How many of you have watched the Hindi movie ‘Airlift’ – starring Akshay Kumar? It was completely based on the Gulf War that happened in August 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait on the 2nd day of that month. I was 7 years old and enjoying my summer holidays with my 5-year-old brother until one of our family friends had come to inform my mom of the disturbing turn of events. My dad was in India.
Yes, it was a terrifying sight when military trucks, tanks and BTRs were prowling all over the country in the days to follow. All small shops, hospitals and government offices were shut and some citizens were also shot at sight, by the invaders. We Indians were quite safe like that but couldn’t take a chance in such situations, and when hungry Iraqi soldiers swarmed our homes for food and water, it was even scarier. Our essentials were reducing and all of us wanted to get back to our own country; for me, it would be the first time.
I was one of the 170,000 Indians that the Indian Government evacuated from Kuwait. Little did I know that this would be known as the world’s largest civilian evacuation in history. I wanted to write about my experience around the Gulf war long ago but wondered how to put it into a way that helped others. I didn’t want to just write about the terrible times but also wanted to jot down what we learned from such a catastrophe.
The big supermarkets were open and we would meet soldiers on the way when we went to get our essentials. In a few days, we took all our food and required clothing and left to stay at a cousin’s place. A couple of weeks later, we loaded ourselves into a bus and headed for Bagdad, Iraq. We stayed in tents, at the border, for a few days until we were again loaded into another bus and taken to the border of Amman, Jordan. Some cold baths, tuna fish tins and tent experiences later; we were airlifted by Air India and taken to Bombay on 4th October 1990. We were just one of the 488 airplanes that Air India operated for the airlift between August and October 1990.
I met my grandmothers and grandfather for the first time. I realized I had plenty of cousins, aunts and uncles who I never knew existed. I met my dad after a year. This event made us realize and learn a few things that I could think of and put in words only 30 years later, i.e. now, during a worldwide catastrophe.
You will never know how others feel – When we were young children during the war, we didn’t think about how others felt about it. In the absence of my dad, my mom was petrified for her kids. I would ask her things like what if one of the bombs fell on our building, or what if one of the soldiers entered our house and shot us? Recently, my mom told me that my questions would haunt her even in her dreams.
Being at home should be enjoyable too – There are so many people who find it difficult to stay at home and enjoy themselves. Though I was one of them during my teenage years, I know how to be comfortable in my own home. I have created an environment at home which allows my kids to be as busy and productive as possible while also being happy.
Never take mom’s food for granted – Most of us take our mom’s cooked meals for granted. I would always throw a tantrum when my mother made fish curry and rice because I disliked fish. But after this episode, I never despised any food that my mom cooked, ever. During those border days, we did get some good food but mostly survived on tomatoes and tuna fish tins and I would desperately crave for my mom’s hot fish curry and rice.
Bathing every day is not compulsory – Hot water baths are a luxury many do not have. I know a few people who have a bath twice a day, which I think is a complete waste of water. We were so accustomed to having a warm bath every day that I was traumatized when I was forced to have a bath with cold water, out in the open, throughout the journey to India. Now, I can survive without bathing if there is no water or water shut down due to maintenance issues and still not complain until the problem is solved and hot water is back.
Do not take nature for granted – We were so used to being entertained and watching movies and couldn’t go a single day without our daily sitcoms. During the travel, I was introduced to nature. We admired its deserts, sand dunes and trees wherever visible. We enjoyed playing with each other around the tents and large spaces. After that, I make sure I use as much wet waste for compost as possible, walk instead of using the car as far as I can and do not throw anything on the streets. Caring for nature is now a part of me.
Money is not everything – In Kuwait, many of us enjoyed the luxuries of huge soft beds, classy furniture and clean toilets. But in the tents, we were all equal and slept on thin mattresses kept over uneven stones and went far to poop in huge holes in the ground. Due to my diarrhea issue during this time, I visited all the existing holes. My mom would hold my hands in the front while I stretched my tiny buttocks backward, over the depression in the Earth, to do my job. In seconds, all that we owned back in Kuwait did not matter. All the money we had just disappeared or became useless.
Sanity is more important than schedules – Keeping up with routines is something everyone is stressed about. Cleaning the house all day, washing clothes every day, struggling to prepare tea on time, serving hot chapattis to in-laws or cooking a fresh meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner; nothing was important during those months because all we needed was food to survive, whether hot or cold, tasty or not, spicy or bland, fish or vegetables. We just had no schedules but had to only live in the moment and be positive in order to keep our sanity intact.
Be grateful and help others – If there weren’t people who were helpful enough in their hearts, trust me, we would have been left back in Kuwait and endured more than we could imagine. Five men initiated the airlift and helped with the evacuation to India safely. Then, when we landed and waited at the airport to get home, we kids were hungry and got biscuits from passers-by. It was by sheer goodwill of those strangers, who never knew how much we earned in the Gulf, who offered us something to eat.
Spend quality time with family – Life is not a race. It is a journey to enjoy. Spend more time doing the things you love, with your loved ones at whatever time you please. Kiss and hug your kids as much as possible every day. Enjoy every day as it unfolds with beautiful sunrises. Besides getting a good sleep due to school, we barely have any schedules. Don’t let God send another pandemic in order to make you realize this.
Nothing is constant except change – In the midst of analyzing what we could carry along; we only regretted one thing which was leaving our photo albums behind. But then, it taught us to enjoy every little moment and not depend on mere photographs for memories. Life circumstances change and photographs are taken for memories but the mind will surely remember all the good times with or without the photographs.
For us kids, it was like a reality check but for the adults, the journey was a fight against fear, obstacles and insecurity until we reached home. Unless one is in a bad situation, one would never understand the depth and emotion related to it, so, as humans, we can merely be a shoulder to cry on, a confidant to confess in or support to free the mind.
I hope you look at the current pandemic in a positive way and learn a thing or two from it. Stay home and stay safe. Most importantly, do not be afraid to take that step to free your mind during difficult times.
Check out another blog I found online on how the invasion changed lives.
Cindy D'Silva, besides being a mother of two angels, is a belly dancer, writer and photographer. She loves partying, bowling and eating sushi. There is a detailed biography about her on the ABOUT ME page in case you would like to know more. :)
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