The Red Book - Gulf War

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

By the time I started my first grade in PESA, a certain Saddam Hussein thought that Kuwait was free for all, and that if he came in the cover of darkness and put the country in his pocket, nobody would really notice. America who had cards in Kuwait didn't really take things sitting down and thus began what we would later call the Persian Gulf War.

Saudi Arabia of course joined on on the action with America and we found ourselves involved in the action, emotions, paranoia, and developments that followed soon after.

As a kid, I never really understood what war meant. Even my sister didn't, though being the know-it-all that she was, she tried to make do with what she overheard at the adult tables. Her rough explanation involved Saddam being in league with the devil and wanting to kill everybody in Kuwait with his SCUDs, which I understood as missiles that had nuclear payload.

We thought this was the start of the end of the world. Watching Nostradamus in his own movie predict about the middle-eastern antichrist didn't help either. I remember spending our nights praying that World War 3 never comes. I guess childhood prayers are effective, since it still hasn't happened even now.

Although Al Khobar is far from the Iraqi border, it is strategically located within the Persian Gulf and had US military bases that we used to visit to hear catholic mass. (Nowhere else in the kingdom can you do this without getting thrown in jail.) Throughout this period, a lot of American soldiers appeared in our city, and this made living in our neighborhood feel somewhat more liberal too.

When war broke out, of course, it was only rational for Saddam to start hitting Al-Khobar with missiles. And it was also natural for us residents to start shitting our pants. I was a kid, however, so it was only natural that I shit my pants with no proper reason (though in the event, I didn't)

I've also witnessed first hand the amount of defenses Saudi has against missile attacks, even for a country that's more than 90% barren wasteland. Sometimes we'd pass by the desert and see some patches of land unnaturally contoured. My father was nice enough to point out that they were hidden missile interception bunkers and on the way to and from Riyadh from our house, you'd see a LOT of these.

Of course, no system is 100% perfect, so we found ourselves preparing for the worst. Most of our belongings were bundled into bags that we can pickup at a moment's notice in case we need to become refugees. We also had gas masks around the house supplied by the government in case gas attacks occur. I thought they were cool, and didn't really think much about why we had them. In the kitchen, dad had some K-Rations, emergency army food. I ate them anyway. They were delicious, and I thought it's a nice incentive to join the military someday.

Occasionally, pictures of the smoketrails of intercepted missiles are shown on TV as part of the Kingdom's morale-boosting propaganda. I thought they were beautiful.

At this point, my mom obsessed about buying jewelry as well. She told me, in case the economy broke down, gold will always have bargaining value. While you may think it's all paranoia now, back in 1991, the Iraqi Republican Guard was the single largest army in the Middle East, far outnumbering the Saudis. It was no secret that Saddam hated the Saudis as well for being friendly to Americans despite the fact that they were the most hardcore Arabic people you'll ever know. Iraq had ALL the reasons to take the war to Saudi. There was no telling what will happen next.

I think despite all these things, we were prepared to weather it out, but by the end of the first quarter of our school year, our school had to close down because it had to be turned into an evacuation center for Kuwaiti Filipino workers. I remember visiting the place one last time, seeing the classrooms filled with men who were sleeping, talking and walking around. The desks were gone, and along with them, some of the best memories I've had of Saudi Arabia.

That was also the last time I got to see most of my classmates. Some of them I saw a few years later, the rest of them, the last time I'd ever see them would be in our kindergarten yearbook.

I think that was the last straw for my mom. Education being the most important factor in the family, my mom would not stand us being out of school. We had to go back to Manila, the first time in 3 years. My dad remained, telling many things that would later on happen in the war, including the successful SCUD attacks, and the bombings of the American military base.

Interestingly, we left just as the window of opportunity to leave the country was about the close - we took the last available flight of Singapore airlines to Singapore, and then to Manila.

On our trip home, I was worried our airplane would get hit by a missile and I'd land on the clouds and develop sandals and wings and get trapped in Heaven forever.

We got home safely.

So now I guess I have to take the long way to heaven instead.

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