Brian's Story of isolation
Self- Isolation - My story
I am telling ‘my story’ in the hope it will help some of you cope with the difficult times ahead as we move towards a likely ‘lockdown’. My experience, from 30 years ago, definitely made me a stronger and more resilient person and I never look back on it as a negative time in my life.
Many of you wont be aware that I worked in Kuwait for a couple of years in the late 1980’s, ending when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army invaded the country on 2nd August 1990………… and so started my period of lockdown or ‘in hiding’ for over 4 months.
Friday 2nd August was the longest day of my life, my wife Pam, 2½ year old daughter Charlotte and son Ashley (almost 1) were still on vacation in Manchester, ready to fly back to our flat in Kuwait in mid-August. I spent most of the day trying to phone home, but couldn’t get through, fortunately a friend managed to pass a message on several hours later. The first 2 weeks were relatively normal, apart from the armed roadblocks, tanks and helicopters, I packed up ours and our neighbours belongings (never to be seen again as these were looted a few weeks later) and together with a few colleagues I tried to escape across the desert, this was despite BBC World Radio advising against this as people were being stranded and dying.
On the second attempt of trying to ‘escape’ we heard gunfire over our heads and were beckoned towards a burnt out car with 3 Iraqi Soldiers in and warned not to go further as the desert was mined and the Iraqi tanks would fire at us. I still remember one of these ‘elite’ soldiers footwear – a pink flip flop on his left foot a blue one on the right. This was 9:00am on Saturday 17th August 1990 – at 12:00 Noon Saddam Hussein decreed that any American or British citizen found on the streets of Kuwait would be removed to a strategic location in Iraq as a ‘human shield’ – the lockdown begins.
We decided a few days before, that 6 of us would pool all our resources together (including food and illegal alcohol) and camp out in one of our flats in the Salwa district, I had a spare mattress on the floor of one of the bedrooms.
This was in the days before mobile phones, facebook, WhatsApp and the internet and Kuwaiti national TV was hardly entertaining for the few days before it was taken off air.
We were lucky, simply because we were all positive individuals and together, the only argument I remember was between two colleagues over who had eaten the last Weetabix. Food was difficult to obtain but we had good Kuwaiti neighbours who risked their lives, as well as others such as Canadians who could move about relatively freely for a few weeks afterwards and one of our colleagues had a (false) Pakistani ID so managed to get out occasionally to bring food back.
We did have a few scary moments when Iraqi soldiers hammered on the door one day after they found a colleagues ID in his car outside and a stray bullet passing through the window. We also managed to smuggle letters back home to our loved ones, but the only communication back that worked was recorded messages via BBC World Service – I was so proud to get the first message in our group and hear Pam and Charlotte talking to me.
I was also lucky to still get paid, albeit the company I worked for wrote to Pam in November to say this was unlikely to continue after December 1990, she also checked insurance and realised if the worst case happened I would not be insured.
The lockdown ended on 6th December 1990 – my wife’s 31st Birthday and what she still tells me was her best birthday present ever. A few of us went for a walk that morning and some fresh air along the sea front, only to get frogmarched at gunpoint to the nearby hotel as the local Iraqi army hadn’t been told yet. 7 days later on 13th December most of us arrived back to London via Baghdad on Iraqi Airways. I vividly remember walking up the steps at the arrivals area in Gatwick airport that evening and hearing my almost 3 year old daughter Charlotte shouting ‘Where’s my Daddy- I want Daddy’. It was a very emotional reunion and Pam drove straight back to Manchester overnight so that I could see the rest of the family and close friends. I had missed Ashley’s first steps on his first birthday and he didn’t recognise me when I arrived, ran away and cried (I still have that effect on babies and young children).
It’s fast approaching 30 years since my ‘lockdown’ I have never felt bitter or angry about this, even though we lost personal belongings and freedom. I could even see how historically Iraq had some valid claims on Kuwait, although I despised the regime and the impact this had on many innocent Iraqis. But it is one of those lifetime events that has made us very positive and strong as a family unit.
I hope my story was at least interesting, but also helpful to give you some confidence that even if we have a stringent lockdown you will get through this. It will be much tougher for those who are naturally more anxious, living on their own or those at higher risk, but you will get through this and be more resilient to life’s challenges at the end.
Please make sure you communicate with family and friends as much as you can over the next few months, via phone, MSTeams, WhatsApp, Facebook, and other communication methods that a luddite like myself doesn’t understand. Try and keep positive to lift others who may not be as emotionally strong as yourself and don’t take any risks that put yourself or others in danger.
We are having virtual quiz nights with family, and a Scattegories night later this week, these are a BYOB or BYOW night (if you have the stocks in).
Please keep safe, look after each other and be positive.