iraq was poor is a vast understatement. Although we were there to look at the concept of building a school for disabled children, we never saw children on crutches, or blind children. We came to understand these children were kept within their homes, as they were killed if seen in public. Saddam had a perfect society, and these children did not represent him. It was the same for all cripples, as they were known. Whoever could not care for himself disappeared, literally. Added to that, were the stories I heard of how beautiful women were kept indoors. Saddam’s sons would kidnap women who caught their fancy, and these women were forced to engage in gruesome acts. Many of the stories were horrifying. It is my preference not to repeat these stories, and to allow them to pass through without being retold.

Iraq was repressive. The people we saw were afraid. Their eyes told the story of an inability to stand up for what they believed. They learned to live by their wits, and knew voicing an opinion could end in their demise in some very unpleasant ways. Some of the stories I heard my first few years in Kuwait were horrifying. They were sickening, to say the least, not to mention what was broadcast on television. On my visit to Iraq many of these stories were retold. I tried to imagine what it would be like to live with this kind of fear. Never knowing when I left the house if I would return or end up kidnapped; never daring to lift my eyes for fear I would see something I should not; never daring to speak my opinion for fear I would be heard. It would be like being the living embodiment of the three monkeys – see, speak, hear no evil only in this case it would be for fear of evil. We who were raised in America do not have a clue what this means.



Have you ever done this??? or something similar…..

I arrived at Dulles Airport all ready to park the car in long term parking. Since I had never done this before, Wanted to make sure I did it correctly. I finally located a parking space as it was extremely crowded. I then carefully noted the aisle number and space number on my ticket, and then decided the safest spot for this ticket was carefully locked inside the car. This I did and quickly grabbed the next shuttle. After I arrived at the airport, and was carefully checked through security, it occurred to me that locking the ticket aside of the car with the numbers did not rank as one of my brightest ideas….. Not much I could do about it then, so off I went to a wonderful weekend with relatives in Texas.

After spending wonderful moments with nephews and nieces, and great nephews and nieces, and now great-great nephews,I came back to the Green Lot in long term parking. “This cannot be too hard,” I thought. “After all I saw the sign and ramp leading to the Purple Lot. It should be easy to find.” After walking up and down aisles, dragging my suitcase, I decided once again, this was not one of my brighter moments.

Stopping one of the shuttles, I asked the driver if I should return to the airport and hire a taxi to drive me around the lot until I found my car. “No need.” he said. “They will find it for you quickly.” He called the central office for parking and 45 minutes later, this angel in a tow truck arrived. Fortunately I remembered part of my license plate. I did not realize how much of the world were now driving a black Prius, and they were all parked in the Green Lot.

The security cameras found my car. After my car and I embraced, the separation caused us both anxiety. I got in, and joined the never-ending line of trucks on I 81 going south. So grateful to be home.  By the way, everyone, keep an ear out. I will soon be joining you on radio. I will let you know all about it.

Jay’s Poems

Jay has given me permission to publish some of his poems on my blog. I hope you enjoy these.


Jay Kendall

I am the jailer and the jailed:

I am the nailer and the nailed.

But beyond the box,

Is the paradox.

I am the righter of the wrong;

I write the lyrics of the song.


Jay Kendall

As melodies flow,

And harmonies enter,

Pleasing as you drift along,

It’s sweeter to know,

That you are the center,

Auditor, singer, and song.


Jay Kendall

When he plucked a string and it started to sing,

He was pleased and amazed he could play;

Then his thought touched a chord,

And it brought such reward,


That it seemed to turn night into day.

Then he heard a melody calling his name,

And telling him seek and you’ll find,

But he danced for so long,

So entranced by the song,

It was measured in time out of mind.


At the back of his head he could hear all the horns,

As they tooted the tunes that he knew,

Blowing sounds without end,

Till he rounded the bend,

And became all the notes that they blew.


A Grandfather’s Answer

Jay Kendall

Elves? Elves! Of course there are elves!

That’s not just a name for our mischievous selves.

Why what makes the cuckoos on millions of shelves,

Call one note at noon as though counting by twelves?

The seeker will find the deeper he delves,

The answer to half the worlds mysteries is elves.

The Good Ole Days

At a recent writing conference, I listened to an author relate why she felt motivated to write books about True Crime. As she spoke, I had flashbacks to a similar experience.

I was about 8 years of age, walking to school. My school was about five blocks from home, but I had walked by myself since I started school. All the kids did. Usually there were adults out doing errands, hanging wash, or otherwise engaged in outdoor activities. No one thought anything about allowing children the freedom to roam the neighborhood. I was headed home, and this time, I was alone.

As I was walking, a car pulled up beside me. “Hi,” he said. “Can you help me?” Being a good little child, wanting to help, I walked over to the car.

“I am lost. Can you tell me where is the Jaffa Mosque?”

I was standing a bit away from the car, and he called me over. “Could you come here? I want to show you something.”

I walked closer to the car and looked in. He was wearing a suit, a grey suit as I remember. Why that weird piece of information stuck in my 8-year-old head is beyond me. On his left leg, he had a white handkerchief, and on the handkerchief was something looking weird, and strange. It was spurting liquid as he stroked it.

“Can you get in the car, and take me to the Jaffa Mosque?” he said. As I looked at him, I backed away. I have no memory of what happened then. I suspect he rapidly drove off because someone approached. The author, at the conference, said she was saved because another car approached as the fellow was preparing to make a grab for her. She also backed away. However, unlike me, she was smart enough to memorize part of the license plate. Her report to the police resulted in the apprehension of her predator. He had killed six children previously, and she was to be his seventh. As for my predator, my guardian angel was working overtime.

Since I had never seen a penis, it did not occur to me this is what he showed me. It took many years of remembering to realize he was showing me a penis having an orgasm. I just remember weird fascination with this milky, whitish substance I saw.

Needless to say, the experience was memorable, as sixty years later I still recall it vividly.

This author, and I both agreed we hated receiving emails about the “good ole days.” You know the ones. The ones that tell you how innocent life was in the fifties. How innocent children were in the fifties. They tell you how mother stayed home with the children, and dad’s worked. Every home was a “Leave it to Beaver” paradise. And no one had to worry about children because molestation, and pedophiles did not exist.

I agree that I am very grateful I was raised when I was. I am grateful I had the freedom to roam the streets, and the woods. I had a private life no one, especially my parents, knew anything about. I left in the morning, and was gone until sunset. We played in the neighborhood, but we also roamed. I lived near a railroad yard, and we played inside of boxcars. We climbed boxcars. We hitchhiked on the trains driving between the Acme warehouse, and the meatpacking plant, where we watched them slaughtering cows. I collected eyeballs, and hearts for dissection in school. We climbed boxcars, walking across the tops of them. My friends had the courage to jump from one to the next. I could never manage to do so.

We climbed, and played in old abandoned warehouses across the street from where I lived. My mother came to the door one day, just in time to see me using a cable wire, we had found in side the building, as a repelling rope to come down the side of the building. Why she was so upset, I do not know. I was safe. I made it down. “You need to act like a lady?” she screamed at me later. “You need to stop playing with boys.” “huh???” I said to her. “Girls don’t do things like that.” “Oh!” I replied as I headed out the door to find my friends. “Girls are boring, and beside. I do not like to play with dolls.”

In many ways, this was an idyllic life. In many ways, it did fit those emails I receive, telling me how great the “good ole days” were. But there was a dark side. A dark side no one mentioned.

At twelve, one of my girlfriends was kidnapped, raped, and left behind the Acme warehouse wrapped in a sheet. The perpetrator was never caught. I am not even sure the police took it seriously. The gossip from the adults, I remember hearing blamed the child. “She probably did something to deserve it.”

I remember a case in the local courts, when I was about the same age. The woman had come to court to accuse a man of raping her. The prosecutor took a coke bottle, passing it back and forth in front of her. He asked her to stick her finger in the bottle. Of course, she could not do it. The prosecutor then said to the jury, “see no woman can be raped, unless she wants it.” Women are coke bottles; the woman must have lain still. She must have wanted it.” The man was found innocent of rape. The woman, probably permanently scarred for life.

At thirteen, my best friend was raped. The local minister from the church, across the street from her home, raped her. She was seeking a father, since she did know hers. Nancy would go to the church to talk to him. He was always warm, and welcoming to her, unlike her life at home. He made her feel loved, and cared for. She told me about him, and how she talked to him. She then told me what he did to her. She admitted she was afraid, as it had happened twice. I convinced her to talk with the people for whom she babysat, since she could not talk to her mother.

She did talk to them, and they tried to protect her. When they went to the police, they were told there were no witnesses, and they probably did not have a case. Nancy had told them about my being molested, so they came to my mother to convince her to let me testify. She refused. My parents were trying to protect me, in their own way. But I hated them for this, for years.

Meanwhile, the minister went to Nancy’s mother to talk. Convincing her mother Nancy was telling lies, he further convinced her mother to have Nancy committed to the local state mental institution where she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. I never saw her again. When she was released, she disappeared.

My parents remained convinced they had done the right thing, and besides, as they told me, it was my fault I was molested, and her fault she was raped. My mother called the preacher’s daughter over, after I had told them what happened to me. Mother spoke to his daughter, not to him, and in a very circumspect manner told her to tell her father to leave me alone. She was a very close friend of mine. We often hung out after school, at another friend’s house, watching American Bandstand, oohing and awing over the regulars, pretending we were there, as we danced. After this talk, with my mother, I never saw her again. The family moved not too long after, I understood, from his daughter, the family had been forced to move before because of the same reason. I lost another close friend.

When I was in junior high, and high school, I also walked back, and forth to school. Since I played in the orchestra, I had evening concerts to attend. I either took the bus, or I walked. My family did not own a car. Walking presented it’s own challenges. I Learned early how to be aware of my surroundings. We knew which houses were safe to run to, in case of being chased. We identified cars whenever they passed us, marking to see if the vehicle passed more than once. This let us know if we were being followed. Normally, when this happened, the driver would travel down the block for a bit, then stop, and get out to follow on foot. It was then time to run to the safety of a nearby house. Weird thing was, once it was felt the danger was passed, I was permitted to proceed on my own the rest of the way home.

Now one would think the school bus was a safe location. We rode the local buses often, and we became friendly with the bus drivers, always greeting them when we got on and off the bus. There was one driver named Charlie, who was particularly known for being a serious grouch. I always made a point of saying “Hello”, in the hopes of brightening his day. One day, as we reached the end of the line downtown, where I needed to change buses to go home, I started to get off the bus, and he had locked the bus doors.

Charlie started to come down the aisle towards me. I can still see him. His face was red and beefy, and he was salivating. He was breathing heavy, and his eyes looked weird. His body took up most of the aisles. Although I was a large girl, he outweighed me by at least 100 lbs., or so it looked. His face had morphed into pig like features with heavy jowls that shook. It also appeared to me he was salivating.

“Let me off the bus, “ I said, very emphatically.

“No, I am going to give you something to remember me by.”

“I want off this bus,” I stated again as he drew nearer. I was at the back of the bus, and by this time, he was about a third of the way towards me.

“If you do not let me off this bus, I will scream.” I drew a deep breath, filling my lungs and beginning to scream. Outside the bus were some people, and I hoped they would hear me.

“Alright, alright,” he yelled, “Just shut up, and I will let you off. “ He went back up front, and pulled the lever to open the doors.

When I arrived home, I did tell my mother about what happened. Looking at me, she said, “This is your fault, you are too friendly with men. Men are disgusting they only want one thing. It is your fault for talking to them. Stay away from them. Shame on you.” And we wonder why, it took years for me to work through these issues in therapy.

“The Good Ole Days” Eh?!?!?!? Before we refer to the fifties as the time of ideal living, let us remember there was much no one spoke about. Yes, police were friendly, as long as you were white, and not doing anything contrary. Police brutality was common, as were hangings and prejudice. My family, were immigrants to America. They came seeking a better life. They did find a good life for their children, but they also found prejudice.

I was raised during the McCarthy era in the USA. Teachers took loyalty oath to the United States. I had a teacher who explained to us one day in third grade, how anyone born in America was superior to anyone born in another country. Being the inquisitive child I was, I raised my hand.

“Teacher.” I said. “My parents were born in another country, and I was born here. Does this mean I am superior to my parents?”

She looked at me, and slowly said, “Yes, it does.” When I later told my mother she did not see it that way.

My sister was not allowed to join the Rainbow Girls, because her parents were both born abroad. The local chapter changed this ruling, due to the intervention of a high-ranking Mason. My sister then refused to join.

Prejudice, police brutality, racism and especially pedophiles were common but no one said anything. It was behind closed doors. Victim blaming was common. But today, with the advent of Internet and increased media, the public’s attention is immediately drawn to these events. I, for one, am grateful this has happened because it has eliminated, to some extent, the ability to “get away” with abusive behavior.

At the risk of being redundant, I repeat myself. I am grateful, I was raised during the fifties. Although difficult, I had one thing children do not have today, Freedom. We were able to roam, and we grew up independent. Although we ran into bad characters, we knew how to take care of ourselves. We were not coddled, and protected from reality. Every age has its difficulties, and this one seems to have brought significant fear. Maybe this is why we all want to look at the fifties as the “golden age,” the “good old days.” There were parts of it that were good but there were parts that were hell.” The golden beast had an underbelly of malice, and anger.

I write this to shine a light. We need this light to clean out the wrongs done to children. We need this light to clean out the wrongs done to us, as adults, when we were children. If we have a boil, we need to lance it, and then drain it, in order to heal. It looks worse before it finally heal. We are in a time when cruelty is coming to light. Many of us prefer to hide from, and to actively deny it ever happened. It will not go away. Change is at hand. If I am in a darkened room, and I hear what sounds like rattle snakes, shall I just turn my back in the hope they will simply slither away, or shall I shine a light so I know where they are, and therefore, protect myself from stepping on one accidentally. It is time for all of us to awaken, and to accept responsibility. As it is said, we cannot change the past, but we can learn its lessons to change our future, and to make a better world for our children.

I showed the above piece to a close friend of mine, and he wrote this response. Thank you Jay, for allowing me to share this with all of our readers.

An Insight About Insights

by Jay Kendall

It’s amazing how an experience can alter our perspective—how it can open our eyes and change the way we see the world. And by telling about it, writing about it, we help others become aware. We bring things to light. We are all teachers pointing out and saying, Look. Hoping they will see and understand.

But the fact that we can see and understand is in itself important, because that awareness changes the energy. Have you ever been with a group of people who are trying to solve a problem, and no one grasps or sees the merit in your idea? Then a few minutes later, someone else presents the same plan or idea, as though it’s an original thought, and that person is praised and credited with the solution.

And no one remembers that you had anything at all to say about the issue. If you try to take the credit, you’ll be seen as a pariah. But if we have the presence of mind to step away, we appreciate that the idea, the awareness, is what has importance, not us. We are the conduits, channels of energy—like lightning rods. The role of the teacher is to convey the thought—to provide the spark that will light the lamp.