ï»¿-Well, I am Reem Al Ali and it's November 29th, 2017. We are in Meshrif,Kuwait, um, I just need your approval for this interview.
-I'm so happy to do this interview and I 100% agree to publishing anddocumenting everything I say.
-Your name, nationality, and the date and place of birth, please?
-My name is Thuraya Hassan Hajji Salman Al-Baqsami, I was born on March 15,1951, at the American Hospital, Kuwait, okay?
-Will you tell me about your childhood? What is the first thing you recall?
-The first thing I recall from my childhood is the house where I lived and whereI spent most of my time. It was my grandfather's house in Dasman. The house had a very beautiful architectural style. I have a lot of memories in that house, among the memories that I can never forget was when the tractor came and began digging in the street, they made a new street in front of the house. As kids we began running after that tractor, it was the first time we saw an iron monster digging in the street, we were so happy to have a street in front of the house where we could play hopscotch and ride bicycles for it would be a lot easier than walking and playing on the sand and rocks.
-What year was that?
-That was in 1954, or 1953, no, 1954, something like that, yes, it was 1954.Actually, my real childhood began in 1956 when suddenly they dressed us in nice clothes and took us to Al Nozha airport where we boarded a Trans Arabia Airways plane, a plane with propellers. We flew to Beirut, Lebanon, ok? The four of us; me, my sister Farida and my two brothers Adnan and Salman. Farida is my twin sister, so we are the same age, Adnan is two years older and Salman is four years older than us. In Beirut we found out that they put us in a boarding school called Choueifat. I was shocked that mom wasn't with us, mom was young, okay? We suddenly found ourselves in a huge prison called a boarding school. At the school there was a big number of Kuwaiti students, I don't remember how many, perhaps more than a hundred, in the 1950s it was a trend for rich families to send their kids to study in schools abroad, like Choueifat in Lebanon and Victoria College in Egypt. At those schools kids learned more than one language, English and French for instance, they learned etiquette and they also knew the real meaning of deprivation and how someone could torture a child, there children learned all the types of cruelty in the world, okay? I always talk about that period of my life in great pain and I used to blame my father, may God rest his soul, saying to him: "you deprived us of the sweetest years of our childhood." Okay? Beirut was a very painful stage, of course this has nothing to do with Lebanon itself, it's a very beautiful and wonderful country, I'm talking here about the experience itself. Sometimes I think about myself as being Oliver Twist not as being really me. Like being in Victor Hugo's Les MisÃ©rables, I picture myself that child who was taken from his mother's arms to be thrown in hell. That school was annexed to the Catholic or Orthodox church, I'm not sure about the creed they followed but it was either a Catholic or an Orthodox church, anyway, they forced us to go to church and pray while all of us were Muslims, okay? The principal used to beat us with a chair leg, that was our punishment. I remember I sat once in one of the corners of the class, on the concrete floor with my arms raised up for more than two hours, as a sort of punishment. I was a quiet child and rarely did anyone hear my voice; nevertheless, someone said that I talked a lot at night and so they punished me. I recall I was very good at drawing but not that good at other subjects, so I was punished a lot. They once put a fez on my head and a paper on my back with "I am a donkey (stupid)" written on it and took me round the classrooms. It was such a horrible punishment. As Kuwaiti kids we used to spend the whole day in the streets, barefoot, running after the dogs. Sometimes we stepped on a broken bottle, cut our feet and went home for our parents to put some Mercurochrome on the wound and we went out running again. At about seven in the evening we slept on the roof as if we had lost our consciousness. It was such an amazing atmosphere and a wonderful childhood. We used to live in Al SawaÙsed to live in Al Swaood.ere lost our consciousness. home for our parent to put some o send their to study in schools abroad, bir, where my father's house was, it was an area full of kids and there were a lot of dark-skinned families, okay? It was an amazing mixture, when we heard the sounds coming from the houses, we went to listen to the Zar and Tanbura music, it was such a wonderful folkloric atmosphere, okay? Of course, all that is engraved in my memory and I hope it all comes out before I'm gone. Yeah so, that was a primitive bohemian childhood, you cared for nothing, you didn't care about what you ate or how you slept, or whether you bathed or not. My mother was a neat and tidy woman and was always keen on us being in good shape, being clean and so on and go to school too. At the time I went to kindergarten but nevertheless they threw us in a place where you were accurately measured and supposed to toe the line, okay? You had specific times to eat and specific times to talk. There we used to eat in a cave like a basement in the same building, okay? While eating the worms crawling on the ceiling fell in your plate and you had to go on eating and I was so picky with food, there were a lot of things that I didn't like eating, so I took any chance, while the Miss wasn't paying attention, and I threw half of my food under the table. I put the empty plate on the table, and she would say: "Good girl, Thuraya, you finished your food, well done!" yes. What helped me, in that ordeal, was having my twin sister with me, she was a sister and a friend and there were a lot of other girls too. I still remember when I got the mumps and went to an Italian hospital, which was also run by nuns who tormented me, they fed me macaroni and pasta for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Imagine this, since 1957, until now, I haven't got pasta into my house or cooked it or even eaten it and when I see it I almost faint, I'm not exaggerating, I don't know what happens to me when I see it, okay? My kids suffered because of that, of course, I always told them to go to an Italian restaurant. [She laughs] Anyway, it was as if great disasters happen in a funny way or one man's meat is another man's poison, something like that. In 1958 the civil war broke out in Lebanon and here I'd like to say something, there is always a bright side to everything, there is always a positive side in any given negative situation. At the time I lived the true nature, the mountains, the snow, the forests, and stuff, all those were not available in the desert I lived in, okay? Moreover, the cultural scene was a lot wider in Beirut, as a child, with a small artist inside, all those things had a wide variety of colors and was so fun for me, okay? That minimized the negative sides, sort of, but there was still that thing called childhood and that childhood suffered a lot. When the 1958 war broke out, our school suffered a lot of continuous bombing and there was no food or water. Ultimately, we had to eat anything, flowers, plants and so on, okay? We were threatened with starvation. The Red Cross managed at least to evacuate the students from the school, particularly the Kuwaitis, at the request of the Kuwaiti government, of course, as there was no Lebanese government at the time. The Red Cross cars took us to the airport. On the way to the airport some armed soldiers stopped us, we were children, no more than seven or eight years old. They got us out of the bus, stuck the machine guns in our backs and began frisking us in a very silly way, they touched us to see if we were smuggling weapons or something, that's while an international organization was taking us to the airport, okay? We spent about three days at the airport till we managed to board a plane and leave the country. That was the end of the boarding school. I came back to Kuwait with no identity, I didn't know who I was, for example we used to say to mom "Omro'y, Omro'y" (The Lebanese word for pass) and she would answer " I haven't made any mara'a (broth)." The Lebanese word "pass" was similar to the word "broth" in the Kuwaiti dialect. My sister said to mom, for instance, "Why haven't you turned the Babour (stove) on?" And mom went, "What's a Babour?" Of course, those were Lebanese words and terms and sometimes we talked to her in English or French and she went to dad and said: "I need a translator, I don't understand what the kids are saying." We came back like a collage of a person who knew nothing about anything. When we went to school, they gave us some tests and subsequently they placed us in the first grade of primary school, the three years we spent learning in Lebanon didn't count, they considered us linguistically underdeveloped and unable to handle the school subjects. Anyway, I excelled so quickly because I was too old for my grade although back then, in the 1950s, you sat in the first grade of elementary school with a 20-year-old woman sitting next to you, a tall and huge girl. During the break that girl would come and grab your dress and say: "Give me your money." [She laughs]. You couldn't help but hand her what she wanted as she was as big as a closet and her eyes were fire red. Most of the students who went to school at the time suffered from that bullying as a 15-year-old teenager would sit next to a 5-year-old kid in the same class, which was not pedagogically sound, they stopped that later on, but at the time you could sit next to a girl double your age, okay? You'd be afraid of her and you had the choice to befriend her or she'd burry you in your place. Anyway, when we came back, I joined Amna School, as our house was in Dasma, after my grandfather's house in Dasman was knocked down and my father left Al Sawabir to Dasma where we joined that school. I wasn't so happy there, despite being happy to come back to Kuwait as I needed to adapt to the atmosphere and needed to understand what people said. I recall the first drawing I made at school, everybody liked it, I drew my grandfather, may God rest his soul, he was an architect and I inherited art from him, art runs in the family, it's in the genes I think. I used to go with him to the construction sites, and I always asked mom to make me dresses with huge pockets to keep the things I found. I collected small pieces of tiles, nails, pieces of wood and anything I came by. When I went back home, I used to make formations and shapes out of those things, that was a game, my favorite game. So, I drew my grandfather standing and wearing a turban, okay? It was an Omani or Bahraini turban, a turban from the region anyway. My grandfather was very tall and one-eyed, he had one eye but with that one eye he built half of Kuwait, he was a genius, I'm not saying that because he was my grandfather but because he was a real genius, okay? He used to stand and point at the workers, so I drew him standing and pointing at the workers carrying bricks and bags of cement and climbing up the scaffolds. The teacher went crazy over my painting. I was in grade one, at the elementary school, but I was older in actual age. She took me and the painting and toured the whole school. My sister, Fareeda, was so social or as they say hyperactive while I was so quiet. When she joined the school, she used to sing and dance and there was a song that we learned, I can tell you the words. The song said, "I turned five and my stories became sweet," I said. And she said, "I'm young and sweet." And I said, "I am Sarsora (cockroach) the pretty one." I used to say that and cry. When the teacher asked me why I was crying I said, "I am not a Zihawee (cockroach in Kuwaiti dialect)." And she said, "What is a Zihawee?" I said, "That Sarsoora is a cockroach and we call it Zihawee in Kuwait, I'm not a cockroach and I don't live in the sewer." And she laughed. I used to sing that song and cry because I didn't like that Sarsora thing, am I a cockroach? Anyway, they sent my sister to the third grade, a week later they brought her back [She laughs] She couldn't manage. I stayed at that school of course. I was very clever, but my problem was the Arabic language. I went on studying at the schools of Kuwait, I don't have a lot of memories about that stage, but I was very fond of art, I used to paint and take part in exhibitions. I always failed the Arabic language tests, particularly the dictation and grammar, oh dear! Back then when you got the report cards, they'd put a small circle around the marks of failure, we used to call those circles (cakes) or red circles. Of course my mother was too busy with her life when she was young as she married at a very young age, she was no more than 15 or 16 years old when she got married and she was a mother of six kids so when we showed her our grades, she'd go: "okay, you'll pass one day." Back then there was no pressure by the parents, they didn't teach you, didn't check your homework assignments or even asked you whether you studied or not, any grades would do, okay? So, we were so happy because we did as we pleased. The 1950s and 1960s were the golden ages for the Kuwaiti child, not like now, they now get a private tutor for a first grader, [She laughs] I first knew the private tutors at the final year of middle school because I needed help to pass the math and physics exams, something like that. Anyway, in the first or second year of middle school I had a big difficulty with the Arabic language, so how did I grow up to be a writer? At the time I had a very clever Syrian teacher, called Siham, unfortunately I don't remember her family name. When she saw my writing she said, " Thuraya, you have an amazing ability to express yourself but you lack the tools, I need you to have the tools, it'd be useless to teach you."
-How old were you at the time?
-I was about 13 back then, okay? "I need you to read" she said "buy books andstories. Read novels, read any types of books that suit your age." At the time there was a huge bookstore in Shuwaikh where we moved to, what was the story of Shuwaikh? In the 1950s my father bought a huge land, an area of about 2000 square meters, in Shuwaikh. He bought it for a tiny amount of money because no one lived there. The traders at the vegetables market said to him, "Man, are you out of your mind? That area is full of dogs and wolves, would you go and live beyond the wall? Outside the city? In the desert?" And he replied, "The price of the land I got there gets you a 200 - meter lot in the city, this is a 2000 - meter lot, okay? I want to build a house for me and for my kids, for my sons, in the future when they get married." That was how fathers saw things in the past, their kids would grow up, get married and live with their children and grandchildren with them, that was like a castle they built for the big family. So, my father bought the land for a cheap price and built the house. Of course, he made a terrible mistake! A man like that. My father was an illiterate man, he couldn't read or write, but he was a terrific businessman. Now, where did the name Baqsami come from? You may be interested to know. My grandfather, Hajji Salman, was originally from Azerbaijan, he was Turkish, okay? He was so good at making sweets; rusks, Darabeel, dumplings, biscuits, and so on. When he came to Kuwait at the beginning of the century people didn't know such sweets or foods, that's the wonderful thing about that influx of different races, from the neighboring countries, to Kuwait, the 1920s and 1930s Kuwait, when life was very simple, okay? There was the desert and the sea, there were fishermen but a lot of things were not known to people and those who came from Iran and Iraq brought with them their culture and that was very important as they participated in building the civilization in Kuwait, okay? So my grandfather introduced the manufacturing of sweets to Kuwait, the rusks, Darabeel and stuff like that. He lived for some time in Istanbul and travelled a lot so he had ideas that were ahead of his time. For instance, he brought the desalination machine from Turkey and took it to the Sheikh and said, "we put the sea water in this machine and it makes it sweet and drinkable" [She coughs] Sorry. [She coughs] Sorry.
-People said, "Hajji Salman, are you out of your mind? You want us to drink thesea water? Go away, may God grant you a sound mind." He was Turkish and volatile, so he took the machine and threw it in the sea saying, "Let them be, they don't want to drink water, let them suit themselves." Okay? He used to do unfamiliar things, he would say to my grandmother, "Do you have any tomatoes or vegetables? Dry them on the roof and you can consume them in winter." She couldn't --a lot of people couldn't get what he was getting at. When he died my father was 11 years old, okay? He was so young, but he learned that craft from his father, he watched what he was doing. The family was a large one, his mother and young brothers and sisters, consequently he became the head of the family at the age of 11 and he had to support them. He learned the craft, set up a small bakery and began to make rusks. He opened a shop in the New Street to sell sweets then opened a restaurant, that was his field of business. So, I benefitted a lot from the stories of my father and mother, I remember I was -- Oh, shall we go back to the writing matter? Okay. My father, mother, and my grandmother before them, they all loved to tell stories, so I remember when I was a child I was like the Assyrian plum plant, you know? I used to stick to my grandmother and say. "Tell me stories." Of course, she used to tell those stories in Persian. My grandmother lived in Kuwait till she was over 60, but she wouldn't speak Arabic as she found it a very difficult language, so all of us, the grandchildren, had to learn Persian to be able to communicate with her, okay? My grandmother kept poems by heart and knew Persian myths and she told me those stories. She told me about the story of her first marriage to an Iranian feudatory and the marriage ceremonies, which were Zoroastrian, okay? Those traditions still exist, during them people jump over the fire for blessings, so the roots of such traditions used to exist in the Iranian folklore but not anymore. She described Isfahan, its streets and so on. She had a huge collection of antiques, porcelain and stuff. On the Nowruz she got those out, they were from her first--second marriage, the food, eggs and so on, with a bowl of fish, it was a very beautiful tradition. All those things, with all their colors, accumulated in me. Anyway, my mother, father, and grandmother were all good story tellers, okay? My grandmother used to recite poems too. I took the stories of my father and mother and began to write them down, okay? I shared them too. Another factor was my personal extensive readings, I was a bookworm. I remember the first book I read was Sous les Tilleuls - Majdolin, translated by Mustafa Lutfi al-Manfaluti. I had a very hard time with it. When I took that book to the teacher she said, "This book is so difficuly for you, you must read something easier. How about reading The Adventures of the Four Brothers?" I began reading the stories of ArsÃ¨ne Lupin, The Adventures of the Four Brothers and so on. I wanted to be like them, and my imagination began to flourish of course. I remember I wrote a story called "The Bride of Mars" after they landed on the moon, I was influenced by that atmosphere. I wanted to be living somewhere and the aliens would come to kidnap me and take me to Mars where I would marry a Martian prince because I couldn't find a Kuwaiti prince. All those books and all those sources combined helped so much so that I participated in a competition organized by the Ministry of Education for short stories and I won the second prize among all the participants from the Kuwait schools for girls, okay? The following year I won the first prize.
-Sorry for the interruption, was that for the story "The Bride of Mars"?
-No, that was for the story titled "The Black Sweat," which was published laterin a book, okay? There were other stories, like the one titled "Om Adam" for which I won the Al Nahdha Magazine prize for the best short story. I began to feel the taste of awards. I also used to write poetry but those were humble attempts. I began writing for the Osrati Magazine in Kuwait, that was in the 1960s, my Arabic language grew strong, I began to get excellent marks in the Arabic language subject and became responsible for the school radio programs. Due to my activities I was given a prize, it was a trip to Cairo with the schoolgirls, okay? I also had a lion's share in all the exhibitions held at the time. In 1968 I joined the Kuwait Arts Association, to be the first female member, along with my sister, Fareeda. We were under the required age, which was 19, we were about 16, but we became members. I began participating in their exhibitions and won a prize, among great artists, while I was a middle school student, I won a prize, okay? All those things made me more enthusiastic and I had just one goal, that was to study art. Those around me said, "study journalism. Study Arabic." And I said "No, I want to study art, I want to be like Picasso." During that period of studying I remember the demonstrations we went on, on the days of the Arab Unity, Arab nationalism and everything. I mean, what happened was-- first of all we were teenagers, we had no access to makeup or cosmetics so we took the KitKat covers, they were made of paper, not plastic like nowadays, we licked those papers and put them on our cheeks to make them rosy, why? There were young men taking part in the demonstrations, so we didn't want to look pale, okay? Girls, you know. We went out on any demonstration, the police never stopped us, nothing. The headmistress used to say, "Go, go, may God be with you, go and liberate Palestine!" Okay? The whole school used to go out, the boys used to come from their schools and get the girls out, okay? Students in the 4th grade of high school and in the 4th, or even the 1st grade, of the middle, we all went out and shouted, where did we get to? To the Safat square, okay? There we almost dropped unconscious because of the long distance we covered on our feet, yes, and ultimately our slogans turned into "Come down, rain, come down," in addition to the shouts of "Long live the Arab nation" and "Liberate Palestine." I remember we once went out on a demonstration because Djamila Bouhired came to Kuwait. But of course, in the 1967 defeat no body went out on demonstrations because everything was disappointing, okay? The police used to gather us and try to take us to our homes, it was a scary level of democracy. [She laughs]. Go out on demonstrations and no one would arrest you or even object, I remember those things and I also remember in high school, as I told you, I was so distinguished at the school radio programs, school journalism and the wall magazines, um, I don't have a lot of memories, I was a teenager like any other, I loved someone and the following day I loved someone else, but that's not so important, it's not an archive, sorry. Anyway, I graduated with excellent grades which qualified me for any scholarship abroad. I lived the greatest prank in my whole life. The headmistress said to me, "Go to the supervisor, in the Ministry of Education, who is in charge of the school and he will tell you what to do and where to submit your papers." That was a fatal piece of advice because the supervisor was an artist too so when I delivered my papers to him, he said, "No, why Cairo? We'll send you to America." I said, "Wow, America! But I don't like English." He said, "No, you will learn and there you will be a better artist than the one you would become in Egypt." And he continued, "Leave your papers and travel with your family if you want." I travelled for the summer holiday and when I came back, I went to the Ministry of Education to check and they said, "What scholarship? Nobody applied for anything under your name." I said, "Mr. So and so." They said, "He left, he got a scholarship to America." And when I asked about my papers, they found them in his desk drawer. He didn't submit them. He never thought about that girl and her future and I missed a year. In the Ministry they said, "Go to Cairo, we'll send you, just try." Unfortunately, the college admission tests were over, and I had to go back to Kuwait. The Ministry of Education, in order to atone for their mistake, appointed me as a storekeeper in a kindergarten, near my house, called Almansour [She laughs] or Alforat, I'm not sure, for a year. I remember I worked for some time then resigned or asked for a retirement, I don't remember, I was a young girl. Anyway, in the 1960s something so good happened, something that added to my life a lot. My mother was a lover of history and geography, she was an educated woman, okay? She adored antiquities and historical places and her dream was to tour the world and see places, okay? Somehow, she managed to convince my father to take a car and tour the world. He was convinced with the idea and that journey began in 1964, with the end of the school year. My brother, Adnan, was so smart, amazingly intelligent, he had the ability to read maps, so he was the guide. My father was the driver and Adnan was the guide while we were the group of passengers. That went on for four or five years. We left Kuwait to tour all of Europe. Of course, we went through wonderful and strange adventures. We went to Paris, London, Italy, we saw the whole world. I was in a state of amazement and my imagination was working actively. My father used to enjoy all that and he got us back in October when the school year had already started. When the headmistress said, "Hajji, the school year has already started." He answered, "No problem, they will fail for a few months then move on." Okay? I remember our first trip, in 1964, it was the first time I went to Paris, the first time I saw London, the Beetles, the lifestyle of the people there, the hippies, the Hyde Park and the people who forgot their clothes at home, those were astonishing things. We always came back from those trips with a huge store of pictures in our minds. I remember a French artist who painted children with big eyes, they've recently made a film about her, I just can't remember her name. When I returned, I began drawing children with huge eyes, I was influenced by her. We visited museums and ruins and I remember we visited Jerusalem, it was a very beautiful city, walking by the wall I could see the Israeli soldiers on top of the wall and I asked my mother about their tails and she wondered why, I said, "Don't they say that the Israeli soldiers are monkeys and have tails?" I was about thirteen back then, okay? We went on those trips. Every summer we spent a part of the summer in Beirut, Lebanon, with all its nature and beauty. All those things colored my life so much so that even after the 1990s and until now I still have a huge store of paintings, writings, and a lot of things inside me and I wish those would never disappear. I can write tens of books and make thousands of paintings. Anyway, the 1960s passed and with the turn of the 1970s I got a scholarship to Cairo, Egypt. Cairo was a whole new experience with my stay at the student housing, it was nothing like the boarding school of course as there was no one to order you around.
-Before I go into that period I'd like to go back, for a few minutes, to theperiod of childhood.
-I feel there were so many rich things we haven't talked about. The period youspent in Lebanon, in the boarding school.
-You were with your brothers or just with your twin sister?
-No, my twin sister and I were at the kindergarten stage while my brothers wereat the intermediate stage a higher stage, but we always met. The funny thing was a teacher, a very evil woman, I always ask the Lebanese if she's still alive, [She laughs] okay? When my father came for a visit, what did she do? She used to give us some chocolate, okay? We never saw chocolate there, so my sister Fareeda used to say, "Eat it otherwise they'll take it from you." And I used to say, "No, they won't take it from me." She used to eat her chocolate so quickly while I hid my share but as soon as my father left, she took it back, okay? So, she gave us the chocolate only to take it back later, that was such a crime, yes. Now what did you want to ask about?
-What memories do you have? I mean have you got any stories that involved youand your sister there?
-Funny stories or sad stories?
- Sad stories, okay. I remember a student, who was with me, his name was AdelAl-Gharaballi, he's got blue eyes, and he always beat me. We used to play with marbles, in fact they were not real marbles, we ate the apricots and used the stones as marbles, I always won and I used to be happy to break the apricot stones and eat what was inside, what a misery! [She laughs]. He beat me a few times and I said to him once, "I can gouge out your blue eyes and use them as marbles." As if I was threatening him. That was one of the things, but my voice had rarely been heard though. Mmm, I remember they used to take us to the church and bring a priest to preach to us. Most of the kids were Muslims, about 90% of us were Muslims and the remaining 10% were Christians. At those moments the mess of Al Sawabir and street kids began, they wanted to discipline us but in vain, okay? [She Laughs]. We started tapping our feet, whistling and so on. Of course, the priest got upset, he wanted to hold a mass or something like that in the presence of such naughty kids and they kicked us out of the church, it was useless, okay? They also used to hold Christmas parties which I liked a lot, okay? I remember once we, the girls, were angels and they put a boy from our class in a basket, covered in a blanket and wearing only his underwear. Behind the curtain we began pinching him and he ran on stage crying, the teacher began to slap her face because he was supposed to be Jesus Christ and he was not supposed to cry, he had to stay silent but he kept crying because of the pain as we gave him such a hard time. There were things like that but we also learned singing, dancing, and playing music, those were such nice things and were not available at the schools of Kuwait, okay? Mmm, deprivation of all kinds was always there, but they sometimes took us on trips, those trips were nice, but imagine this, during the summer, the school holidays, instead of going back to Kuwait or staying with our families, they sent us to another boarding school in Dhour El Choueir , on the mountains, where the nuns did everything possible to teach us discipline, everything...
-Things like what? Do you remember any of those things?
-Mmm, everything, I mean, imagine children that young and you must watch theirevery move. I still remember I was once on a balcony at school and in front of me there was Mount Sannine, it was awesome. The mountain was cloaked in clouds. I imagined myself an angel, jumping from one cloud to another. I said to my sister, "Tell me that I have wings" And she said, "You can't do that, you'll fall off the clouds." I said, "No, I'm an angel with wings, if I fall, I will fly." Those were childish fantasies which, of course, appeared in my writings later. I remember a story my mother told me once. When she was a child, she was not happy being a girl because she felt that boys had more freedom. She had an elder brother who used to say to her, "If you want to be a boy, you must lick your elbow." So, she kept trying to lick her elbow all day long but couldn't do it, yes, used to say to her, "If you want to be a boy, you must lick your elbow." Finally, she went to sleep depressed for not being able to lick her elbow. When I was at school I was trying to lick my elbow, as my mother said and my sister used to laugh at me and say, "You won't turn into a boy, you will always be a girl and you'll never have wings." I also remember, in addition to my childhood in Lebanon, my childhood in Kuwait and my grandmother, may God rest her soul. In the 1950s food was scarce, they hardly kept us satisfied or fed, we were eleven grandchildren in the house, okay? My grandfather hardly supported us, in spite of being rich, he still suffered to keep up with our needs. Back then they used to buy large cans of cheese. It was a salty type of cheese which they soaked in water and kept in the refrigerator. You know the Iranians, they usually had bread, cheese, cucumber, and mint for dinner, that meal was called "Non wa Baneer," bread and cheese that was at night, that was dinner.
-That was the house of your grandfather from which side?
-My mother's, my grandfather from my father's side died when my father was stillyoung. I was very influenced by him, I liked his character, his work and the things he did very much. My uncle was a carpenter.
-he also was... My grandmother had a refrigerator, they got it whenrefrigerators appeared for the first time. When she opened the refrigerator in the morning she found no cheese, we were like locusts, so she wanted to make up a story to protect us and at least she'd find some cheese in the morning for breakfast, so she said, "Whoever eats cheese without bread turns into a donkey." One night I was awake at night, I loved cheese and I still love it, I ate some cheese and went to bed. First thing in the morning, I started to feel myself, I touched my back and found no tail and touched my head and found no long ears so I thought, "Grandma is lying, let me go and finish the cheese" [She laughs] I have a lot of memories but I'm keeping some of them for my coming book, God willing.
-As for Lebanon.... I used to enjoy the French comic books a lot, it was anamazing visual culture, okay? That took me out of the lack of visual culture, which was in Kuwait back then, okay? Those comic books were not available here and they enriched me and added a lot to my artistic feeling, but they were disastrous from a psychological point of view. I also remember when our family visited us in summer, we used to go to the sea and swim in the swimming pool of St. Georges Hotel, Beirut okay? I remember I was about to drown once and they saved me, things like that.
-You mentioned something that I want to focus more on, you mentioned the gamesand food.
-You said you played with marbles.
-Are there any other games that you remember from your childhood?
-Other games... the hopscotch, which we learned in Kuwait, and here they calledit Hajjla, we played it a lot and I always won in it because my legs were long and my sister was a lot shorter than me so I always beat her. We used to play for bets, for apricots for instance or if someone had an apple, okay? Things like that, it was always food stuff. [She laughs] Yes, um, I also ate chalk sometimes, okay? Perhaps I needed calcium, okay? Moreover, Lebanese food was delicious, and it was always available, but they kept their eyes on us till we went to bed to sleep. We used to sleep in dormitories, like those of a prison, all the children slept together, boys and girls at close ages, in one dormitory, okay? I didn't feel the difference between a boy and a girl there, it was a mixed society in which I lived, in my childhood, even in Kuwait. We used to play, boys and girls together, as far as I remember, until the intermediate stage of school. In Shuwaikh, we, boys and girls, played together. In Ramadan, the Qerqi'an and other traditional occasions, all the boys and girls of Shuwaikh used to play together, okay? That was in the 1960s, we used to play Muqsi.
-You played what?
-Muqsi, and Hai El Meed, I remember once, Abdulwahab Al Fawzan, the formerMinister of Health, who was our neighbor, okay? We were playing Muqsi and someone hurt him, okay? I mean we were all... What happened was that when my mother moved to Shuwaikh she disengaged from Sharq, where her neighbors were, she got estranged from her neighbors in Sharq or even Dasma. Our neighbors had some sort of a harmony being families of Persian origins there was a sort of convergence among them, okay? When she moved to Shuwaikh, most of the families there didn't have those Persian origins, but my mother quickly adapted. She was also fond of education, so she finished her studies at the middle and high school levels at Khawla School, she went to school in the afternoons and she was also fond of reading. My mother made us live in an atmosphere of non-discrimination and that we were all one and the same. I remember in Ramadan my father used to provide all the houses of the neighborhood with dumplings, okay? The house of, I don't know-- One family distributed Tashreeba another distributed Yereesh and so on, each family was specialized in a certain dish, okay? It was known that the house of Al Baqsami distributed the dumplings, okay? My father used to make sweets too, nobody learned making them. So, what happened was -- with that atmosphere I never felt that so called discrimination, I lived my childhood and adolescence and none of my friends had ever asked me where my father was from or what the origins of my family were. Of course back then there were those of highly esteemed or humble origins, those who were not good enough for so and so of families, the low class and so on, all those categories were there in the society and nobody could deny that but in our family we still kept the traditions. My grandmother and grandfather died in the late 1960s and unfortunately those traditions began to fade away gradually. I couldn't pass them on to my children because what was left of them was too small. As for my childhood in Lebanon, one of the things I remember very well is the war. I witnessed that war again with the occupation, I saw it in the eyes of my kids. I saw the horror that I lived through as a child, repeated again with Muneera, Fatma, Ghadeer and all the children I lived with during the occupation period. I witnessed the war and saw the children live its horrors. I saw Beirut being occupied in front of my eyes. When we heard the bombing, they took us to the basement, there was a basement in the Choueifat School, okay? It was so hard to get any food, we sucked the water taps sometimes to get a drop of water, the situation was that miserable and the school feared that we could starve to death.
- For how long did it last like that?
-That went on for months, the civil war in Lebanon went on till they overthrewthe government of Camille Chamoun, it was a sectarian war at the same time, it was like a spark, okay? You want the truth? I don't have very clear memories about Lebanon, I mostly remember what was after Lebanon. Of course, I remember, from my childhood, my grandfather's house, I still remember the rooms and the house, the yard and such things looked.
-The house of Dasman?
-Dasman, yes, yes.
-Can you describe it?
-That house was, umm, my grandfather built it in a unique style, I think it wasone of a kind in Kuwait at the time. The house had a court with rooms around it, the rooms were a little bit higher than the court itself because he thought, my grandfather, should there be any rains, vermin or anything like that, they wouldn't get into the bedrooms. In the far end of the yard there was a small garden, he was an Iranian who couldn't live without flowers, plants and stuff, he needed to see green areas, a home garden, roses and so on. There also had to be a fountain, okay? In all the houses my grandfather lived in, he made a garden and built a fountain. When we built our house in Shuwaikh it had about 15 fountains, all made by my grandfather. When my grandfather built the Salwa zoo, it was full of fountains, about three quarters of the space was covered with fountains. He brought the workers from Iran to fit the porcelain, everything about Kuwait was beautiful in the 1950s and the 1960s. I remember that house. When my grandfather first arrived, he rented a small house then [She coughs] bought that house and added to it, okay? The house had a bathroom with a tub for washing, they filled the tub with water to wash the dishes. There was also a water well, which was a must because of the water shortage, okay? There was a bathroom, too. Most people used to go and take a bath in the Qabazard bath, it was a Turkish bath and there were many Turkish baths. First it was the Sheikh Khaza'l bath then its name changed to Qabazard, it first belonged to Khaza'l. I know the rituals of those visits to the bath because my mother told me about them.
-What were those rituals?
-I went to those baths, with them, more than once, the women's bath, they had alot of things which were not available at homes. There you'd find a woman to massage and bathe you. They used to take brides to those baths, and they took the men to men's bath which were open seven days a week. There were baths for men and others for women, hmm? The Sheikh Khaza'l bath always had a bucket with a material called "Nurah," which is now called Nair, for hair removal and the women who came to the bath used it, okay? There were also women working there to rub your body, massage you and things like that, it was a wonderful social ceremony because women used to gather and exchange stories and gossip: "That woman's husband divorced her and got another wife." Those were the stories women would tell, it was like a women's club with a bit of chitchat at the same time, okay? So many stories and events took place in those baths, but I unfortunately didn't get many of them, okay? Those baths were nice rituals but in my grandfather's house we had a bath and a toilet, many of the Kuwaiti houses didn't have toilets back then, so people used to release bodily wastes on the rooftops and there was a man who toured the streets shouting, "Wasukha, Wasukha." That man's job was to collect that human waste to be used as fertilizers.
-What was that man's name?
- He was called, "Bu Wasukha," which meant the waste collector, and peopledidn't give him any money, his wages were the waste he collected, they didn't give him any money in return for cleaning their roof tops, okay? They used to say, "The waste you take is useful for you." And paid him nothing.
-Till when did that go on? Approximately?
-That was before toilets were introduced to the houses of Kuwait, for a longtime the houses didn't have any toilets and people had to manage that way until toilets were built in the houses.
-But your grandfather's house had a toilet? -Yes, it did, it had a bathroom andI remember, as a child, I was a little weird [She laughs] when I was a kid, the cockroaches were huge, jumbo sized and they used to fly around, there were no sewage systems, my mother said, "I looked and found the cockroaches have no wings, or limb, they were not dead but only lame, I went to see what was going on and found you sitting by the toilet door and every cockroach that went out you caught and removed its wings" That was me, okay? She caught me and said, "what are you doing? Those cockroaches are dirty, they live in the filth." I said, "They fly, I'm afraid of them, okay?" Now as an adult I fear cockroaches in an unnatural way, okay? I even wrote a story about them in a book titled Sedrah, the story title was "The Cockroach." In the story, I describe how I left my house because there was a cockroach which I couldn't tolerate. Even now, when I see a cockroach, I call the housekeeper to kill it. [She laughs] Anyway, everything about those houses was nice, the roofs, which were open to the sky, the bricks and the tiles, the tiles were made of clay that absorbed the moisture, so they were wonderful in the summer, we used to spray them with water and sit on the floor. There was also a habit which turned out to be very harmful for a person in old age. People used to take a sheet of "Malmal" which is not flax but linen, dip it in a bucket filled with water and ice, wrap themselves in it and go to sleep. It was sort of an air conditioner, but that habit gave them rheumatism later. So, most of the women, who did that in the 1950s before air conditioners or fans got into the houses, suffered from rheumatism in their old age because the moisture kept penetrating their bodies all night long. In the summertime we used to sleep on the rooftops, okay? The roof was also a playground where we all gathered, and the elders told us stories and when they wanted us to go to sleep, they switched to fearful stories.
-Stories like what? Do you remember?
- "Humarat Al Qayla" (The Noon Donkey), the (Tantal Monster) and so on. Therewere Iranian stories too about fictional characters, like "Um Al Sa'af" and all those stories. The problem was that we didn't sleep in the afternoons, while the adults liked that, I don't know if you want to include that piece of information. Statistics proved that most of Kuwaiti women's pregnancies are the result of siestas, why? Because for the Kuwaiti men, the afternoon is the time for rest, okay? At night they are in the Diwaniyas and come home late at night so the night is not the best time for them to spend some time with their wives, so they do that in the afternoon, so the adults needed to relax in the afternoon while we, as children knew no rest in the afternoons, we used to shout, we were like devils. One of my aunts, may God rest her soul, had a room for her and her husband in the house, all the women and their husbands lived in the same house. My aunt, because we caused a lot of noise while playing on the roof, decided to tease or terrify us. One afternoon she went up, wearing a goat skin and a black gown and said, "I am the Noon Donkey, if you don't keep silent and go to sleep, I will eat all of you." That way we became sure that the Noon Donkey existed, of course we didn't know it was our aunt. For a few months we didn't leave our rooms at noon, we stayed in the rooms with our mothers. Of course, every mother had a room. My mother lived in my father's house, but she liked to stay at my grandfather's house for a few months, okay? Because it's the house with the atmosphere she liked and all her memories, yes.
-How many uncles and aunts have you got?
- I have three, three aunts and two uncles, okay? But my cousins are so many, alarge number. They were my childhood friends. I remember that my grandfather had a lot of friends who brought him exotic gifts, for example someone came back from India and gave him a monkey and another one gave him a gazelle. They gave him strange animals, so in the back of the house he had a small zoo with a gazelle, a monkey, and other animals. When they first brought that monkey, I didn't see that but my elder brother, Salman, who was about two years old at the time, did. They used to feed that monkey and one day my grandfather, not my grandfather but one of those who fed the monkey forgot the cage door open and Salman went to play with the monkey, but it bit him, okay? It bit my brother. That bite could've given him tuberculosis, okay? So, they rushed him to the American Hospital where they gave him some injections, anti-tetanus injections to save him. After that my grandfather decided to take the monkey back to his friend and said, "I don't want to keep this monkey, it's biting my grandchildren." Then they brought a gazelle, okay? My older brothers and cousins were very influenced by American western movies, bull fighting and stuff, so they decided to mimic what they saw with the gazelle, that gazelle had horns. They brought a table, my uncle was a carpenter and he once made a big table and kept it in the back of the house, where my grandmother used to cook and put the food on that table to be taken to the workers. The older boys asked us, the younger kids with short legs, to sit on that table so the gazelle wouldn't hurt us. They brought a red piece of cloth, I don't know where they got it from, perhaps my uncle's wife was sewing something, okay? The boys opened the cage and went, "Ooooh, Olaaaay," just like bullfighters did. The gazelle went running around the yard and the kids running after it, okay? The gazelle went into the kitchen where my grandmother was cooking, of course she started screaming and so did all the women in the house. It had huge horns and could easily hurt someone. It was a total chaos. Luckily, my uncle was home and they told him what was going on. He brought the neighbors and managed to catch the animal and put it back in the cage. Of course, the boys were punished while the younger ones got some slight slaps [She laughs], as we were just watching. That is one of the stories I remember, we were like small devils and we had too many stories, should I keep telling them, till the morning, I wouldn't run out of them. Our house was different and so many people came to visit us just to see the things we had. Later my grandfather built a similar house for my father, with two stone lions in the front. That house was close to the Sharq police station, near the Abdulrazaq square. The design of the house was very beautiful that people came to see it. My grandfather built so many buildings, for instance he built the East Maqua project, took part in building the old Amiri Hospital, where he died, okay? When they began building the American Hospital, that's another funny story, mentioned by Dr. Farah Al-Nakib and by an English orientalist in a book, of course I don't recall his name. When they began to build the American Hospital, the local builders didn't know how to build a straight wall, they built it warped. An Iranian man came, with a 15-year-old, single eyed, boy. The workers were Indians and said to the Indian foreman of the project, "This boy can build a straight wall." The foreman said, "He is single eyed and fifteen and you want him to build it straight while these professional builders can't?" The man said, "Just watch." When he saw the tools in the boy's bag the Indian said that he'd become sure that those were the tools of an experienced builder. The boy built them a straight wall. That story is kept in the history, thank God that there is something. My grandfather also helped in building the palace of Sheikh Khaza'l, the Diwaniya and the palace. After the palace had been deserted, I went and took pictures of the ceiling he painted. It was Ramadan and he lay down on his back and painted on the ceiling. My mother lived her childhood in that house, and I wrote stories about it. I also wrote a huge report about it for Al-Arabi magazine and published some pictures of it. Unfortunately, I think it's too hard to restore it now. When I grew older I felt I must record what my mother knew so I began sitting with her and writing down the stories she had, stories about her childhood, the life she lived, her adventures at the palace of Sheikh Khaza'l, she had many adventures with her peers there, the schools she went to and the system of education, that's another life worthy of telling, God willing.
-I'm sorry, have you got any more questions?
-You mentioned that your grandfather's friends got him exotic gifts and youmentioned the monkey and the gazelle, do you remember any other gifts?
- Yes, I remember my grandfather's bed, of course I wrote about it, mygrandfather's bed. He got it as a gift from India, okay? It was an amazing bed, it had pieces of porcelain with a girl and her sheep painted on them with mountains in the background. When I was a kid I used to go to my grandparent's room, it was strictly forbidden to go there, it was the grandfather's room, okay? I used to get into the room, stare at those drawings and fantasize about being that little girl. That was before I went to Lebanon and lived among the mountains of course. That bed was a part of my fantasies. That bedroom had a door that led to a storeroom, where we kept the onions and stuff. There you found stairs that led to an attic, where they stored things too. I remember I once took advantage of all those in the house being unaware, I was so curious which was annoying [She laughs]. I disappeared every now and then and they searched to find me in unexpected places each time. I was about five at the time, I went up to that attic and found a miniature set of furniture, a toy set of tables, chairs, a closet and so on. A full set of furniture kept there. My cousin, Iffat, used to make us toys with stuffed cloth, complete with eyes and hair, dummies of men, women and children, for us to play the bride and groom game, there was no market for toys back then and toy shops were so few, okay? That was in the 1950s and there should've been toys. When I saw the furniture I thought, "This perfect furniture is for the toys Iffat made, now we don't have to imagine the furniture, here it is." Suddenly I heard my aunt shouting, "Who is up there? Who is up there? What's the matter with you? We've been looking everywhere for you, we thought you fell in the basin or went out to the streets. We've been looking for you here and there and here you are?" I said to her, "I found a treasure here." She said, "Yes, these were your mother's when she was young, your uncle made them for her as a gift and of course she is a mother now and doesn't play with them anymore." I said, "Okay" and went to my mother and said, "Will you give them to me?" She said, "I will." I said, "Okay, where is the toy?" She said, "That toy is from my childhood days. They used to hold Christmas parties at the American Hospital and invite some Kuwaiti families." They always invited my grandfather because he helped in building the church, their church, okay? They spent a year not knowing how to build the arches and he built those arches for them. Last year the church invited me to their celebrations and showed a documentary about my grandfather being the builder of that church, the Orthodox Church which is behind the American Hospital. Anyway, she told me that they used to invite my grandfather to the church and gave them Christmas gifts. She said, "It was the first time in my life I got a toy as a gift. It was a doll with eyes, eyelashes, and blonde hair and it also made sounds. I was so happy with it and carried it around all day long. I couldn't believe that there was anything in the world like this. When people visited us, I used to show them the doll and tell them that it was almost human, some of them though it had a demon inside it and were too afraid to even touch it."
-In which year was that?
-My mother was about five or six at the time, she was born in the 1930s andshe's about 86 or 87 now, that was in the 1930s, okay? Anyway, the toy... When my mother got married, she gave that doll to her younger sisters. One day she was visiting them and found the doll's head taken off and she got so upset. I found that doll with the furniture, in a box, in the attic. Its head cut off and eyes gouged out, I don't know, it was a mess and I tried to fix it but couldn't. That's one of my childhood memories.
-And the bed you mentioned earlier?
-The one you liked a lot, where is it now? Is it still there?
-The bed, there is a historical problem, I don't know if anyone has discussedit. With the development of society, those are the Kuwaitis, what can you do? Everything changed, everything. The people abandoned their old traditional houses, like Al-Ghanims, who used to live in the palace of Sheikh Khaza'l. They bought it from the heirs, from Abdullah Al Jaber, who was Khaza'l's agent in Kuwait and when he died his agent sold the house to Al-Ghanim and gave the money to the heirs. Al-Ghanims lived in that house for years and tried to change a lot of things in it, okay? To make it more modern, with more bathrooms and so on. That house had about a hundred rooms, it was a wonder, okay? All the people moved to the new areas and the new modern houses which appeared at the time, okay? They did something which was a big mistake. They threw all the teak furniture, which was brought from India, the closets, the boxes and all, on the streets and replaced them with plastic products or that cheap Italian furniture with porcelain, tiles and stuff, okay? Those products are antiques now, but instead of the luxurious wooden chairs, the plastic chairs, usually used in the gardens, got into our houses. Those were put in halls with bamboo chairs and stuff. My grandfather wanted to get rid of his old furniture too and buy a new one, so he gave that bed as a gift to an Iranian man whose son was about to get married and the man took it to Iran. Years later my uncle met that Iranian man, my grandfather's carpentry and my younger uncle inherited it and it's still there. You must visit that carpentry, it's the oldest in Kuwait, it's fifty years old.
-Where is it?
-In Sharq, I'll tell you later. Anyway, my uncle bought that bed from thatIranian man and brought it back to Kuwait. That bed is still in the carpentry, it's still there.
-So, it's back with you? -Yes, it's there and my uncle won't give it to me. Isaid to him, "This is the love of my childhood." I'm telling you, it was a disaster, all the beautiful furniture with which we lived the smell of mahogany, teak and all the rare and expensive types of wood, all those were replaced with fiberboard. And the architecture, that is a small part, the old buildings had open courtyards, you could see the sun and the air get into the house it's true that there was dust too, but you could breathe, a part of you lived outdoors. All those were blocked, and the houses turned into closed cans. The first architects who came to Kuwait were two Egyptians, Fatma Aref and Abdul Ra'oof Mashhoor. They had a famous engineering office; I think his sons are still in Kuwait. They began building houses in Kuwait, distorted blocks, a strange collage of Art Deco and everything found in America. They filled the buildings with balconies, okay? Our house in Shuwaikh had 55 doors. It was a huge house on an area of more than a thousand square meters, it had three balconies, okay? No one sat in those balconies because we were still a conservative society, we didn't tolerate seeing women and children sitting in a balcony where people on the streets could see them, no one sat in a balcony, okay? Moreover, balconies were usually dirty places with a lot of dust, they took up some of the house space, turning the house into a hospital like building, small rooms and corridors with one door after another. I once counted the doors of our house, with the main doors, they were 55 doors. I depicted them in a painting and wrote about them later, I wrote a poem about them, okay? That was our house in Shuwaikh, all the doors were made of teak, imagine that, 55 doors. Of course, that house was knocked down, it's gone now. It was a collection of small rooms. We were so happy to move to a bigger house but there was something, although we grew up, we were still like chicks and our mother was like a hen, we still wanted to stay stuck to her and live close to her. We couldn't tolerate to move to the second floor, with a room for each one of us, there were more than 10 rooms on the second floor, okay? We stayed two in a room, four girls and four boys, two in each room, with one bathroom, my brothers, sisters, father and mother had a room for each pair with one bathroom. We all lived downstairs and the second floor stayed empty for more than 20 years, no one stayed there, okay? It was vital for us to live close to each other, that's how we were, one coherent group. Later, my brothers finished high school and went on scholarships to Beirut or America and I went to Egypt. My sister, Fareeda married at an early age and went I don't know where, we got separated, okay? But first, when we were young, we used to live together, all of us, in one room with our father and mother.
-That was in Dasman?
-Yes, in Dasman. Later, when I came to Al Sawabir, my mother and father hadtheir own room and the rest of us in another room, okay? In Dasma, the boys had a room and the girls had a separate room, it was a bigger place. Then, when we moved to Shuwaikh, there were many rooms, okay? Our number stopped at six, it didn't grow bigger but until then we didn't want to be apart. The arrangement of the house was very annoying, okay? My father didn't want to have a plan made for the house, he was an old-fashioned man, a trader and a businessman who didn't want to spend a lot of money, so he took the plan of our neighbor's house, made by Abdul Ra'oof Mashhoor for the Al-Sayer's house and used it to build our house. Of course, he didn't ask my mother what she needed, forget about that, a man would never ask a woman what she wanted. I remember my grandfather going to my grandmother in the kitchen saying, "Collect your things, I sold this house and bought a new one." That was it, in a few days or a week we had to move. They put everything in boxes and a small truck came and carried them to the new house. Then, a year or two later, he said, "Come on, we are moving." I remember about my grandfather's house, in Sharq, that it was next to Al Sharqiya cinema, it was the first time we ever saw a cinema. A very smart man made the screen of concrete. By the way, that screen persisted till the turn of the millennium, then it was knocked down and replaced with a building of course. That screen was made of concrete. We went to the cinema to watch American western movies. The disaster was the soft drinks, there was a drink called Sinalco and another called Kitty Kola with a picture of a cat on the bottle, and our families used to tell us not to drink it because it was cat urine, okay?
-How old were you when you went to the cinema?
-The cinema, of course before we went to Lebanon, I don't recall anything likethat, not before Lebanon but after we came back, five, seven, or eight years later. We went to watch the films but with the scenes of fighting, between the native Americans and cowboys, the boys used to get too excited, those were naughty boys, not well behaved, so you'd see the Sinalco bottles smashing on the screen, those were glass bottles and they broke while the screen stayed okay? With the end of the movie, you'd see broken bottles everywhere and you'd be worried that a piece of that glass might injure you, okay? So, going to the cinema was something big, that was Al Sharqiya cinema. The Teachers' Club had been recently opened in Al Sawabir and when we passed by it, we could hear them playing the famous song Ah Ya Zain, it is the only song stuck to my mind. They also played the oud and sang. We used to go to wedding parties, where they played the drums, bagpipes, and other instruments. Sometimes we heard Zar songs, coming from our neighbors' houses, where they held Zar parties. I was fond of the music and the forms as well, I loved to go and look at the faces of people, and sometimes I painted them, too.
-So, you moved among many areas and many houses.
-Which of those places influenced you the most? A place where you had a lot ofmemories, Dasman, Sharq, Al Sawabir--. -Yes, my great grandfather's house was on Al Istiqlal street. At that house my grandmother lost the roof and the court, the house became like a box, okay? My grandfather built it, but he filled it with stairs, I don't know why it hadn't crossed his mind that when he grew older, he wouldn't be able to climb those stairs, okay? My grandmother was suffocating, she didn't want to live in that house, she was used to see the sky, work in the court and from her bedroom she saw the sky, all that was gone. All those things are in my new novel. I cherish the memories of the Dasman house the most, because it witnessed my early childhood. After Dasman we moved to our house and used to visit my grandfather at the Istiqlal street house. My mother didn't stay there because she had a nice, well organized house that had everything she wished for, so she didn't escape from her house to stay at my grandfather's for a long time. When she gave birth to one of my sisters, I used to feel happy because my mother would go to stay at my grandfather's for months. Yes, a tiny detail, when we first started going to Amna School, my father had already started building our house in Shuwaikh, okay? Sometimes he left us at school, he forgot to take us home. We sometimes stayed there till midnight. At the school there was an accommodation facility for teachers, after the school hours the school was closed and the teachers took us to their rooms, gave us dinner and sent us to sleep. Later on they came to wake us up saying, "wake up, your father came for you." What time is it? My mother was usually at home crying and there were no telephones to call and ask him where the girls were, it was 11 at night and the kids were not back yet, okay? More than once he did that and the headmistress called him to her office and blamed him saying, "Hajji, you can't forget your daughters at school." One time I said to my sister Fareeda, who was devilish, and I always sought refuge with her although she made a lot of trouble, "Let's wait for our father." It was still early but she said, "No, he'll forget us and we'll eat bread and cheese with the Palestinian teachers, I don't want to. Let's walk home, I'll show you the way." Where to? To My grandfather's house in Sharq, my mother was staying there, okay?
-And where was the school? -It was Amna School, that was in 1958, as soon as wecame back from Lebanon, okay? My mother was in Sharq, you know where the Hamra and Fardous cinemas were? At the time there were two cinemas, Al Hamra and Al Fardous there. Maybe after 1958 perhaps in 1959, okay? We put some stones in our pockets as Fareeda said, "To throw them at anyone who might bother us" okay? We kept walking but by chance my father came to school on time and asked, "Where are my girls?" The janitor told him that we had left, okay? At the time he had a small Volkswagen, he began searching the area looking for us. He found us walking by the cinemas and slapped us. I kept saying, "It's not me, it's her." And she said the same. At home he said to my mother, "See? I went to them early, but they had left." After that he never forgot us about us. That was one of my childhood adventures.
-The Dasman house, you were staying there with your cousins?
-Yes, I had an elder uncle, from a previous marriage of my grandmother, mygrandfather built him a house next to his, and there was a door between the two houses. His children and us were almost the same age, there were also the children of another aunt, it was like a competition at the time, you'd see all the women pregnant at the same time, okay? The woman who gave birth to a baby girl would get upset while the one who got a baby boy would be happy, that was a problem. Hmm, the two houses were opened onto one another. My uncle had a lot of kids and there were four of us. We had many friends. One of our aunts had two kids our age, so in addition to us the number was more than 10 children. [She coughs] There were some unmarried aunts, too. My other uncle was young, so there were my mother's children and my aunt's children. My grandfather was so pleased with that nation. I remember once they brought the food for the parrot, they were Iranian in origin, so they loved birds, flowers and nature in general. They had many fountains, flower beds, where they picked the flowers from and put in vases inside the house. That parrot was kept in a cage next to the kitchen. They taught it to talk and fed it peanuts, okay? I used to go and eat its peanuts and it bit my finger once. I kept crying and my mother said, "If you want some peanuts, I'll get you some clean ones, why eat the bird's food?" [She laughs] They suffered a lot because of my curiosity and they also feared so much that we might fall in the basin or the water well because one of my aunts once fell in the well, when she was young, but they got her out. They said that there were demons in the bottom of the water well and that they got into the body of anyone who fell in the well and gave them a psychiatric disorder, that was what they thought, so should any one fall in a well they'd recite the Holy Quran for them and give them a Zar party. I need some water, how? Will you stop it? I lived with them, okay? And had very good relations with them. My cousin, Iffat, my twin sister Fareeda and I, lived the same life. That was the greatest gift from my mother, that I came to this world with a friend, she is still my friend and she's an artist too. Anyway, Iffat was my childhood friend, she knew how to sew, so used to make us toys, okay? She was a funny girl with a sweet personality. We were in great harmony together, but we had no relations with her older sisters. There were also my uncle's children and my aunt's, there were Ali and Abdullah, [The phone rings] Sorry, I'll switch it off. [Talking from a distance]: I have an interview, no, I'll call back later, goodbye. How can I switch this to the silent mode? I'd better stop it altogether, just a moment, I'm asleep, [Talking from a close distance] okay? The problem is that I currently need more information to enhance my novel. the last Samurai from the Family, that's my uncle, is in poor health and my mother too, she's been in a coma for four years, it's not literally a coma but she can't remember anything, nevertheless I managed to get those stories from them while I was a child and later on. Among the children I loved, and liked to play with, were Abdullah and Adel, they were almost our age. We used to call Adel Allawi, no, Addoli, we called Ali Allawi and we called Abdullah Abbodi. Our names, as girls, were the same but I don't know why they changed the boys' names into Abbodi and Allawi, even Ridha, they called him Radhawi sometimes. Adnan and Salman's names were not changed, those are my brothers, okay? My brothers were in the same gang, too. The boys, who were a little bit older, were the gang leaders and we followed them and obeyed their orders, we did whatever they said. They used us as audience to watch the mess they made and stuff. I remember sitting on the roof in summer and the stories the elders told us as well as the very interesting games we played together.
-Games like what?
-We were... As I told you, I loved a lot to play the hopscotch, it's a kind ofsports of course, then when the hula hoops appeared, I remember, I don't know what, I can't recall the kids' games at the time, Muqsi, Hai El Meed and so on. There was also a game called "har har, barid barid" (Hot Hot, Cold Cold) where you hid something and we looked for it, I can't remember many of those things.
-What stories have you got about the mess they made while you were with them?
-Do you remember?
-I mean, like I told you, the story of the gazelle, later, when they startedmaking new buildings, my greatest joy was to go and search the waste, I adored the waste, okay? They used to throw a lot of things in the waste. I remember one time, when we moved to Dasma, okay? Addoli, my little cousin, was a very close friend of my sister, Naheda's. He brought her a pair of rain boots, which people had thrown in the waste. He gave her the boots to put on but there was a scorpion inside. Of course, she was rushed to the hospital where they treated her from the poison. When she took the boots off, she saw the scorpion that had stung her. In the waste I sometimes found things, of which I could make art formations. In the 1960s my father decided to trade in toys and brought them from an American company, okay? To sell the toys he opened a shop, but the business failed, and we took over those toys. I couldn't believe the amazing toys, native American wagons, horses and stuff, okay?
-What other toys were there? Other than wagons?
-They were mostly cowboy toys, wagons and stuff. They were American toys, veryAmerican. My father didn't sell them, so we played with them for a long time. I remember when we moved to the Shuwaikh house, we took them with us. One of the things I remember from the 1960s, before Kuwait got its Independence, was the threats of Abdulkareem Abdul Naser, Abdulkareem Abdul Qader, Qasim, his name was Qasim? I forgot his name, it was Abdulkareem Qasim, wasn't it? By God I forgot his name, okay? Anyway, Abdulkareem Qasim, okay? When he marched to the borders and said, "Kuwait is mine" and wanted to occupy it. At the time we were in ... My grandfather had a rented house in Dasma because he was still building his new house, so we were living in a temporary house, okay? We all gathered, boys and girls, okay? At the time Kung Fu and Karate had just appeared, so we tied headbands, carried wood sticks and toured the neighborhood to liberate Kuwait and kick Abdulkareem Qasim out, okay? They were digging for the sewage pipes in the area, Dasma was a new area at the time and its houses were built with sewage systems and stuff. Suddenly my little sister, Naheda fell in one of the trenches and hurt her back. She was taken to the hospital. Later we were beaten, and our family said, "Stay home, you are not the ones who will frighten Abdulkareem Qasim, the British will and he will leave." I remember that wave of violence and revolution, we wanted to change the world. In every house we moved to, my grandfather moved to, he used to take my uncle and his kids with him, they went with him to any house he lived in, okay? The last house they gathered in was in Dasma, then my grandfather moved to Benaid Al Qar and my uncle got separated from him, he'd got a new house and as a result the family grew smaller, the regular crowd was not there anymore. There we used to go to the Hadhra, you know what a Hadhra is? It's a structure of nets they built in the sea and the fish got caught in it. When the tide retreats the fish stayed stuck in the nets and fishermen collected them. We used to go there before fishermen and take the crabs, okay? I remember my grandmother had a big pot, they used to cook rice for the workers, it was a huge pot. We used to put it in the middle of the court, okay? That was in the 1960s of course, fill it with water, add salt and pepper, burn a fire under it and throw all those crabs in. We then tied our heads with bands and kept running around the pot, just like the native Americans, then we sat to eat like cats. I also remember when we were in that house, in Dasma, we used to go to catch locusts, we took burlap bags and went out. Benaid Al Qar and Dasma at the time didn't have too many houses and they were close to the sea, so we went there on foot, to where the locusts gathered, close to the sea and caught them, okay? We then took them home to eat the females, males had no eggs in them, so they were not tasty, they were inedible, only females were edible. I still remember once when we were in Dasma, we brought two or three sacks, full of locusts, we brought them ourselves, at the time we had an Egyptian housekeeper, we didn't have a maid, we were so many and my mother was exhausted so we brought that girl from Egypt to help her. When the girl entered the kitchen, she ran out screaming, "Hurry up, madam, the kids are eating cockroaches."
-How did you eat the locusts?
-We boiled them with salt and pepper and ate the eggs in their tails, they wereso delicious, okay? Should you give me any of those now, I wouldn't eat them, I dread them too. I might step on them with my shoes but back then we ate such things. One of the things we liked eating was the "Kherrait," when they collected the inner part of a palm tree, they called it "Jummair" or something like that. They used to grind it with chickpeas and make cubes out of the mixture, those cubes were sold in Basra, Iraq, okay? It was a kind of sweets for the Eids, I haven't told you about the Eids, on the Eid days we used to buy those rooster shaped sweets, it was made of sugar. We used to suck it. We also took pictures and went to the roundabout, everybody went for a walk in Sharq, the Ibn Da'i market, Mubarakiya and places like those, okay? The Eid eve, the night before the Eid, we used to have our new clothes folded up under the billow to put them on in the early morning, and of course we collected the Eid allowance, the Eidiya, it was a small amount of money but for us it was something big.
-What were the Eid rituals like?
-The Eid rituals, right. First, because we knew that the Eid was the followingday, we took a bath although my mother was always keen on giving us a bath every day, because we always came home with an awful smell after running around in the streets, okay? We used to take the bath and go to bed. In the morning we got up and got dressed. There must be a new dress, new pants, new undershirts and new socks, everything must be brand new, nothing old. Then the adults came, and lunch was served. Then they used to give us the Eidiya, then, and only then, when we got the Eidiya, we went to the swings. We were living in Al Sawabir, it was a short distance to the yard where the swings and other amusement games were. The swings were a small box with two seats tied with a rope. Six children could sit on two seats in that box and you pushed them, that was it. The Iranians had what was called "Akkas," or a photographer. They also had different scenes for backgrounds, mountains, rivers, flowers, and other natural sceneries, beautiful things. Or an Iranian carpet with drawings like a lion, a tiger or other beautiful things which they used to bring from Iran. We used to stand in front of those sceneries and have our pictures taken, okay? That was the Eid for us, we bought the things we liked, sometimes we found toys that we could buy, okay? We used to spend the whole day out, we used to say, "Mom, I'm old enough." We went out with no supervision, just the children, they trusted us to go anywhere and come back. We went to the sea to bring fish and came back, okay? We could go for a swim with no supervision, okay? The society was that safe despite the many cases of child rape but we used to go out in big groups with boys, older than us, who protected us, that was my childhood, [She coughs] I need a sip of water.
-Do you remember, when you went to the swings and other games anything thathappened to you?
-Perhaps we fell and got hurt, I don't remember. I would like now to talk aboutthe invasion period, if you don't mind or if you want...
-Before we move to that period--
-Will you tell me about the elementary school where you studied? How was it like?
-I went first to Amna school, okay? Mmm, I used to be punished a lot because Ihad already studied 3 years and was older than the rest of my colleagues, mmm, everything went well. At the end of the school year they used to hold parties but I didn't take part in them because, unlike my sister who loved to sing and dance, I didn't like such things, but I still remember I once came first, in the first or second year of the elementary stage and the headmistress sent for me and gave me a toy and a toothbrush as a gift, I don't know why a toothbrush, nobody knew about brushing teeth while we had recently come back from Lebanon and knew how to brush our teeth. She also gave me a hoop, which I still have, I kept it, okay? The problem was when they called upon me my sister came with me, we are twins, so we used to do everything together. She cried, she was the last among the students of the class [she laughs], okay? She didn't like to study, she was more into showbiz, anyway, what happened was that when I received the gift she cried and the headmistress said to me, "You can share the gift with your sister." She took the toy and left me with the brush and the hoop [she laughs]
-That was in grade one or two?
-Can you describe how the school looked like?
-The school's name was Amna, it was a new model school. It was a 2-storeybuilding with a music hall, a small theatre, art education classes and things like that. It was very nice, but the problem was that the court, where we played, had a dirt ground, it wasn't paved. The court had some swings and games. Another problem was the big difference in age among the students, you could see a 15-year-old girl sitting next to 5-year-old one and that was a huge problem. Most of the teachers were Palestinians or Egyptians, okay? There were some Iraqis but very few and the headmistress was a Palestinian, her name was Rabeeha Miqdad, I remember that, okay? There was a teacher called Miyassar something, I don't know. Anyway, teaching back then was so classic with no fantasies whatsoever. I remember my sister, Fareeda and I were in grade three, one of my cousins, at the time Superman and Batman had just appeared and of course we were very influenced with them and everyone wanted to fly, okay? That cousin of mine came to visit us, the elder one, Allawi, who was of the same age as us. He said, "Why don't we all become Superman today?" We asked, "how?" On the roof there was structure called the water tank shed, they kept the water tank in that structure because if that tank stayed exposed to the elements, the water would get too hot in summer so they used that shed.That structure was about one meter high, okay? We used to sleep on the roof at the time and we kept sleeping on the roof for a long time, that was before 1960s, at the end of the 1950s. We put four or five mattresses, one on top of the other, and decided to wear bed sheets as capes. Him, my sister Fareeda, and I decided to become Superman. With the bed sheets tied to our backs we began jumping from the top of the water tank shed onto the mattresses, it was fun. We kept climbing up the shed and jumping. We were so pleased. Suddenly Fareeda decided to talk while jumping, she never kept silent, okay? She bit her tongue and cut it. She was taken to the hospital where she had surgery because a big part of her tongue was severed, okay? She didn't go to school for a month, she couldn't speak and was released from keeping the texts by heart, reading in the Arabic language classes and reciting the Holy Quran in the religion classes so she was so happy with that but at home her tongue was this long. I said to her, "You are such a fraud. Why do you keep talking at home and when you go to school you become mute?" Then one day, by chance the Arabic language teacher was sitting with the music teacher and said, "that poor Fareeda is still unable to talk." The music teacher said, "yesterday she was singing in the music hall." The Arabic language teacher nailed her and forced her to memorize the texts by heart and recite them. That was a child who tried to bluff. [she laughs]
-You've talked about your schoolteachers--
-In elementary or even middle school, which teachers, other than the one you'vealready mentioned, have affected you most? -Yes.
-Or a certain school subject?
-I, as I told you, I had a problem with the Arabic language, the spelling,grammar and so on, even my handwriting was, and still, not that good. Anyway, at school, after we moved to Shuwaikh, we went to Khawla school, the headmistress, whose name was Fawziya Kharma, was very disciplinary, to such a fearful degree that we tremble in her presence, she was such a strict headmistress.
-Was it an elementary or a middle school?
-No, no, I was still in grade four. In middle school I went to Qurtoba school,in Shamiya and the secondary stage too, but I finished the elementary stage in Khawla. Anyway, the teacher noticed that my level in Arabic was under zero. She said to me, "I'll give you a text and you must copy it 20 times." Of course, that was a way of punishment used sometimes too. Anyway, I started off writing the text down, as it was, for the first five or six times, then I gradually began to drop parts of it until I ended up with a couple of lines. Of course, she didn't notice that because she saw the first few copies, I made of the text and so I learned the art of summarizing. [she laughs]
-Do you recall anything that happened to you with that teacher and affected you deeply?
-Yes, as I told you, that teacher's name was Siham, I used to write stories andcomposition passages and show her my writings. She always said to me, "Don't waste your time on poetry, you don't have that ability." I mean, I still remember the first poem I wrote and when I read it in front of the class, they laughed at me.
-Do you remember any of the lines?
-Yes, I do. "Why doesn't the hen, no, the rooster lay eggs? Why is the sun soand so?" All the lines began with why. "Why is the palm tree..." I don't know where that notebook is, I must find it. In that notebook I used to write and make drawings all around my writings, chickens, palm trees and so on. I wrote and drew because I liked to draw what I was writing about. The drawings were so beautiful but what was written was funny. Why doesn't the rooster lay eggs?" [She laughs]. The girls laughed at me and the teacher said, "No, stick to writing composition topics, stories, articles and so on." I also used to write to newspapers and magazines, I also wrote to the Letters to the Editor section in the Osrati Magazine. I once wrote about polygamy and I don't remember what else in addition to the story "The Bride of Mars," which was in four notebooks and I spent a lot of time writing it. I sent it to the Osrati magazine and the editor at the time was Issam Al Jamal. He read it and said, "You've got Sibawayh out of his grave." I didn't understand what he meant, Sibawayh was the author of the earliest Arabic linguistics books, okay? He meant that my Arabic was horrible but unfortunately, he didn't give me the notebooks back. I didn't get what he meant so I asked those who were older than me and they said, "he meant to tell you that your Arabic is zero, don't you understand?"
-And you wrote for the magazine?
-How old were you at the time?
-I don't really remember, I was 13 or 14 years old when I began to write. Then I-- there was the magazine of Teachers Society, called Al Rae'd, of which they gave me a page. Then the Al Nahdha magazine, there they gave me a page called (My Corner) to write in, okay? And and -- My father used to drive me to deliver my articles because I couldn't drive nor was I in the right age to drive a car. I wrote the article, at the time there were no fax machines or nothing, so when I wrote an article my father took me to the magazine feeling so happy that I was writing. Every day when he came back home from the market he used to say that the merchants at the vegetable market or the carpet market asked him to tell his daughter to write about so and so, which meant that the people followed what I wrote.
-That was in Al Rae'd magazine?
-No, later I began writing for Al Nahdha, in Al Nahdha ... When I joinedStudents' Union in Cairo, in the 1970s I was the editor of a magazine called Al Nadwa, issued by the Students' Union in Cairo. Later, when I went to Moscow, I became president of the Students' Union and went on writing for it and issued a magazine, I don't recall its name, where I wrote for, too. I was so young. In Al Nadwa magazine, in Cairo, I made the drawings, wrote most of the articles and signed them, Thuraya Al-Baqsami. The students said, "Thuraya, that can't be, give others a chance, you issued a magazine to write everything in it yourself?" You know? One was still young and needed to be prominent but didn't know what to do.
-What did you write about for Al Rae'd for instance?
-Al Rae'd, I wrote... I wrote my first prose pieces and they were good; I alsowrote sentimental pieces, I wrote my opinion about a lot of things happening in society, okay? Things with a social side and not related to politics. Then, in the 1980s, the 1990s and the beginning of the millennium I wrote a column called "Inspired by the Street" for about four years in Al Watan then for four years or more in Al Qabas and moved it to Al Rai later on. Those were articles with a sense of humor, I like sarcastic writing. When I got older, I found out that I have the ability, while talking or writing, to be very sarcastic and to pass the bitterness through sarcasm.
-What time is it? Half past one? Wow, it's okay.
-We can stop but after this little point, shall we?
-Yes, you can come back later to finish the interview, okay?
-God willing, yes, you said you wrote about social matters, give me an example,like what for instance?
-Take for instance the first time I wrote in the Letters to the Editor section,it was about the issue of divorce, because my uncle married from a very well-known family in Kuwait and the head of that family was married to four women, okay? When we visited them, I saw how the brothers and sisters hated each other, okay? In a very disgusting way, they used to conspire against each other and things like that. I lived their stories and was shocked because I had never seen anything like that in my whole life, okay? Of course, I was very attached to my mother's family but my connection to my father's family was not that strong, that was because my mother always drew us towards her family, okay? What I saw with my uncle's in-laws shocked me and I wrote about it in the Letters to the Editor section and it was the first article to be published by me, okay? When the article was published the Osrati Magazine was so pleased with me, okay? I remember I kept writing for them and wrote for Al Watan newspaper from Moscow, throughout the 1970s. I sent them a lot of articles. But I made a stupid mistake, once, while I was in Moscow, okay? But thank God things ended well. I took a photographer and went to a basement where the Russian opposition gathered, that was in the communism period. They were rebels opposing Linen and communism. I met them and took some pictures of them. Back in Kuwait they published the whole story with the pictures and an interview too, okay? No one said to me, "Thuraya, you might be sent to Siberia," or "they can kick you out of the country and you won't be able to finish your scholarship." I didn't realize the seriousness of that matter, okay? I also kept writing my articles even from Africa and I had my own section. I had a life as a journalist. I had a whole page called the "Thursday Break" in a newspaper, where I wrote funny stuff, I always had the feeling that readers needed a space for fun, that was my philosophy, okay? Where are we now? Are we done with the childhood period?
-Would you like to come and meet me on another day to complete?
-Okay, we are in Meshref, Kuwait and it's December 6th, 2017.
-Yes. - I am Reem Al-Ali and this is for the oral history and documentationproject for the American University in Kuwait. Today we are doing part two of the interview with Mrs. Thuraya Al-Baqsami.
-Yes. -In the previous part we stopped at the period when you were on ascholarship to Russia--
-Would you like to talk about that period?
-That period went on for seven years, from 1974 to 1981. That period was veryimportant in my life because I was 21 when it started and finished when I was 29, it's such a long time. I spent the first year learning Russian and getting familiar with the Russian society, the people, the customs and traditions. My main problem was the freezing cold, okay? Mmm, I spent about three years at the students' accommodation. In the second year I decided my major and joined the Surikov Art Institute. Compared to Cairo the education was a lot better, it was academic, the teachers were more serious, and the level of the students was a lot better. At the same time there was more attention and the number of students was smaller. The teaching process was very extensive and so classic and those are the basics an artist needs, I mean fantasy, abstract art and such things come later, so as an artist I was so pleased. Then, I went with my husband and ...
-When did you get married?
-I got married in Cairo in 1974, to Muhammed Al-Qadiri. He was the president ofthe Students' Union and we met in Cairo. After getting married I found out that he was going to finish his graduate studies in Moscow, he was preparing a Master's degree and a doctorate on the relations between the Russian emperors and the Gulf Sheikhs, the Sheikhs of the region I mean, he couldn't have tackled that theme except in Moscow, so I went with him. In addition, he had great admiration for the Soviet regime and the political system there and there's nothing wrong with that. He came back from there despising everything [she laughs]. Anyway, when I went to Moscow, I was with my husband, so it was a lot easier for me as a student. In 1975, no 1976, I gave birth to my daughter, Ghadeer, so I became a mother for the first time there, and life started to get more difficult because I was a mother alone and away from my country and had to raise a child without any experience whatsoever so I suffered a lot. I left the students' accommodation and moved to a flat in order to be able to look after my child. During that period, I specialized in the drawing of books, the covers of books, why? I thought as a writer it'd be a good idea to learn that skill so I'd be able to add drawings to my books and others' books too, particularly that the covers of books, in the Arab world, were more like the covers of phone books, when we had phones and phone books in every house, okay? Those things vanished, but the choice of that major was a mistake, okay? Because that was a major, I could've covered in one year, not in four years. That took a year and I applied for the master's degree. I was originally supposed to study in a department where they taught an artist how to produce a painting, okay? That department was so tough for the students and the teachers. The students learned the language of a painting, we also had to deal with books in Russian, although my Russian was good, I had to learn reading and writing in Russian which made me suffer a lot for nothing, I can tell you that honestly. Anyway, later I improved myself and got to understand the language of a painting.
-You said that when you went there you didn't speak Russian. -Yes.
-Umm what difficulties have you encountered?
-The difficulties I encountered, first of all we were living in the students'accommodation, four floors of rooms for living and classrooms, all of us in one building in which we lived, studied, ate and everything because they didn't want us to go out to face the atrocious and cruel elements, 40 degrees Celsius under zero. All of us were from Africa and Asia. In the first year they took us to the market and bought us clothes for about 300 dollars each, fur coats, high boots and stuff, that's because some of us didn't bring such clothes, we don't wear anything like that in our countries, okay? The Soviet regime was incredibly generous with foreign students, unbelievably generous, that was an operation... an attempt to convince us, or what they call brainwashing, in order to convince foreign students, as if they were saying, "look at what we give you, look at our system and see citizens' rights, they get salaries which means a decent life. You can apply our system in your countries" That was the migration of ideologies, okay? They are a nation with millions of people while our societies were, take Kuwait for instance, a capitalist society where that system doesn't apply, not even in a single field. Anyway, I benefited a lot from studying the Russian language because my teacher was an opera singer who had surgery for her vocal cords and couldn't sing any more, but she taught me how to sing, the opera style. I was so happy with that. She even taught me a song to perform at the end of the year celebrations. I was so excited that I trained for an hour or two every day, I still know that song by heart and whenever I feel sad I sing it, it's about a star on the grave of a Russian soldier who died in World War II. The song talks to that star saying, "Shine, shine brighter" to commemorate the heroism of that soldier. Before the concert began, they formed a committee, mostly from the KGB, the Russian intelligence and the communist party. They brought me in to sing in front of them, most of them were old people with stiff features. I sang and my trainer was with me. My voice was good enough, I was a student and that was a party for students, not an opera concert but they said, "no, she can't sing this song." Why? They explained, "she is a foreign student, and this is a patriotic song, full of national symbols and we are worried she might make mistakes and that's not acceptable." They asked the trainer to teach me a simple song, a song usually performed for tourists, by a singer called Paula Katyusha or something like that. The lyrics were too difficult, and I hardly memorized them. Anyway, I went back home to my husband and cried for three days and he kept trying to calm me down saying, "Thuraya, you are not here to become a singer, you are here to become an artist, to study art, not to be a singer." I said, "I just wanted to sing on stage at least once." [she laughs]
-In those parties, did you have any students, I mean friends with you?
-Yes, yes, there were Arab, Afghani students and students of so manynationalities. The funny thing was that, at the end of the year, they allowed all those to sing while their Russia was-- I was the best in college Russian language classes, and their Russian was a lot worse than mine and full of mistakes, but they didn't allow me to sing, although I knew the songs by heart, but it's okay. There is a film made recently for a museum and the song I love is in the beginning of that film.
-The song you didn't sing?
-The one I didn't sing back then; I still sing it whenever I'm happy.
-Was there a chance for you to perform something other than that song?
-Yes, a different segment, my husband and I performed a Kuwaiti dance, okay? Ihad a Dishdasha, a Ghetra and an Iqal. The Russians liked it a lot.
-What was the song you danced to? Do you remember it?
-I don't remember, that's something so old, it happened over 40 years ago, okay?
-You mentioned the freezing weather and the clothes you had to buy there becauseyou didn't have anything like them.
-What was, I mean what do you remember about the...?
-Yes, about the cold weather?
-Yes, that different environment.
- The environment, I remember a very funny story. I was pregnant with mydaughter, Ghadeer, and during the mid-year holiday and my doctor decided to keep monitoring my condition, they cared so much for pregnant women, as if they were pregnant with astronauts, that was so unfamiliar. The doctor decided to send me to a resort, dedicated for pregnant women, outside Moscow. Female astronauts and celebrities went there because there was a full medical team to monitor your condition, your food etc. That resort was in a forest. When I got there, I found that the houses were built of wood, chalet like houses, without enough heating so I had to sleep with fully clothed. The food had no salt or pepper which was agonizing, too healthy. I could tolerate all that but what I couldn't tolerate was that they made me walk for three or four hours a day, in the woods, in a temperature of about 40 degrees under zero. I had to wear special boots made of goat hair so as not to feel the cold. I said to them, "I am from the desert, I can't tolerate your weather. My baby doesn't need your oxygen." Because they say that when the temperature drops below zero the air has more oxygen. Anyway, I used to nag and mumble, and I am very good at that [she laughs]. They took me once into the middle of the forest and showed me men and women, over 70 years old. There was a hole in the ice, and they were swimming in the water. There was a sauna shed and those people got out of the shed to jump into the icy water and they called that Margie. They said, "if you don't stop nagging, we'll bring you back tomorrow to swim here, okay?" I went back to the shed, which was like something from an Egyptian or an Indian soap opera, anyway, I packed my clothes, okay? I went straight to the station and took the first train back to Moscow, okay? At night a police car came to the students' accommodation building, looking for me. The officer said, "you are here and the people at the hospital are turning the resort upside down, looking for you? They thought you were lost in the forest and eaten by a wolf." I said, "I wasn't eaten by a wolf." He said, "they were joking with you." I said, "I'm not going back there." That was one of the things that happened to me, okay? The cold was such a big problem that I'm still scared of ice and cold, this is mentioned in a novel of mine called The Time of the Red Flute.
-Mmm, you said that your first child was born in Moscow?
-Yes, Ghadeer, yes. -How did it feel to give birth, to a baby, in a foreigncountry while being all alone there?
-It was a tough experience, a very tough one, my child spent a whole year in anursery, a whole year, in what they call a children's home, what was their system? As a foreign student you want to have children? Okay, you can have children, but we will raise them for you and give them back to you with your graduation certificate, that was it. So, you have the child and they take him or her to raise, okay? You'd pay 12 dollars a month for the child's food, accommodation and care, okay? When you want to leave, they give you the child back, so you'd go back to your country with a degree and a child, is there any more pampering? Of course, we didn't pay any money for the accommodation or the books and education was free too, in addition they gave you new clothes every year, okay? When you were on a vacation, and you couldn't go back to your country, they sent you to a resort by the sea, a place where you could have fun. Should you need money, they'd send you to Siberia to work and earn money, okay? Many students used to go to work in the line called Baikal- Amur, which was a railways line, Arab students went there, too, to work with the workers, for money. There was all that pampering, unbelievable, no other country in the world did that but all that is gone now. Nowhere else in the world offered those services where you get free accommodation, free health care, they treated any illness you had, you got free books and free education, you paid for nothing, not even for the food you ate and on top of all that, they gave you a salary so we took a salary from them and another salary from the embassy, okay? Being a new mother was tough in the beginning, then I hired a nanny as my financial situation became better, my husband left me and went back to Kuwait to work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I stayed there, in Russia, by myself. I finished my journey and in 1980 I went with him to Senegal where he was appointed and before that he was in Zaire, okay? In Africa I finished my master's degree, in Senegal, and I defended my master's thesis in 1981.
-What is the topic of your master's degree?
-It was about Aladdin, "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp" from the Book of OneThousand and One Nights -The Arabian Nights. I made the drawings for some children's books, so I had to tackle a topic related to a children's story. I chose a western and an Arabian myth. It was a tough job that took a lot of effort, but I got it with an excellent GBA.
-The thesis was about children's stories?
-Can you tell me why you chose that topic?
-I don't know, maybe because there is a child in me who doesn't want to grow up.[she laughs]. I love children and love to write stories for them. I also did more than a research about children's stories and I always say that our job was a lot easier before. Children now, before they could say Mom and Dad, can use a smart phone, play on the internet and so on, what would you write to such children? Would you write a myth for them? They wouldn't be interested. As children, we used to get the imagination and fantasy from what we read while today's children get those from electronic devices. I have a research paper titled "How to Write for a Child Who Has the World in Their room? What to Write for Children?" I chose that field because it's a nice and enjoyable field with a lot of colors and joy, that's why.
-You moved from Russia to-- -Africa.
-Mmm, from a lot of clothes to no clothes [she laughs].
-How was the atmosphere in Africa?
-Africa... At the time I was more comfortable than I was in Moscow, being thewife of a ChargÃ© d'affaires and a prominent diplomat made my life easier because I had people to help me, and a big house a whole different life. I went on with the series of motherhood and gave birth to my daughters Fatma and Muneera, in Senegal, but I didn't suffer like I did in Moscow, it was a better experience, okay? What attracted me to Africa were their superstitious faith, their belief in sorcery and totems and the African folklore. Of course, I was in touch with that when I went to Kinshasa- Zaire for four months. But when I settled in Senegal, I began to study those things more deeply. At the time I was still a correspondent for Al Watan, so I wrote for them, I had a colomn, the last page of the newspaper called "The Thursday Break," so I always wrote funny things, I was obsessed with writing things that made people laugh. I didn't want to write something that they would read and forget, people still remember my writings, okay? I used to write about my sightings in Africa and such funny stuff. The four years I spent there were so rich, I learned French, in addition to Russian, my daughter forgot the Russian language and learned French, okay? There I managed to hold my first personal exhibition but in that exhibition something very funny happened to me, yes, it was funny. Anyway, it was the last day of the exhibition, in a hotel called Teranga, okay? While sitting in the exhibition hall, a man came in, a dark tall and big man with a, okay? He was an African, a Senegalese and eyes were shining, he looked so angry. He said, "Why don't you have a portrait of my leader?" I said to him, "Who is your leader?" He said, "Al-Gaddafi." I said, "I don't draw portraits of political leaders, all these characters are from my imagination." He said, "No, my leader must be here." I said, "No, you can't force me to do something I don't like. It's not a matter of Al-Gaddafi or any other figure, I don't like to paint political figures." Suddenly he pulled out a gun and began to threaten me saying, "I'll be back tomorrow, if I don't find the picture of my leader here, I'll empty this gun in your head." I said, "Okay." Luckily, I could speak French. I went on, "Go now and if you come back tomorrow and don't find it, shoot me." Of course, as soon as he left, I called upon the security guards and called the embassy and said, "Remove all these paintings, we don't want any exhibitions." [she laughs]. Would I die for an exhibition? Oh my God, what a situation. I went through a lot of situations there but at the same time in Africa the weather was so harsh. Compared to the severe cold in Russia, the weather in Africa was hot and humid. Add to that the plagues and diseases, malaria, typhoid, meningitis etc. We always took medicines, we even added quinine to the milk to protect the kids from malaria, while we, the adults, used to take 15 antimalarial pills a day so as not to get it. I left Senegal with an African virus which made my health deteriorate and I had to have surgery. I have suffered from that virus for years. Nevertheless, I have some sweet memories from Africa. I mean, there are some places in the world I wish I could go back to, and one of those places is Africa [she laughs], without any austerity because it was a colorful and beautiful experience. The only thing I really enjoyed was being free, I wasn't working so I had more time to write and paint. I made a huge collection of paintings there and they will be in the museum, God willing.
-You moved from Moscow to Senegal, in Moscow you stayed at the students'accommodation then moved to your own residence?
-An apartment, yes.
-In Senegal, how was your home environment?
-Yes, we spent a few months in a hotel then the embassy of Kuwait bought orrented a very beautiful house for us, our neighbor was the Lebanese ambassador but in front of the house there was a crematory and behind it there was a river full of snakes [she laughs] but it was in an upscale area. It wasn't safe in Senegal so when you went out you must have guards, people to protect you. I once went to the market and the driver said to me, "Shall I go with you?" I said, "No, stay in the car and I will go." What was that market? It was called "Sandaqa," which means small boxes, those markets were small booths, close to the harbor, where they sold smuggled goods. My feet, pardon me, is very small, size 36, and I was in need for a pair of shoes. People told me that in that area, that market, they sold things. There, I saw a man who had a stand full of shoes. I kept looking for a pair of shoes my size among them but couldn't find any. When I wanted to leave, he caught my arm, twisted it behind my back and shouted, in their tongue, the Wolof, the local Senegalese dialect, "toubab... toubab." Toubab in Wolof means white. I was in pain and kept saying, "What do you want from me?" Trying to... I had just arrived at the country and didn't speak French, okay? No one was with me and I was all alone in the market. Suddenly all the shopkeepers went shouting, "Toubab... toubab... toubab!" And rushed to attack me. I shouted, "Stop! Stop!" I began to talk to them, or tried to, "What do you want?" One of them said, "The shop keeper says that you messed with his goods and you must fix everything." I was wearing a very expensive watch and that was a mistake, okay? I didn't know whether the aim was to steal the watch, or it was just a racial issue. I started lining up the shoes and suddenly I felt they were too busy talking among themselves and I took off running, had it been a marathon I would've won the first prize. I kept running and the whole market running after me, all the men and women who sold stuff there. The Senegalese are the tallest and darkest people in the world, they are very tall. I felt like being chased by giants. I was screaming and at the beginning of the market there was a shop, run by a Lebanese woman, the Lebanese are very active traders and she had a shop there. She recognized me at once. She held me and got me into the shop. I was in a hysterical condition and told her the story. She said, "okay, okay." She went out and said to them, "You idiots, why are you shouting at her?" One of them said, "That French woman inside, we want to kill her." She said, "She is not French, she's an Arab and a Muslim like you, she's the wife of the ChargÃ© d'affaires at the embassy of Kuwait. Kuwait which gives you money and support." They began to apologize to me. Then I sat, just like Cinderella, and they brought me all types of shoes to try on. [she laughs]. After that I stopped going anywhere alone.
-Any other stories in Senegal?
-Wow, we won't have enough time to finish. My husband used to go hunting andsometimes he came back with malaria, injured or something. He loved hunting so much. One day he went hunting with the Spanish ambassador and the Spanish ambassador came back alone. I asked him about my husband, and he said, "I am white and delicate, when mosquitoes bite me, they get stuck and don't want to leave me while if they bite your husband, the mosquitoes will die." It was a joke. I don't know, I told you I had been too busy with motherhood, giving birth and learning the language. I began living the life of a diplomat's wife. I remember being pregnant with my daughter, Fatma, yes, Fatma.
-What is the age order of the girls?
-Ghadeer, Fatma and Muneera with a year or a year and a half between Fatma andMuneera but Ghadeer is the eldest. I was pregnant, I'm telling you about the life of a diplomat's wife, the ambassador of North Korea invited us, North not South Korea. He invited us to his house to celebrate the anniversary of their revolution, okay? I was in the last few months of pregnancy and I found out that he put us in a garage, okay? He shut the door and played a film about their revolution. All you could see were white teeth, emotional faces and shouting. I felt I was about to go into labor, I said to my husband, I wasn't really in labor, I just wanted to get out of there, I couldn't tolerate that atmosphere, okay? It was summer, the weather was so hot and he put us in a garage and shut the door to show us a film about the Korean revolution, okay? I said to my husband, "go to the ambassador and tell him "My wife is in labor. So he'd open the door for us to leave." I wasn't really in labor of course I just wanted to leave, I was pregnant. Anyway, he told him, and he opened the door. I went out and all the ambassadors went out after me. [she laughs] I called it The Big Escape, there were a lot of stories, those were four years, not a short time, okay? I had the chance to see some African countries, but I liked the beauty of the African women so much and the color of their skin, of course it's one of the most difficult things to draw, dark skin, it's not easy, okay? I also liked their customs and traditions a lot. Heathenism is widely spread there, despite the huge numbers of Muslims and Christians but they couldn't change that. You could see a woman going for pilgrimage, an old woman in a skirt and a piece of cloth on top with nothing underneath them, nothing, those are their regular clothes, they don't like clothes, or you could find a Muslim woman who doesn't like Ramadan and gets annoyed with it, she turns into Christianity and when the Adha or Fitr Eid comes she becomes a Muslim again. You could see a Christian man married to four women, everything there is strange, a bizarre mixture and you don't feel that civilization reached there, I'm not talking Africa is like that because the tribal feeling is still deeply rooted, okay? They have their own beliefs and traditions. Of course, Senegal is a lot better than Zaire, they are a kinder and more peaceful people while the heat in Zaire is so dangerous.
-What, among those customs and traditions, have you liked the most?
-In the customs and traditions?
-Or in the local folklore?
-I liked the material of their clothes, as a woman, because the African Batik isso beautiful, it has such primitive lines that inspired a lot of my work and I still draw paintings that include the African patterns. The African ornaments exist in me in an amazing way, it's difficult to get rid of them. I also liked the looks and color of people. They are also excellent sculptors, that shows in the statues they sculpt from wood, okay? All their hand crafts were so beautiful, okay? Besides that, I don't think there were many good customs or traditions. A Senegalese man likes a lot having many wives, even if he couldn't find food to eat, he must have four wives who work and support him, okay? I wish we left Africa and went somewhere else, okay?
-That was in the 1980s?
-After that you said you had moved back to Kuwait? - Yes, in 1984, in the summerof 1984, I asked my husband to let me go back to Kuwait because I had a degree and liked to work, I wanted to settle after 15 years outside Kuwait, okay? When I came back, I was shocked because the country changed a lot. I had to learn how to drive a car, because someone who's got only their legs, legs full of problems, would die in their place, okay? Should I want to have a job, I would need to learn how to drive. I also came back with kids, and my youngest daughter was six or seven months old, okay? I was shocked with society, I wanted to adapt to the changes but found that too difficult because when I left things were not like that. Many things changed, the streets and roads names for instance, I saw a sign that said "Exit," and all of a sudden, I found myself in Ahmadi or Jahra. I lost my way a lot, even after I learned driving. I remember once I was going to the Farwaniya Hospital, where I had a doctor's appointment, okay? I found myself in that area, after Jahra, what's after Jahra? Safwan, on the Iraqi Kuwaiti borders. I kept driving all over in vain, I couldn't find the hospital. Back then there were no mobile phones or car phones, it was 1985, no, 1984, no it was 1984 or 1985, I'm not sure. Anyway, before I got to the borders, I saw a police car and I kept waving to them. When they stopped, I asked them where the Farwaniya Hospital was. The policeman said, "Do you want the Basra or the Kuwait branch?" I wondered, "Why the Basra branch?" He replied, "You're about to get there." [she laughs]. They took me back, I followed them to the city. On another occasion I left my house in Bayan, going to Salmiya, I had my daughters with me in the car and a maid whom I had brought from Africa. On my way back I lost my way and reached as far as Ahmadi and the girls kept crying in the car, they wanted to go to the toilet and stuff. It was lunch time and finally I found a grocery store. I stepped out of the car and phoned my husband me and said to him, "I'm lost, tell me how to get back." My problem was that I kept losing my way every day, that's one thing. Another thing was, hmm, I needed to apply for a job. My dream, even before travelling abroad, was that when I graduated and became an artist, I'd get a sabbatical leave, the country gave Kuwaiti artists sabbatical leaves, okay? The government set them free from their jobs and gave them a space in the Free Atelier to work and in return those artists presented their annual production in exhibitions. So, they were fully dedicated to art and got their monthly salaries. That was my lifelong dream. Of course, I didn't want to be an employee or waste my time sitting in an office, I wanted to stay home and paint and get a salary at the same time, okay? But I found out that in 1984, two or three months before I came back, they had cancelled that grant, but they told me that I could work in the Ministry of Information, because the Ministry of Information gave that grant. They said, "Work there for a few months and ask for a sabbatical leave." I thought where I could work and decided to work for Al Arabi Magazine, okay?
-In which year was that? -In 1984, I started working in the magazine as apainter, not a journalist, a painter, ok? And my suffering began because, first I didn't have a disk, they put me in an office with a small table in the corner. In the department there were seven more people, all of them were men, okay? In the beginning I felt a little bit shy but later on they became like brothers to me, okay? [she laughs]. I began working for Al Arabi and began suffering from the bureaucracy, the work hours, the signing in issue, coming in ad leaving at certain times. Every day when I left my house, I used to look at my studio and the colors I got so frustrated that sometimes I pretended to be sick just to stay home and paint. I reported sick, imagine taking a sick leave just to draw a painting, okay? My work had no pressures, it's a monthly magazine so I went to the editor, at the time I was working as a part-timer in Al Watan newspaper and the radio where I had a program called "Fantastic Art," okay? I had my radio program and was working for Al Watan newspaper and I also participated in a TV show called "We Want You to Win." I also participated in another TV program, presented by Shireef Al Alami, it was a questions and answers program and they used to host me. In all those programs I liked to tell jokes and funny stories. People really liked seeing me. I found myself in the media, the radio, and TV. At the same time, I grew so active, I went back to Al Watan newspaper where I wrote poems and stories and covered the exhibitions held and so on. So, I thought about writing for Al Arabi, the editor, at the time, was Dr. Al Rumaihi, okay? Dr. Al Rumaihi, yes. I said to him that I wanted to write and he said to me, "I don't like a person who wears more than one hat. You are here as a painter not a journalist." I said, "But I write for Al Watan newspaper, for the Osrati Magazine and other magazines too. I've been a writer since the 1960s, writing is not new to me, I also published many stories, so I have the necessary background and you know my writings." He said, "No, considering the nature of the magazine I don't think we need the type of writing you do, stick to painting." I said, "All I do is make four or five drawings a month and sit doing nothing, okay?" He said, "No." Here I decided to prove to him that I was a good journalist. I took a photographer, a Kuwaiti photographer, his name was Sulaiman Haidar, he was such a clever young man, and he was enthusiastic, just like me. We went to the Sheikh Khaza'l palace, before the palace, yes, the Sheikh Khaza'l palace and I wrote a report about it. Then I went to the Tareq Said Rajab museum, which no one had ever written a report about. All those reports had pictures with them. I got the reports ready with the pictures and gave them to Dr. Al Rumaihi. I said to him, "These are two very rare reports, one about a palace which is about to be expunged, my mother lived her childhood in that palace and I know it very well and know its stories and the other report is about a private museum that belongs to the former manager of the Kuwait National Museum, no one had ever written about that museum but I did and had an interview with Tareq and his wife." They are both dead now, but I interviewed them back then, okay? He was shocked. I said to him, "I can do a lot of things, just give me a chance." Both reports were published in the magazine and stirred a lot of fuss, okay? Later on, he sent me on a tour around the Gulf to write about the popular markets in the Gulf and I went to Oman, the Emirates, and Bahrain, the three countries.
-That was in the 1980s?
-All those things happened in the 1980s, the period I was working for Al Arabiwas great and the report was so good that the Global Markets Magazine asked to republish it, translated it into English, okay? I began to prove myself. Then I worked for the Al Arabi Al Sagheer, I started the new magazine, I worked hard and all that was an added experience for me, from which I benefited. I applied the journalistic illustration to the letter, okay? I produced a lot of beautiful pieces of work, and I was smart because as soon as the work was done, I took it home, they took a copy and used it but I took the original pieces and all those are now shown in the museum, should you have the chance to go there, you'd see all those pieces of work, okay? Then, in the... not the end of the 1980s but in 1987 or 1986, in 1987, I had a disagreement with the magazine management. This is a very personal matter, they didn't think I was an artist, my field was not just that. The building in Al Sawabir, I don't know, when its ceiling fell over my head, shall I tell you that story? I was in the editor's office, Sulaiman Mazhar, may God rest his soul, sitting in front of him was Sulaiman Al Sheikh, a Palestinian writer and the editorial secretary. I went there to show them a drawing and all of a sudden, the whole ceiling collapsed. It was of asbestos and it was an old structure built by the Ministry of Information in the 1960s, okay? The whole ceiling fell over our heads. Out of fear I hid under the desk of that Palestinian guy and he hid with me. I kept screaming and he went, "Why are you screaming? How are you going to liberate Palestine?" I replied, "You go and liberate it, do you want me to die?" [she laughs] Anyway, later on I felt that there was no appreciation, I was working hard, I mean I participated in an arts festival and took a vacation but there were some complaints against me, things bad like that happened so I asked for a transfer to the television, there was a department called calligraphy and drawing there that needed painters, that was temporarily. During that period I started working for the television which was like a huge stable, the place where I worked was like a stable, with a huge group of calligraphers, painters, and others. The materials they used were so harmful. After that I managed to get a sabbatical leave for two years during which I held an exhibition and wrote a book. Then I got another sabbatical leave at the Scientific Club, for two more years, I spent part of those two years then the occupation took place, no, after the liberation I got the sabbatical leave.
-Before we get to the occupation, you mentioned that you worked for the radio--
-What was the program?
-It was a program called "Fantastic Art" I prepared and presented it, okay? Ihave done it for a month but unfortunately, I didn't keep copies of the episodes, the director didn't allow it. Then came the occupation and the whole program was lost. In that program I talked about artistic phenomena, a museum or a painting, for instance, and the story behind them, okay? After that month I found out that they paid me three dinars for each episode, three or five dinars, I'm not sure, for preparing and presenting it.
-What topics have you talked about, in that program, since it's gone now?
-The topics, I talked, for example, about paintings, like the Mona Lisa, thepaintings of Vincent Van Gogh, archaeological sites around the world, famous places and the stories behind them. I used to search in a book and write the information in a very funny style. The name of the program was "Fantastic Art," okay? I always presented it in a way full of fun, so people would enjoy it, not as templates or lectures, yes. When I found out that what the radio paid didn't cover my car fuel, okay? I apologized for not being able to keep working with them as the financial gain was very unfair.
-You also mentioned "The Thursday Break," which you wrote for Al Watan newspaper.
-I used to write it for Al Watan, yes. I wrote "The Thursday Break." I alsowrote a critique of exhibitions, I've studied art criticism, so it was my field. I began to write my opinion about the works of Kuwaiti artists, not about the individuals themselves but about their works but of course they didn't like that and thought I was--
-Attacking them and that I hated them. Whenever I went to an exhibition, theartist would come to me saying, "Thuraya, please, don't be too hard on me, you'd hinder my livelihood, no one will buy my paintings." I usually said, "No, I'll be writing about your work." They were upset and didn't expect that someone would write saying that there were good sides and bad sides and eventually they sacked me from the Kuwait Art Association, they held a general meeting and cancelled my membership, okay? To the extent that a delegate from the Ministry of Social Affairs came to me, in the magazine, with a paper, I thought that my husband divorced me [she laughs] He said, "This paper is for you." It turned out that they sued me to cancel my membership because I insulted them in the newspapers, which I didn't, I was just expressing my opinion.
-You mentioned the difficulties you encountered when you came back to Kuwait, inthe 1980s, the roads were tough for you, for instance, and in the field of art criticism, were there any other difficulties you've encountered during that period?
-I'm sorry for the last piece of information, they cancelled my membershipbefore the invasion and after the liberation they cancelled it again, they did it twice, okay? Because of my big mouth, what did you say, dear, I beg your pardon?
-The difficulties you've encountered, other than the roads which becamedifferent and the problems in the field of art?
-Yes, the people, I came back to find that people had forgotten me, because Ispent 15 years outside Kuwait, without any local activity. I had to find myself a spot under the sun. I had to make them rediscover me, all over again. That's why I've worked for ten hours a day, you could find me on TV, the radio and in journalism, okay? At exhibitions, too. I wrote, criticized, painted and so on. To the extent that one of my colleagues in Al Watan, Fuad Al Hashim, I think, came and said to me, "Thuraya, take it easy, one day people would turn the water tap on to see you coming out of it. That's not right, don't exhaust yourself." I said, "I'm enjoying myself." I covered even the demonstrations of women asking for their political rights I wrote about and participated in them.
-What have you written about that?
-A lot of things, I had a column titled, "Inspired by the Street," no, that wasafter the liberation but before the invasion I used to write, in a sarcastic way, but through that sarcasm I ... I still remember an article, of course there was censorship, when they dissolved the National Assembly in the late 1980s, a few years before the occupation, the Kuwaiti opposition emerged, and the Mondays Diwaniyas, I made a painting about them, Al Sa'doon bought that painting and hung it in his Diwaniya, it's still there until now. Hm, I wrote between the lines, okay? I left Al Watan in the 1980s and moved to Al Qabas, okay? In Al Qabas my column "Inspired by the Street" reappeared, I moved it from one newspaper to another, it was in Al Watan and I took it with me to Al Qabas, no not in Al Watan, in Al Qabas. Then came the occupation and after the liberation I don't remember where I moved it to but, it eventually settled in Al Rai to disappear after that, anyway, what did I write in that column? I wrote an article, once, titled "Pour Down, Rain , Pour Down" in which I wrote, "Kuwait has an economic and health umbrellas, but the umbrella of democracy is missing," okay? The censorship banned that article. Back then I used to go to the editor's office with three or four articles, and he rejected them one after the other, "This one... no, this one. No." And I said, "What should I write about then?" He said, "Write about the street cats, there are too many, or about the dogs, whatever. Don't you get inspired by the streets? The streets are full of too many cats and dogs ok?" I said, "The cats eat mice, but the government eats people." Anyway, that article was banned, yes, it was titled "The Missing Umbrella." They banned it but someone made photocopies of it and distributed it in the Diwaniyas, as if it were a political circular, okay? The Minister of Information, at the time, Sheikh Mubarak, the current Prime Minister, called me to his office, okay? He said, "What's that you've written about an umbrella?" I said, "What umbrella?" He explained, "There is an article published and distributed among the diwaniyas titled "The Lost Umbrella." I said, "Yes, it is wintertime and it's rainy and I wrote about umbrellas." He said, "No, you wrote about I don't know what." I said, "You sent for me just for an umbrella? I thought you're giving me sabbatical leave" [she laughs]. So, we were playing hide and seek with the censorship, okay? I lived that political mobility and my husband was a part of it, he was involved in the Mondays diwaniyas. I expressed that in a painting as well. I also managed, in the mid-1980s, when I left Al Arabi, or before leaving Al Arabi, to start a small gallery in Salhiya. There were not so many galleries in Kuwait. It was a small one but with a lot of activity so much so that we were the only gallery working after the liberation for a year. There were no exhibition halls or anything in Kuwait for a whole year and we used to hold exhibitions. Anyway, I lived a very nice experience in that gallery and held a lot of exhibitions for artists, who were young back then and are very famous now.
-What was the name of the gallery?
-Ghadeer Gallery, after my daughter, okay? I began... I took that direction as agallery owner, of course I had the experience, as an artist, to choose the works of art while my husband ran the business. Hmm, among my memories in the 1980s is getting busy with the girls, one of them was a teenager and I used to leave them for a long time at home, with the nannies, okay? One day I came back from, I don't know, one of those places where I tried to put myself under the lights, to find my daughter, Fatma, who was about six years old at the time, with her hands on her waist, at the door. She said, "mom, my sisters and I decided to send you to the Philippines and make the Filipina our mother because she spends more time with us at home." The following day I resigned from the newspaper and all the other places I worked at, I said to them, "Bye bye baby." And dedicated myself to my home because I felt I was committing a crime against my children, right. Of course, you know, if you want to know a little bit more about the story of maids in Kuwait, in the 1950s ,1940s and 1930s, or it's not that important? Okay, the house maids in Kuwait, back then the poor classes of the Kuwaitis, or non-Kuwaitis, used to work at homes, okay? Women cooked and washed the clothes, took them to the sea and washed them, for money. Some women brought their sewing machines to sew the clothes of people for money...
-But they didn't live in the same house?
-No, only rich families had slaves at home, and of course there was a slavemarket in Kuwait till the 1930s, my mother remembered it, okay? -Do you remember any of the stories she told you?
-There are a lot of stories, a lot, but I'm sorry, I have to keep those formyself. There was a slave market and a Jewish market, my mother told me all about those. In the slave market they mostly brought the slaves from Africa or from Iraq, I mean through Iraq, those were the ones kidnapped from Russia, from The Balkans, those were called Kyrgyz, those were white and blonde, and were called locally Kyrgyz but in fact they were European slaves, kidnapped from Europe, okay? They also brought them from Africa, those Africans mostly worked for the rich families, they were like slaves, I mean they got no salaries, they worked and lived in the houses, okay? [She coughs] sorry. When the slaves were freed, the families set them free and some families, as some sort of gratitude for those who served them, gave those freed slaves their last names and that's why you see some Kuwaitis who look African and have the names of white families, those are the families who gave them their names, okay? In addition, some Iranian girls, from the coastal areas, used to work in the houses and those were very poor. You know, according to my grandmother, Iran suffered from a disastrous plague, in the 1920s, a plague, okay? They lived in terrible poverty. At the time Kuwait was an area inhabited by some people, it was in its beginnings, okay? It needed such expertise, which other countries had, and they didn't have here, hence the migrations, migrations from Iran, and Saudi Arabia, or Najd. There were wars among the tribes, wars and invasions, The House Rashid, The House of Saud and others. Those running away from those invasions used to come to Kuwait and sit in Al Safat square, then they were put in mosques and the Kuwaiti families married them or adopted their children, if they had any, or gave them houses to live in. The people who lived in the city, Kuwait, had that charitable trait in them. Families came from disaster hit areas. My mother told me that there had been, by the sea, houses of tin where Iranian girls and families lived, those who had escaped from the coastal areas, which witnessed a war at the time, okay? There were also English people who had their problems too. Those Iranian girls used to work in the houses, okay? They stayed at the houses, particularly of families of Iranian origins who preferred to hire Iranian girls for easier communication, okay? The Kuwaiti families, who lived for a while in Bombay, Zanzibar and such areas, their servants were mostly Indians, okay? Later, when Kuwait developed, no one served in a house for ever, or for no salary. Then they started to bring Egyptian and Lebanese housemaids, in the 1860s, okay? I remember in our house, on four occasions we had Lebanese maids, okay? And an Egyptian once. They began bringing maids from other Arab countries, those also were in need, okay? In addition, over a long time, in the 1950s and the 1960s, there was what was called a boy, a boy was a young man who worked in the house. People didn't hire women, particularly if they had older sons, lest they'd have a relationship with the maid, so they brought males.
-Where did they bring them from?
-Boys were usually brought from Oman and Yemen, okay? Some of them were Indiansand the drivers were usually Indians, 90% of the drivers were Indians, okay? Those were the wealthy families. The boys were Omanis or Yemenis, okay? There were Iranians too. More than once we had an Ahvazi house worker, we also had house workers from Bangladesh and India. Who was a boy? Should there be a Diwaniya, he'd work there, okay? We once had an Afghani cook, okay? My brother came home with a bird he hunted, it was still alive when he gave it to the cook and asked him to cook it. The cook put the bird in the freezer, alive. When my brother asked him about the bird he said, "I didn't... It's still in the fridge." My brother opened the freezer and found the bird stiff [She laughs]. In the past, big families didn't need maids, because the daughters in law used to live in the house and took turns cooking, they helped in the house chores, so the role of a maid was insignificant. Then when things changed, my father, for instance, built a house of more than 20 rooms, imagining that when his children got married, they'd live with him, but no one did. When modern life took over Kuwait and it became more developed, that idea of building a house to accommodate my children in the future faded away. Most young people like to be independent and away from their families, okay? As I told you yesterday, people threw their furniture in the streets, I told you about that, right? That is the story of house workers in Kuwait. Then we reached the current situation and the house maids now do 90% of the house chores, if not the 100%, okay? Now if the lady of the house wants to drink some water, she asks the maid to bring it [She laughs]. I need some rest; shall we rest for a while? Okay?
-Okay, you talked about the house maids and the story of your daughters. Beforewe move to the occupation, about which you were talking, how was the transition for the three girls, I mean from Moscow to Africa and then to Kuwait, what was that transition like?
-As for Fatma and Muneera, because they were young, that didn't affect them butas for my daughter, who was born in Moscow, she was five and spoke only Russian, her Arabic was so bad, too. She was so happy to move to a place where she could move around all day long in light clothes unlike Moscow, where she was like a small walking teddy bear, okay? She liked the hot weather a lot and swimming. We had to send her to school there, but all the schools were French, and she began to suffer when it came to language, she spoke Russian, she spoke poor Arabic and now she had to learn a new language. She was shocked when her younger sister was born because of the huge gab in age between them. And you know the issue of jealousy, she didn't expect that a child would compete with her, okay?
-What was the age difference between them?
-About five years, a big gap. Ghadeer was born in 1976 and Fatma was born in1981, a five-year gap between the two, okay? When we came back to Kuwait, we sent her to a French school to continue her education. She still makes mistakes when she speaks. I think the children of diplomats live like gypsies. Okay, anything else? Ask me, that's all.
-Okay, you wanted to talk about the occupation period. Before the invasion, wereyou in Kuwait?
-Yes, what did you say?
-I was asking, before the occupation, I mean in the late 1980s, were you in Kuwait?
-Yes, yes of course, I was in Kuwait. I used to travel during the summer, okay?That year, I don't know what happened, a silly thing happened. My husband was with the popular movement "Alhirak Alsha'abi," he was the press spokesperson of the Kuwaiti opposition, okay? He had a history in politics. In the 1970s he was the president of the National Union of Kuwaiti Students and stuff. He also wrote for the newspapers and everything. Anyway, he was arrested, a month before the invasion, he was accused of defaming Kuwait abroad, what was the story behind that? In the diwaniyas they used to distribute political leaflets, but he did that in the open, not underground, he gave those leaflets to all people. My husband, who speaks French fluently, had a friend, who worked for the French Le Monde and asked him to give him a copy of any new leaflets and my husband did that, okay? He sent him those leaflets via the fax machine, there were no emails back then and that friend published them in the French newspapers, okay? All that was done in public, not secretly at all, and suddenly, they decided to arrest him. They brought --.
-In which year was that?
-In 1990, they brought that French journalist and asked him where he got theleaflets from and he said, "This man sends them to me and distributes them in the diwaniyas." They interpreted it as an attempt to defame Kuwait abroad. They kept him in the central prison for ten days, the prison of State Security Investigations Service. When I visited him in court, I made fun of him, we talked and laughed before I left. Later on they found out that it was a false accusation and let him go but he said that when he had been in jail, in the cell next to his, there had been a prisoner, I think a Palestinian, with whom the authorities had found maps and charts of the Kuwait-Iraq borders. They have been questioning him about the reason for keeping such maps, okay? When my husband was released, we had just moved to a new house in Salwa, before that I was living in Bayan, okay? The street was blocked with the people who came to congratulate him on his release. It's sometimes the stupidity of the authorities that turns a regular person into a hero, he wasn't a hero, but they made him one, okay? You wanted to do what? Humiliate him? Of course, at the time he wasn't a diplomat, he'd left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after a disagreement with them, okay? So what happened, that year, was that we didn't travel because my husband was in jail then you can say I decided to stay in Kuwait. I had an exhibition in Washington and I held it in The Meridian House, with a group, I was a member in a group called "The Friends of the Gulf Art," no "The Friends of the Gulf Art in the GCC Countries." We started the group in 1985 and held collective exhibitions everywhere, so I was with them.
-Were there people from the Gulf countries with you?
-Yes, from almost all the Gulf countries, yes, some of them died or retired orcommitted suicide, I don't know [She laughs]. I had made plans to go to Spain with my daughter in mid-August, okay? My family had bought an apartment there, but they were in Kuwait and planning on spending the summer there, so I planned to go with them, okay? On August 2nd, I got up and was getting dressed when my husband asked me, "Where to?" I said, "To the ministry, I have work." He said, "There is no work." I wondered, "What happened?" And he said, "They are in." I made a painting, have I told you about it? It was called "Anticipation" or something like that, it's in the museum now, I'll show you a picture of it. I made two paintings, one of them had an angel looking at a black cloud, okay? My husband asked me what that black cloud was, that was a month before the occupation. I said to him, "I feel that something bad is going to happen." Okay? Then the war broke and the occupation took place. Anyway, it was such a tremendous shock, I mean, we lived a condition of bafflement for....
-I'm sorry for the interruption but on August 2nd, will you tell me how you feltor what you were doing when you got the news?
-I was getting ready to go to work [she laughs].
-And how did you feel when you heard the...?
-Mmm, I couldn't believe it, I said, "No, that's a lie."
-Your daughters were with you and...?
-Yes, we were at home, the three of us and my husband. We had a Filipina maidand an Indian cook, but they ran away later, [She laughs]. Yes, at the time we had recently moved to a new house, that was in March, we left our house in Bayan, we sold it and bought a bigger one in Salwa. We have just moved and some of my stuff were still in boxes, we moved at the end of March. I was so shocked and couldn't comprehend it. Of course, all the family was here, amazingly in that summer all my family was here, no one of them travelled and neither did I. A lot of people were used to traveling but that summer they stayed in Kuwait, I don't know why. Anyway, the shock was overwhelming. In the beginning when we went out, on the streets, we saw the soldiers and tanks and sometimes the tanks drove the wrong side. You could be driving your car and all of a sudden you found a tank coming your way, driving on the wrong side of the road. They didn't care if it was their side or not. It was a car versus a tank so you had to be very cautious to avoid it. I remember I once took the girls and went to Al Beda, out of nowhere I saw some soldiers, completely naked, bathing on the road, it was an atrocious scene and... -That was at the beginning of the occupation?
-In the beginning of the occupation we gathered in my mother's house then themen, my husband and a huge group began to discuss what they were going to do and how they would deal with the situation. Of course, in the beginning, there were hopes and promises that they would stay for a couple of days then leave, okay? But with time we became certain that they will not get out, okay? One of the things I remember, very well, and lived in detail was that my husband, with the remaining individuals, quickly formed resistance teams and started working hard on that. On August 5th or 6th I decided to make a poster, to resist the occupation. Back then I had a printer, a printing press and all the other tools. I made a painting called "No to the Occupation." Of course, I didn't sign it, I decided to give it to the resistance groups to distribute and hang, as a poster all over Kuwait. The painting depicts a man and a woman, in a state of anger, and a wall with "No to the Occupation" written all over it, they were opposing the occupation. Mmm, I still remember that they were gathered at my studio, my husband, Dr. Ghanim Al-Najjar, Al-Wasmi and a big group. They were planning to publish a flier, a secret one, called "The Popular Steadfastness." It was a secret flier, I helped write it, too. They coordinated the material in our house later. Ghanim Al Najjar's sister used the computer for typing, computers were primitive at the time. Then they published it in a bulletin and photocopied it, okay? We took, we went into some of the Kuwaiti army camps and I don't know where we found presses, we got computers and printers from here and there. All those places were deserted so we went in and took a press and a computer to print that bulletin which was distributed all over Kuwait. About 17 or 18 or even 20 editions of that bulletin were distributed, I have them all because my husband was one of those in charge of them and of the "The Popular Movement." There were many articles against Saddam and the Iraqi existence, ridiculing them and encouraging the Kuwaiti people. Those were distributed in mosques and houses and handed to the people. The occupants arrested and executed many people for having that bulletin, some people were arrested and executed for having my poster. When that happened, I stopped printing it, I took the printing block and hid it in the air conditioner vent, okay? I reprinted that poster, after the liberation, I made 50 copies of it and sold them all and kept none of them, unfortunately [She laughs]. I still have my own copy. Anyway, I remember I was printing and Khalid Al-Wasmi came to me and said, "Om Ghadeer, what are you doing?" I said, "I'm printing." He said, "Leave that and cook something for us" I said to him, "I don't know cooking, I don't know how to cook" [She laughs] okay?
-Speaking of that, what did you eat during the occupation?
-The occupation lasted for eight months but let me tell you this. After theliberation and after my husband came back, he was a prisoner of war, I went to Cyprus. My family was there and I went there to forget and disengage myself from the condition I was in, so for three days, every night I used to gather the Kuwaiti refugees in Cyprus, the 5-star refugees, and I told them stories, until 2:00 am.
-What stories did you tell them?
-Stories I included in my books and can keep telling you about them for tenyears and they won't end. A lot of stories haven't been written yet. I had a program, on the radio, after the liberation called "By the Way." In that program I used to tell the stories that happened during the occupation, funny stories and tragic stories, okay? Let me tell you something about the condition we lived in, we used to have spare clothes in handbags and as soon as we felt it was dangerous in the place we were in, we moved to another. My family left Kuwait and left five deserted houses, so we stayed in one of those houses for some time and moved to another, okay? I mean, the only thing that made me stable enough to tolerate the situation was art. My three daughters and I used to spend the whole day painting, the house turned into a studio, they kept working, and so did I, just to forget. I also had a problem when all the house maids ran away and no one wanted to stay. I knew nothing about house chores, so I had to manage. A friend of mine had a cook so I used to buy the ingredients and give them to her to cook then I took the food home to feed my children. That was something. I still remember that my legs hurt, is it okay to mention that? Okay. I went to the doctor, he was a Palestinian doctor in the Ameri Hospital, no, Mubarak Hospital, I told him that my legs hurt, and he said, "Live that life, you Kuwaitis, okay? You had maids and servants, yes, the Palestinian women suffered a lot and their legs hurt a lot, now it's your turn to live that suffering, you deserve it." That was a sick person, of course, because there were many wonderful Palestinians in Kuwait, some of them were in the resistance with us and some of them helped us. I remember when my husband was a captive, the Palestinians turned the electric generator on for me and made bread for me, they stayed at the university residence, in front of my house, they had run away from Fahaheel and other areas to stay in those empty buildings. My daughter once tumbled and broke her leg, they took her to the hospital and brought her back because my husband wasn't there. What I'm getting at is that there were good people, good and bad people are everywhere. Anyway...
-What were the hospitals like in that period, during the occupation?
-Yes, let me tell you first about the general situation. About a month after theinvasion, without anything happening, many Kuwaitis began to leave the country. My husband and a group of men used to go to the borders and say to them, "No, you must go back, should Kuwait become empty, no one would bring it back, okay?" They said to me, "Thuraya, take your children and leave, you are famous and a very well-known figure." I was quite famous at the time. "The Iraqis might look for you." They searched for famous people, put them on TV and commanded them to curse the government. They also said, "They might rape your daughters or kill your husband or something." Because I was working for Al Qabas newspaper a journalist called me, later she turned out to be a spy, okay? She frequented Baghdad all the time. At the time they changed the name of the newspaper to Al Nidaa and she approached me and said, "Thuraya, come and work with the new government." She had my personal phone number because I called her all the time. And she went on, "We'll give you a good salary and an office, things won't be like they are in Al Qabas." She wanted to lure me in. Of course, I was scared to death and thought, "They will come looking for me." I wasn't staying at my house, so she said, "Where are you staying? We want to come over for a visit." I said to her, "My house is in a dangerous place, so I had to move to my sister's." She said, "Where is your sister's house?" I said, "I don't know, it's very likely that I will be leaving the country, okay?" After that I stopped all communications with her, I mean, at the time I didn't know how she found me, she called my family's number or something, anyway, there were no mobile phones back then, remember? I don't think there were mobile phones, anyway, she called me and I, I called her back and it was she or someone else who said, in a threateningÂ tone "You must come back to work for Al Qabas." Later on, hmm, after the liberation, I discovered that she was cooperating with the Iraqis and that she gave them information, she was with them, anyway, my whole family decided to go to Iran, of course the Iranian embassy issued false passports for those who wanted them, okay? My sister had just given birth to a baby. They said, "Come with us." But I refused. When my husband said, "Go, you have little girls." I said, "No, I won't. Let everyone leave Kuwait but I won't leave. Let them, the Iraqis, leave first." And I stayed. Of course, at the beginning I had some regrets but now, now I'm so pleased that I was here, as a witness, I lived and saw what happened, okay? After my family left, their house had a basement, we used to go and stay there sometimes, okay? When they arrested that resistance group, the young people who distributed the fliers and stuff, I had to leave the Salwa house, my house, and go to stay at my mother's. Then theÂ Al Nuzha incident took place. In Al Nuzha there was a house where a Palestinian man lived. That man was a âhigh-official at the National Bank of Kuwait and the bank had rented that house for him. That man was in London, okay? He was very rich. The resistance groups gathered at that house, the high-ranking army leaders inside Kuwait and who hadn't left, okay? They had huge amounts of Iraqi money, sent to them from abroad, to distribute among the Kuwaiti families, okay? At the time we had no currency, the Iraqis cancelled the Kuwaiti dinar and we needed the money. We didn't work, all of us had forged IDs that said we were an office boy, aÂ storekeeper, a clerk at the Ministry of Public Works and such jobs, a teacher, all those were false IDs, okay? Or a teacher. A soldier once said, "Man, there are no doctors, engineers or something?" We were employees and riding luxurious cars, such employees [she laughs]. An office boy [She laughs]. My husband was with Ghanim Al-Najjar, going with those leaders, to take the money in order to distribute later among the Kuwaiti families. I was with a group, whose mission was to take the money and look for the families in needÂ to give them that money, okay? Of course, the Iraqis had already given orders to arrest and execute whoever distributed money, okay? Because that was an assertion for the resistance. All those resistance personnel were gathering in that Palestinian's house when suddenly a relative of his came knocking on the door and saw the house full of men , of course they had weapons as well, a fax machine, which they used to communicate with those abroad, and many other things, it was the headquarters of the Kuwaiti resistance, okay? And huge piles of money on the tables, too. My husband, Ghanim Al-Najjar, and Muhammed Al Badr, who died a while ago, were there to take the money. The man said, "What are you doing here?" And they replied, "We are migrants from Failaka and staying here for a while." He said, "But this is my relative's house." They said, "Okay, come tomorrow morning and you'll find no one here."Â The man couldn't but inform the Iraqi troops. Just 15 minutes or less, ten minutes, before the soldiers arrived, my husband, Ghanim Al-Najjar and Al-Badr had engaged in an argument with the others and said, "Okay, we'll be leaving now, we have something to attend to and we'll come back for the money later." Hardly had they left the house to another one, when they saw the whole area crammed with soldiers, tanks etc. They arrested and executed all those who were in the house, all of them were executed. The problem was that there was a list of the names of the resistance personnel and their phone numbers in addition to the Popular Movement and everything. What happened was that my husband, Ghanim and Al-Badr I think with someone from, I think Al-Sumait family, I wrote about that in a story called "The Embers of Memory" in the book Excess Exodus [She coughs]Â the ... [She coughs]. They managed to jump over the house wall and ran to their cars, which they had parked in a close by area, not near the house because they didn't want too many cars nearby so as not to arouse anyÂ suspicion. TheyÂ took the... I was at home, waiting for the money, there were some people whom I wanted to find and give the money to, okay? When they arrived they were a mess. Ghanim Al-Najjar had been living in my house for about seven months because they were looking for him, so he had been staying with us for about six or seven months, I'm not sure. Anyway, he said to me, "Thuraya, we were about to get caught." Â It was a ten or 20-minute window. Moreover, my husband advised them, "You'd better leave, he might rat you out." But they said, "No, we promised him that we would leave in the morning." Okay? That man's name was Sameer Arafat and he worked at Kuwait University. HeÂ did rat them out and all of them were caught and executed, no one of them survived. They were moved to Iraq and so on. Anyway, what happened... That sad story was one of the events that took place back then. After that we moved to my mother's house, whenever there was a possibility that something could happen or someone might be arrested, we moved.Â When the air strikes began, we were at my mother's house in Jabriya, because it had a basement, okay? You asked me a while ago about the food, in the beginning there was some food stuff at the co-ops that we could buy. There was someone from the Al-Wazzan family, who later on became the Minister of Commerce, Muhammed Al-Wazzan, something Al-Wazzan, maybe Abdulwahab Al-Wazzan. He opened his storerooms and distributed flour, sugar, rice and everything, among the Kuwaitis, for free. Other Kuwaiti traders, who were still in Kuwait, distributed food among the Kuwaiti families. We had another problem with our children, who were growing up and had no suitable clothes, but I was keeping some clothes, so Muneera could wear Fatima's clothes and Fatma could wear...but whose clothes could Ghadeer wear? Here the Kuwaiti families began to exchange the clothes. I could give the small sizes, which no one was wearing to a family with a baby. Should someone need an electrical appliance, I would give it to them. Then we established popular markets in some areas, one of those was called "Hala w Marhaba (Hello and Welcome)," in Salwa, where's the Al Masjed Al Aqsa street? There we started some stands and sold things. People began to sell things and the soldiers had huge amounts of money while we had nothing, okay? So, we started those stands to sell things and what wasn't sold we either took for us or gave to those in need. We also went to the houses, and the Kuwaiti houses were, full of things, okay? Everyone sold whatever they had, clothes, anything and those were willing to buy anything, okay? I remember I was once selling my kids' clothes and some stuff from the house, which I didn't need, old things, and a group of soldiers and a high-ranking officer came and said.... At the time we didn't wear makeup or did our hair, we also used to wear mostly training suits. Once at a checkpoint an Iraqi soldier stopped me, those check points had a lot of stories, that soldier said to me, "What's wrong with you? Has your mother died?" I said, "My mother is not here. Have you heard anything about my mother? Do you know her?" I was scared to death. He said, "You're not wearing any lipstick or powder, are you going to a funeral?" I said, "Do you want me to wear makeup for you?" He said, "Why not? Aren't we human beings? Don't we deserve to see beauty?" Imagine how rudely they harassed us.
-That was at the checkpoints?
-The check points, they... I remember that Laila Al-Othman wrote a whole storyabout the checkpoints. One of my daughters painted a woman screaming at a check point and the Iraqi soldiers around her in the forms of scorpions, monkeys and stuff. My daughters' paintings were catastrophic and all I cared about was hiding them in the air conditioner vents but I'm glad I kept them because they used those paintings later. So, was I talking about the food or what?
-No, about the things you sold and the markets. -Yes, we started those marketsand sold things. We gave the money we got to the needy families or kept it. For example, they gave me children's milk, okay? I went to the Maternity Hospital and gave it to the mothers there. We ... I had taken bags of flour and rice to the house of Ismail Fahd Ismail where a group of Kuwaiti girls made sweets and sold them and the money... We earned the money, we didn't have ... No one of us wanted to work or went to a ministry, ok? Everyone deserted their jobs, of course the soldiers used to go to co-ops, take everything for themselves and pay no money at all for it, okay? Until now I remember, at the beginning of the occupation there was a very nice supermarket, in Salmiya, close to the Al Khalid complex...
-What was the name of that...?
-I don't know, it was next to mmm the Al Khalid complex, there? Where the housesof Al-Hamad are? It's near the Al-Hamad houses but I can't remember its name and it sold very nice things [She coughs]. I took the girls to buy some stuff, yes, my daughter, one of my daughters. I saw a group of soldiers around her and she was talking to them in English, that was Ghadeer, the eldest. They were showing her something round and she was saying, "Not chocolate, not chocolate." It was a bar of soap, yes. I said to them, "What do you want?" He said, "Is this chocolate?" I said, "Just buy it and try it, we don't know what it is." Let him eat the soap. Another one brought a package of Nivea cream and said, "Is this cream cheese?" I said, "I don't know, just buy it, I haven't tried it, buy it." They had some mayonnaise and some ketchup and asked the shopkeeper, "Which is better, the white cheese or the red one?" Okay? There were some things that they had never seen before so much so that they once broke the cash machine, fitted in the wall saying, "Oh man, Kuwait has so much money that even the walls give away money." Of course, when we gathered at night we used to talk about those funny situations and the following day you'd find them written and published, we wrote them in secret fliers distributed among people. Of course they saw and read them and consequently became miserable because we were exposing their stupidity, foolishness and where they came from, they brought them from the Iraq-Iran borders, where they spent seven years after which they were moved to the borders of Kuwait and invaded it. There were people who gained an amazing strength, people who had never carried a weapon or worked in secret organizations, nothing, how did they learn all that? How did they learn making bombs? How did they learn... There was a huge heap of garbage in Rumaithiya, an enormous heap where people used to throw their waste in. In that heap of garbage, you could find the dead bodies of dead Iraqi soldiers, okay? The resistance killed them and threw their bodies in landfills or sewage drains. Women, children and everyone in Kuwait were in the resistance, everyone their own way. I mean, even with the problem of bread, I wrote about all that in my stories and spent more than three years writing them in articles. I highlighted them in paintings and poems. As a person I have many creative tools that helped me a lot. Of course, during the occupation, it was impossible for me to write a word, other than those secret fliers because should they find a small Kuwaiti flag in your place, they'd execute you, okay? Yes, and we had to live day by day, whenever my husband left the house I didn't know whether he'd ever come back alive or not, I expected he would be executed at any moment, if I went out, I didn't know if I would come back or not. Once, in the beginning of the occupation too, I arrived at a checkpoint, not far from my house, I was playing some French songs on a tape. When the soldier opened the car, he said, "Your ID." Of course, we had false IDs. He said, "I want to see the car registration." I opened the glove compartment to see a camera, my husband's camera, which he used to take pictures of tanks, weapons, and soldiers. He had an appointment with an American journalist calledÂ Carol Murphy, who was hiding in Kuwait, to give her the film to send to America to develop and publish the pictures in the newspapers there. They were pictures of the troops and all, I knew what was on the film because he had already told me. The soldier said, "What's this?" He was a young man and I said, "It's a camera." He said, "Don't you know that cameras could lead you to execution and that they are forbidden? How many pictures are in here?" I said to him, "My daughter's birthday was yesterday, I threw her a party and forgot the camera in the car." He said, are you still having parties?" I replied, "Why not? Life is good and everything is fine." I saw he was a young man and thought to myself "I can't but use my womanly ways to get out of this situation." Should he take me to a police station or something and they see the pictures, they would execute me, burn my house to the ground and kill my children and my husband. I said to him, "It's a birthday party." He said, "Don't you know what this is?" I said, "I don't know." He said, "What are you listening to? Are these French songs? My dream is to go to Paris." I said, "I speak French fluently, I'll take you there. If you want to go to Rome, London, anywhere, I'll take you." He said, "You have a husband?" I said, "For you and for your beauty I'm willing to divorce my husband." I turned intoÂ Shadiya or Faten Hamama (Famous actresses) [She laughs]. He said, "You'd leave him?" I said, "For you I'd leave the whole world." I had to do so because I had no other option. He said, "Alright, when? We can't do that now." I said, "I promise, when all this mess is over, I'll look for you and realize your dream. I will leave that man, I don't want to be with him anymore, he's a foolish old man but you are young and handsome. I could tour the world with you." He said, "Promise?" I said, "Yes, promise." He said, "Okay, now hide this camera because if my superiors see it, they will hang you from your eyelashes." I said, "okay, I promise you I won't keep it with me anymore." He said, "And you will keep your promise?" I went back, got the car into the garage and cried. [She laughs] I was hysterical, I looked for my husband and didn't talk to him for two days. [She laughs] That was a situation I found myself in and had to use the womanly wiles. I don't know if he realized his dream or died on the road to Safwan [She laughs], okay?
-You mentioned that you used to go to the Ameri hospital to give them children's milk--
-Not the Amiri, Al Sabah Hospital.
-Yes, I remember that at the entrance of the hospital they had a picture ofSaddam, in a short-sleeved shirt and Ray-Ban glasses with palm trees in the background, I said, "What is this? An advertisement for Hawaii?" [She laughs]
-How was the situation at the hospitals?
-The hospital, wow! My cousin had given birth, okay? The hospital was infestedwith cats, huge and hungry cats, as soon as they served the food, for the new mothers, the cats attacked the food, okay? To the extent that every mother held tight to her baby lest the cats ate it, the cats turned wild because they didn't find anything to eat, okay? The situation was ... miserable, no clothes nor diapers, okay? There was nothing. I mean, there are things I'm not sure if they are acceptable to be recorded, even sanitary pads for women were not available in the markets, I mean there was a huge problem.
-What did women do about that problem?
-I don't know what they did but it was a disaster. Of course, there were manythings in the storehouses and as I told you, the traders tried to hide them from the Iraqi soldiers and distributed them among the Kuwaiti families, they gave what they had in store. I used to call my relatives and ask them about their needs. We had formed a network, I remember, more than once women knocked on the door, women with an Iraqi accent, who said, "We heard that you give money, do you have any money?" Of course, they were sent by the Iraqis. And I used to say, "No, if you have any money, give me some." Or they said, "We heard that you give clothes, do you have any clothes?" I also used to say, "No, if you have any clothes give me some." That is because we had been warned that they would come knocking on the door and say, "Do you give money and clothes?" Eventually everything you did was considered an act of resistance, even the smallest of things, even if you gave someone some car fuel, if you thought, no, with the car fuel a very funny story happened to me. I was visiting a relative of mine to give her some clothes, for her children and she had cooked some food for me, okay? I said to her, her name was Saleemaa, "Saleemaa, I have but very little gasoline in my car." What they ultimately did was that those who didn't change their car registration plates from Kuwaiti to Iraqi ones got no gasoline, gas stations wouldn't give you gasoline, so people stored the gasoline in their houses. They changed the plates of one of their cars into Iraqi ones and bought the gasoline, which they later distributed among people. It was a sign of resistance that we refused to put the Iraqi plates on our cars. I have one of those, I'll show you. Anyway, back to the gasoline, she said, "This is a paper, I use at the gas station, it says that I am Iraqi, he gives me the gasoline for free. It's in Da'iya, show him the paper and he will fill your car with gasoline." When I got there, I said to him, "Hello, how are you? Here is the paper." He said, "What do you want?" I said, "I want some gasoline, look at the paper." He said, "Now you are giving me a paper and want the gasoline? Go away or I'll shoot you." I said, "Why? What's wrong with the paper?" "What's wrong with it?" He said, "Are you making fun of me?" It was a cake recipe, [She laughs], she gave me, by mistake, a paper with a recipe for a cake, with the amount of flour and stuff. I said to him, "I'm sorry, sorry, I was in a hurry and forgot the other paper, I am Iraqi." He said, "What Iraqi? Go away or I will shoot you." I called her later and told her that she had given me so and so and she said, "Oh, I gave you the wrong paper." She was Iraqi, I mean of Iraqi origin. Anyway, I almost lost my life for a cake recipe. There are so many funny stories, of course, but it was a tragedy. I once painted a place, my work changed a lot of course, I began painting people who gave the feeling of death, they looked like mummies, bold or white haired, okay? I painted a group of soldiers with bullets instead of heads, it was an abstract painting. Some officers and soldiers went into my studio once and I was scared to death, lest they get the meaning behind the painting, okay? An officer looked at the painting and said, "Why are they bald, with no hair?" I said, "That's because...that's the Arab sadness, deep within." I said just anything, nonsense. He said, "That's why their hair doesn't grow?" I said, "God willing, when you win your wars their hair will grow." It was nonsense, rubbish but what mattered is that they didn't understand the meaning of the painting. I made that painting after they had executed Younis Mallallah, Younis was married to a relative of mine, he was newly wedded, and he was one of those who distributed the fliers and our bulletin. They caught him. They brought him at noon and executed him while his wife was watching so I depicted them in that painting, okay? In the painting I showed the execution, the time, it was 12 o'clock, a bullet in his head, their bald heads and their pale color, like mummies. I painted the soldiers like that, yes. I had made a research once about the stamps of Failaka island, when the occupation took place, I used the symbols in those stamps in a painting that expressed my feelings. The scorpions on the stamps were the enemy, the gazelle on the stamp was Kuwait, I don't know what other symbols I used. Some symbols referred to the enemy while others referred to Kuwait. I began to express my feelings but with symbols, of course my children didn't know how to use symbolism and almost sent me to hell, yes. Anyway, the horror we lived, with the beginning of the air strikes, we didn't know if we were going to survive, we were desperate, we didn't even know if Kuwait would be liberated or not. We were like a table tennis ball, swinging from one side to the other. Sometimes our morale was high and sometimes too low, and when they began robbing the houses, we, before...
-You were staying at homes; I mean anyone could come in?
-Yes, they once raided the house at 5:00 am, okay? The night before I was at myfather's house, I opened my father's safe that was unlocked, okay? It was open, there was a key to it, in the safe I found his gun, an old gun, from World War I, an antique gun, it was rusty and not working of course. I said to my husband, "Should they raid the house and search, they would find this gun. You'd better hide it anywhere. All of us would be done for, even if it wasn't working." He said, "Okay." He wrapped it in a bag and disposed of it in a remote landfill, in landfills you could find everything, weapons, dead bodies, ammunition or even bombs. A dumpster once exploded, in Jabriya, there was an Iraqi truck there, the resistance killed the soldiers and disposed of the truck in that site. When people set fire in the garbage it exploded. In Rumaithiya, yes, Rumaithiya. People there were amazing during the occupation, the largest number among the resistance people was from Rumaithiya. It has 13 blocks, it's a huge maze of areas. The area that had the largest number of people in the resistance and gave the Iraqi soldiers a hell of a time was Rumaithiya, okay? It's called "A A" because mostly Awazem - (Bedouins) and Ajjam (People of Iranian origins) live there. Anyway, those are not important things. The good thing about the occupation, of course the occupation was atrocious, but the good thing was that people were amazingly in mutual solidarity, I mean, in our Diwaniya, at home, the Salafis gathered, not Salafis, they were Muslim Brotherhood members and religious people. The people who arrested my husband a few days before the occupation, the security forces, the police, the army, the military leadership, those who hated each other and insulted each other in the National Assembly and other places, all those gathered in on place. All barriers disappeared, all racism vanished, disappeared. No one thought any more about those who came from Iran, 20, 30 or a 100 years ago, or those with origins from Najd or Tankaseer, all of those things vanished and what only mattered was the Kuwaiti people, we even helped the non-Kuwaiti families, what mattered was that they stayed in Kuwait and that we must help each other, we helped each other in an exceptional way, you can imagine, anyway, what did I want to say? I forgot, sorry, where have we been?
-You were talking, before helping people, about the incident of your husband andGhanim Al-Najjar.
-Yes, we're done with that. No, I wanted to talk about ... Oh dear.
-Maybe after the cake recipe story?
-Yes, the gasoline story, yes, I was telling you, that day she cooked me somefood, an Iraqi soldier stopped me and said, "Oh God, what a smell, will you give me some food?" Give you what? It's food for my children and I hardly found some meat, so I replied, "Haven't they warned you not to take food from the Kuwaitis?" He said, "Why not?" I said, "they might poison it." He said, "Go!" [She laughs]. I didn't want to give him any food. One other time one of them stopped me and said, "Have you got some pomegranates? Do you have any?" I said, "It's not the season of pomegranates, do you know where they sell them? I'd go and buy some." He said, "You buy pomegranates? Do they sell them?" I said, "Why not? We eat them, pomegranates are good." He said, "You eat pomegranates, You Zumala, -which means donkey-, these pomegranates go boom boom." It turned out that they called the bombs pomegranates.
-He was asking if you had bombs?
-Bombs, I thought he meant the fruits [She laughs], okay? I was once with mydaughters in the car and an Iraqi soldier stopped us. I had bought a big pot for the kids, full of sweets, candy, chocolate and stuff, we searched every co-op and supermarket in Kuwait to buy them sweets, we had the money but there was nothing to buy. That soldier looked at them and said, "Who are these? Your daughters?" I got scared to death, my eldest daughter was very beautiful, she was about 13, I always tried to dress her in awful clothes so that she would look ugly and no one would hurt her. I feared for her. He said, "Your daughters?" I said, "What do you want with my daughters?" He said, "I want some of those sweets they have." And they gave him some, okay? One of them once said, "For three or four days now no one has brought us any food." That was after the beginning of the air strikes.
-When was that?
-That was from January17th, the supplies from Iraq were cut off with the airstrikes, okay? They began, some soldiers, I mean, hiding in the Kuwaitis' houses. People gave them Dishdashas and clothes and they got mixed with people, they deserted the army, okay? That's in addition to the theft that spread but that's another story by itself.
-What is it?
-They raided houses and looted them, okay? The furniture, so you could seeconvoys of trucks going to Iraq, okay? We went to Baghdad three times, during that period. The Kuwaitis arranged special journeys for those who wanted to go and visit their detained relatives. What did the Iraqi government do? They brought the POWs, particularly the military personnel, who were not accused of resistance or explosions, the ones who were arrested in the beginning, from the military bases, like Ali Al Salem Air Base and other camps. My cousin was a pilot and was a prisoner. The Iraqi government asked the families of the POWs to take buses to go and see them. Sultan Center gave us milk, juice and stuff, it gave us food so many times. We went to see the POWs and gave them sneakers, but they hid small radio sets in them, so that they could hear the news. We sneaked things with the food too. Of course, as Iraqi citizens, Kuwaiti Iraqi citizens, we entered Iraq without IDs or anything, because we were the citizens of the stolen province which they claimed to be a part of Iraq. Anyway, we took a big bus, we all took the buses, and stayed at Al Rasheed hotel, okay? We paid 40 Iraqi dinars a night, which was nothing. The girls were happy because they ate steak and bought things at the markets, we went to the market to see their school uniforms, they stole them from the schools, in addition to musical instruments, juice and fizzy drinks with "Keep Kuwait Clean" written on them, okay? The school bags, everything in the market was stolen from Kuwait so much so that I went once to an electrical appliances shop and in its window there was ... you know the part of the central air conditioners which is put on the roof, they had taken it out and put it on display, in the shop window. I knew what that was but I wanted to tease the shopkeeper so I asked him what that was and he said, "I really don't know, they've brought it from Kuwait but we don't know what it does or what it is." I said to him, "This part is kept on the roof, the part you brought from Kuwait, it has another piece, an air conditioner unit, so you can't sell it because it's useless." He said, "What shall I do with it?" I said to him, "Send it back to Kuwait, let them take it back and put it on the roof they've taken it from." okay? What happened with me was that before the occupation, in 1990, there was an exhibition held in Baghdad, every two years, it was called "Saddam Art Biennale," "The Humanity Biennale." It was supposed to be held in October 1991, October 1990, okay? I had already sent three paintings to participate in the exhibition, a huge group of Kuwaiti artists were participating in it. I said to my husband, "I will go and take my paintings." He said, "Thuraya, they'd recognize you and arrest you." I said, "No, they won't. I don't care if they recognize me or not. If they don't want me here, they want me in Kuwait. Here I am an Iraqi citizen." I did go to the Saddam Art Center where they opened the storerooms for me and gave me my paintings, okay? I took them back with me. The man in charge of the center said to me, "Take the paintings of your colleagues." I said, "I can't, they will ask me about them at the borders, but my paintings are three small ones but to take statues and stuff?" He said, "When you go back to Kuwait tell the Kuwaiti artists to come over and take their paintings." When I came back I told them and they said, "Are you crazy? Have you lost your mind? You are out of your mind. You want us to go and die for some paintings? Let them be." I think the Iraqis returned the paintings to them later or something. It's off I think, huh? -No, no, it's working.
-Yes, those trips to Baghdad, we went there two or three times, I depicted thatscene in one of my stories, a story titled "The Ba'quba Trees." There was a football stadium, a huge football pitch, in the Ba'quba area. They brought all the detained Kuwaiti soldiers, about 2000 of them, to that stadium, okay? We, the Kuwaiti families, went there, okay? Carrying with us food and stuff. The Iraqi soldiers were so pleased with that because they took half what we brought but what mattered was to see the detainees and spend time with them. I saw my cousin, no, I didn't see my cousin. When I asked the officer, A Kurd named Kaka Nizar where my cousin was and if they brought him, he said, "Why ask about your cousin, ask about your husband." I said, "My husband is not a prisoner, my cousin is." He said, "Don't you want your husband to be a prisoner?" Later, he became a prisoner. [She laughs]. So, we used to go and stay in Iraq. I remember I was in the elevator once and an American priest was with me. He said, "I work for the radio, in The Philippines, we care about the Filipinos, if you are Kuwaiti -he knew that I was Kuwaiti- will you tell me a story about how the Iraqi soldiers raped the Filipina maids in Kuwait?" I said to him, "Should I tell you that story, before the elevator reaches our floor and before the story ends, they would rape you and me." [She laughs]
-Have you told him the story?
-No, I haven't, I was afraid because there were recording devices everywhere, Imean in every room, so we never talked except when we were on the streets.
-But do you know stories about the maids or the communities that were in Kuwaitduring the occupation? -I know a story about a Swiss engineer, the one who built the Liberation Tower, okay? His name was De Meuron, that was his family name and his wife translated my book into French after the liberation, okay? They took them out, every embassy tried to get its subjects out of Kuwait. When they reached the Iraqi borders, the Iraqi robbed them of everything and let them go to the Turkish borders, on foot, okay? Of course most of the Filipinos who escaped from here were robbed of all what they had taken with them, they let them go back with nothing, most of them came back with nothing, no clothes, no money, nothing, they had taken everything from them, okay? Of course, many of them were raped, I myself was a witness to an attempted rape. When the soldier raided our house, my family's house, in Jabriya at 5:00 am, I was asleep with my daughters. My husband went to them downstairs and talked to them. A soldier came to me and said, "The officer wants to talk to you." I said to him, "Okay, but please will you go down? My children are asleep." He said, "Okay." The maid was there, she was a Filipina whom my husband brought to me just a month before the occupation. She was awful, I've never seen a woman with such ugly features, and I am an artist who loves beauty. Anyway, that's not important now. Nevertheless, she was a female after all. Anyway, I went downstairs and asked the maid to look after the children. Before I reached the last step of the stairs, I heard her screaming. I hurried back to see that he was holding her and trying to kiss her and so on. I said to him, "What are you doing?" He said, "I am searching her." Of course, she collapsed, kept crying and so on. I went to the officer and said, "Your soldier upstairs was about to rape my maid, are you here to search the house or to rape women?" They called that soldier and he was so cruel with him and kicked him out. I'm telling you, umm. A woman said to me once, "They came into the house and my maid was there. She was short and chubby; she was a Filipina too. The soldier held her and kept throwing her up, so I said to him, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm checking her weight." Things like that-- that's of course because they ... I even wrote a story titled "The Circle of Boots," in my book The Departure of Windows. I tackled the story of rape which was, mmm-- one of their weapons, to torture and rape men, women and children, anything, okay? Of course, all those ways of torture... I remember after the liberation I went to the hospital and saw a group of girls, wearing black clothes, Kuwaiti girls who were pregnant, all their pregnancies were because of the soldiers. All of them had been brought to a hospital, Mubarak hospital and given abortions.
-That was after the liberation or...?
-Right after the liberation, we toured the hospitals and stuff.
-Who were the doctors or the medical staff?
-There were many Kuwaiti doctors, okay? Even during the occupation, okay? Therewere Kuwaiti doctors and they told the people who the Iraqis killed or executed, one day they brought one of the Qabazard boys with his eyes gouged out, okay? Yes, my cousin was an orthopedist, they caught him taking pictures of a building and smashed his bones... the stories are numerous but should we talk just about the occupation we wouldn't finish, it's a very long story, but the thing is it's not my testimony alone, it's the testimony of others too. For a long time, for ten years perhaps, I would burst into tears whenever I talked about certain situations particularly the liberation day. My husband had been detained for three days before the liberation and the reason was ... I left him with the girls because they had looted my sister's house so I went to see what was stolen and some people were there for... oh... On my way home I saw some soldiers by our neighbors' house. My neighbor was an Iranian and her husband was a paralyzed Kuwaiti man. She said to me ... A group of soldiers were all around her while she was praying, I don't know what she was doing, I said to her, "What's wrong, Om Husain?" She said, "They came to take my husband, he's paralyzed and on a wheelchair." Of course, she hid her son, I don't know where. I said to one of them, "This woman's husband is paralyzed, should you take him what would you do with him? He might die, he's of no use to you." That was three days before the liberation. Yes. He said, "Okay, a while ago she was cursing us in her prayers, tell her to take her prayers back." She said, "I take them back." And they left. She said to me, "Thank you, Thuraya. Thuraya, they took your husband a while ago." I said, "What!?" She said, "Yes, policemen and soldiers took him. Thank you for saving me but your husband is gone." [She laughs]. I was shocked when I went home to see my eldest daughter crying and the maid, [She whispers] she's got another big story, ehm, her name was Hilda and she was 17 or 18 years old. She had worked for a family in Jahra, before us. They called her Aida and dressed her in Hijab, okay? She was from Sri Lanka. I had a problem because I didn't have any maids, so they brought her to me. Of course, I was so happy with her, she saved me even under the air strikes she wouldn't go to the basement and said, "In our country it's always like this, I'm used to it." Anyway, that was when they had a quota. Three or four days before the liberation the Iraqis knew that they were about to withdrawÂ from Kuwait so the soldiers had received orders to arrest as many males as possible, between 16 and 6o years old to use in the exchange of POWs because they knew they would leave prisoners behind them. So, they didn't want to torture them, they just wanted to use them in exchange of POWs, so they knocked on the doors. They went to a mosque while the people were going out after the Jumu'ah prayer to go directly from the mosque to the buses that took them to Basra, okay? They called the fire department reporting a fire, of course there was no fire, and arrested all the firemen and all of them were Kuwaitis. They knocked on the doors and arrested whoever opened the door, a woman or a man. My husband opened the door and he was in a Dishdasha, they said to him, "Go and change." When he asked why they said, "We need to talk to you." There were some cars in the house, my family's cars, they took those too. My husband was wearing contact lenses, okay? He said, "I'll get my reading glasses because I'm wearing contact lenses and I don't know how long I'll be staying with you." They said, "No, no." They didn't allow him to take even his glasses. Anyway, when I came back to the house my daughter, Ghadeer, said, "When they knocked on the door I hid in the closet." In my father's house there was a secret door under the stairs, you could open it and hide easily. Nobody knew about it and I don't know why my father did that. It was something secret and didn't look like a door. My husband could've hidden, with the maid, and they wouldn't have found him and no one would've opened the door in the first place but we had a gardener, a non-Kuwaiti man who told them that the owner of the house was in, so he opened the door and they took him. My other two daughters were playing at the neighbors' house and I brought them. The woman who was with me was an Iraqi so she said, "Let's go to the..." - she was referring to the police - and tell them, perhaps they would release your husband." I was wearing a pink training suit and my hair was short, okay? Of course, I was slim. She said to her husband, "I'll go to the officer and tell him that she has six or eight kids and you took her husband, who will raise the kids now?" The police officer said, "Look at her, she looks like a boy, how could she have 8 kids?" [She laughs]. At the time I was 30 something, almost 40 but not 40 yet. Anyway, we went to the police station and talked to the officer, but he said, "Those whom we brought were sent to Basra." They were sent to a concentration camp called Bu Sukhair. On the way to Basra, they were on a bus, all the vehicles behind and in front of them were destroyed in the air strikes launched by the international allies or allied forces. They were bombarding that road which was called The Road of Death. I mean after the liberation we went and saw it; it was full of holes and covered with dead bodies, it was aptly named The Road of Death. They were on a bus, full of Kuwaiti prisoners, with the bombing all around them and they could've lost their lives. When they got there, they kept them in the same concentration camps where they kept the Iranian prisoners of war. In a ward that fitted a hundred, they kept three hundred persons. Some people stood up so that others could sleep, okay? There was no food or water, the water was dirty and contaminated, they got diarrhea and people began to die, okay? Anyway, when I got home and found out that my husband was gone, at that moment I lost the feeling of safety, that was three days prior to the liberation. It was tough for me to tell ...my eldest daughter knew that her father was gone, but the younger ones didn't know and kept asking, "Where is dad?" We had a house in Switzerland so I replied, "Dad went to our house in Switzerland to prepare it, we're going there because this war will soon be over." My daughter, Fatooma, whom he taught Arabic throughout the occupation period was relieved from the homework and the Arabic language lessons so she said, "Oh, I'm relieved from the homework and Arabic lessons, let him stay there as long as possible." Of course, I couldn't tell them and I used to sit, all by myself, and cry. Anyway, with the air strikes and then the liberation we didn't have food or electricity. My Palestinian neighbors used to run the generator for me. As for the food, international organizations, like the Spanish Red Cross and the French Red Cross came and gave us food.
-What was that food?
-I'll tell you, during the occupation food was available. As I told you, theKuwaiti traders distributed stuff among us but we had a store of food stuff at home, things like rice, lentils, sugar, tea and things like those but what we didn't have were the fresh meats and fresh vegetables and fruits because refrigerators had no electricity, okay? And there were no markets to sell them. I remember I was once standing in a very long line for food distributed by the Spanish Red Cross, in Jabriya. When my turn came, they gave me a bag of lentils, a bag of rice and a bag of sugar. I cried and gave them back to the agents and said, "We need meat, get us some cans of fish or chicken, anything, we want to eat." I remember that my daughter, the oldest, came to me crying and said, "Mom, Hussaino is over there eating an apple, they say that they are giving away apples at the co-op, go and get us some, what are you waiting for?" I felt happy and went and stood in the line, I managed to get some apples for my kids. On another occasion, Saudi Arabia brought frozen French Doux chickens, they threw the chickens to us from trucks, as if we were refugees, saying, "Pray for the king, pray for the king." An old Kuwaiti woman said to me, "Were these slaughtered the Islamic way?" I said, "Even if they distributed frozen cats, I would take them." Anyway, we stayed... my nephew came with the American army and brought American food, you pour some water on it and wait until it turns into food. The kids were so pleased with it and we ate it. I was ...we made tomato sauce and rice, rice and tomato sauce until one time, when my husband came back, at the end of March, okay?
-During that period, three days before the liberation till March, he was in....?
-Yes, approximately, he was with the first group released by the Red Cross,okay? The group that walked through the desert, if you've seen documentaries about similar things. Anyway, this is a very funny story, after the liberation the French embassy held a reception for their soldiers or leaders, I'm not sure, in the house of an Embassy AttachÃ© and I went with my husband. There I saw an officer with a high rank, I said to him, "Don't you have rations for the French soldiers?" He said, "Yes, we have a lot, fancy food, roast beef, meat and stuff." I said, "I need some, I have children and I have no food, so I need some food for them." He said, "I'm craving lettuce, I'm craving some salad." I was growing lettuce in my garden, okay? I said to him, "Okay." All night long, my kids and the neighbors' kids and I, pulled out the lettuce and put them in bags. In the morning I went to the French embassy and met him. I gave them a head of lettuce for a French ration, I got about 20 boxes, okay? I had dried okra at home, so I made some okra sauce and rice. When my husband came home, at the time we called him "Muhammed Tanker," because all day long he kept touring the deserted houses looking for water, because we had no water, no electricity, no food, nothing. Kuwait has been liberated but the living conditions were catastrophic, in addition to the smoke we breathed and made our hands, the house and everything black. Anyway, I said to him, "Don't worry about the neighbors' sheep, this is the French government ration." That was it.
-That was after the liberation?
-After the liberation, I remember we went in a demonstration, Sheikh Saad, mayGod rest his soul, was staying at Al Babtain's house. They brought water tankers and he was giving a huge feast for the Kuwaitis who were in Kuwait and those who came back with him, okay? We went there, the people who suffered, whom they forgot, and had nothing to do with the feast, the people who wanted to eat and live. We went there, in our training suits and miserable looks, carrying signs that said, "We want water, we want food." As if we were saying-- "You came back to provoke us, we were hungry, we had nothing to eat, okay? Living in darkness and you had about 20 electric generators and water tankers." I remember a jeep full of Kuwaiti soldiers arrived and one of them said, "What a shame, you disgraced us with the CNN and the international press, they are taking pictures." I said to him, "Go and get me some water from them and I will go home. Get me two or three cans of water and I'll go home. I want some water, go and tell the Sheikh that I am starving and need water." [She laughs] I remember after the liberation I went to Cyprus then to London; a woman saw me at a bank and said, "Wasn't what you did shameful? You are demonstrating against Kuwait while the country has just got out from the occupation?" I said to her, "Throughout the occupation period you were in London? Yes, touring Harrods? I was under bombardment, so keep quiet, shame on you not on me." [She laughs]
-I want to go back for a little while, when the liberation took place, wherewere you and how did you hear about it?
-Yes, now I will tell you the touching story, of course I depicted it in mystory The Basement Candles. I was in the basement, with my daughters and the maid, while the air strikes had been going on all night long. I could hear sounds and voices outside, and I was terrified that the soldiers might break the basement door and get to us. I had lit some candles because there was no electricity and hence the name of my book, The Basement Candles. That story got me an award from KFAS, Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences, the award for the best short stories written about the occupation. The Amir handed me the award, okay? The late Sheikh Jaber, may God rest his soul. So, I was in the basement and just before dawn, the noises stopped, there were no sounds at all. My daughters were still asleep, so I opened the door slowly. There was smoke but not a sound, nothing. I went out of the house, that was our house in Jabriya, to see a group of women, in their abayas while I was the only one in a training suit, I mean not wearing an abaya. I went and stood with them. They stared at me and said, "Thuraya, what's the matter with you? Kuwait has been liberated; they're gone." I broke into tears. [She cries] Sorry, as I told you, I went out of the basement and found out that Kuwait has been liberated. I was happy and unhappy. Happy, of course because it was a nightmare now gone and we were sure that at least we survived but unhappy because my husband was gone, and I didn't know if he was alive or dead. My job was to tour the embassies and ask them for lists of the Kuwaiti detainees. I went to the Red Cross, but nobody knew where they went, what happened to them or how they vanished, okay? Nobody knew, even my husband's mother, who was still alive at the time, when her kids visited her, she kept asking them, "Where is Muhammed? Where is Muhammed?" They said to her, "Kuwait has been liberated and he went to Bahrain." Sometimes they said to the Emirates, trying to lie to her but she kept saying, "No, I know he's not there, perhaps they killed him." Anyway, of course I stayed at my family's house and didn't go back to my house because I would've been alone there but here there were neighbors who could help me. I still remember that communication center, here in Meshrif, with that giant antenna, where they allowed us to call our families. I called my family, in Cyprus, and talked to them. During that call my mother said to me, "We have seen your husband on the French TV, they released him, and he was talking on television. Okay, he was talking, and he said they were free." Could that be possible? I didn't know while my mother, who was living in Cyprus, knew. Yes, no, some people saw him on the French TV, some French friends of ours, and called my brother, Adnan, in London who in turn told my mother. When Adnan called them, they asked about Muhammed first and he told them that he had been detained but was free then. As soon as I went home, I received a phone call telling me that my husband had been released and moved with others to a hospital in Jahra. Mmm, I called a friend of my husband's and said, "Come and take me to Jahra to see him." On the way to Jahra he received a phone call that said.... I recall we had telephones in the cars, the ones in big boxes, remember? Those appeared in the late 1990s, right?
-Not mobile phones but car phones.
-Oh, yes, the ones you carried around.
-They came in bags
-Okay, it's an antique now. They called him and said that they had taken him andsomeone else to Mubarak Hospital. I went to the hospital and asked about him and they took me to him, but it was someone else not him. I said, "Oh my God, where is Muhammed?" The man said, "Muhammed was with me, but I don't know where he is." I got upset, wherever I asked no one had any idea. I went back home, completely upset, only to see him in front of me. His smell was atrocious with the dirt of two months during which he never bathed, two months without a bath, okay? He was very tired, exhausted and stuff. An American journalist knew about it and came. She took pictures of me and the girls with him. He had a long beard and the contact lenses have been on his eyes for two months, imagine that, he had no glasses, yes. How did they know that Kuwait had been liberated? They had a radio, which was sneaked to them. His experience in the concentration camp by itself was a whole different story. Anyway, we were standing by him, for the pictures, about to faint because of the smell. Later, I portrayed that in a painting, yes. Of course, the phone calls hadn't stopped, and I kept saying, "The man hasn't had any sleep for two months." He was going to be executed just half an hour before he was released. I don't know, he was the leader of the ward and stuff and an officer ordered to execute him but ten minutes before they received orders from the high command not to execute any Kuwaitis because they would need them in the exchange of prisoners. I mean, my husband saw death with his own eyes many times. He and Dr. Ghanim Al-Najjar were once sneaking some fliers. They kept them in the, under the seat. An Iraqi soldier, officer stopped them and wanted to search the car. They thought, "Should he search the car we'd be dead." He started searching the car, but his gun got caught in something and he couldn't reach the rest of the car to search, so he decided to let them go. I mean they went through a lot of situations. Ghanim was a very active person and did a lot of great things. I know so many young people who were with the resistance, at the time, but none of them did that for gratitude from anyone or anything in return in the future. The whole issue was, I mean imagine that I wrote an article after the liberation about the similarities between us and Prague, the city of Prague, when the Soviets invaded it. When the Russians, the Soviets, occupied it, what did the locals do? They removed all the names of the areas and all the numbers of the houses, why? Because many people cooperated with the Iraqis here, okay? Some of those were tempted by money or threatened, so the Iraqis had the names of the prominent figures and knew their addresses so when they mentioned the name of the street and the name of the area, they reached their houses but the Czechs removed the names of the areas and streets so the Soviet troops couldn't know where the Czechs they looked for lived. We did the same thing without even knowing that thirty or forty years ago some people did it, we did the same thing, we removed all the names of the areas and the numbers for the houses, so they went to houses with no numbers and didn't know where the person, they were looking for, lived.
-They couldn't find the person.
-They couldn't, yes, okay?
-We can stop here, shall we?
-Okay, my name is Reem Al-Ali, we are conducting the third interview withAl-Baqsami for the Oral History and Documentation Project for the American University of Kuwait. We are in Meshrif, Kuwait and the date is April 5th, 2018. In the previous session we stopped at the point where your husband came back from Iraq after the liberation.
-Will you tell me about your feelings at the time?
-They arrested my husband three days prior to the liberation, it was February23rd. From the moment, I mean the moment my husband was arrested till he came back, I was in a creativity paralysis. I used to paint every day but when that happened, I couldn't paint or write, of course I was very sad and and ... When the Red Cross organizations came to Kuwait and the embassies, the delegates of embassies, I spent the days going from one place to another, trying to find any news about the Kuwaiti prisoners, particularly those arrested during the last few days because those were prisoners of war, taken to be exchanged with the Iraqi soldiers arrested in Kuwait or arrested by the international allied forces later on. Of course, I was ... my eldest daughter, Ghadeer was the only one who knew that her father was arrested but the younger ones didn't know. Whenever they asked where their father was, I said, "He went to Switzerland to prepare the villa, the house, to go and spend the vacation there." We even hid the news from his mother until I got a call that my husband was with a group they released and that he was in Mubarak hospital, with some sick people. I went to Mubarak Hospital and saw those who returned from Iraq, they were in a bad health condition. They said, "Your husband is fine, there is nothing wrong with him. Perhaps they sent him to Jahra Hospital." I tried to call his friends to help me because I was alone in Kuwait. Then they told me to go home and wait for him there. I went home to find him sitting in the hall. For about two months he hasn't bathed, okay? He was a mess but despite the smell I hugged and kissed him. I was so happy with his return and so were the girls. The person who documented that moment was an American journalist, Carol Murphy, whom we were hiding over the first two months of the occupation, not in our house but someplace else. My husband was with the resistance, he used to go out and take pictures and he gave her the films to send to Washington. Later they managed to sneak her out and she came back with the allies and American troops. She found out that Muhammed was at home and came to take some picture of me and the girls with their father, who was in a serious need for a bath. [She laughs]. My feeling was that of any woman when her long gone husband came back, it was such a wonderful feeling which I can't describe.
-You said you had gone to Mubarak Hospital at the time?
-Will you describe what the situation there was like? Were there women and menthere? How was it? -I went to Mubarak Hospital during the occupation, I went when they said... of course I remember, I was sick, okay? I went, I don't know, for treatment, I don't remember what my sickness was. There they said that they had brought some Kuwaiti young people, the ones the Iraqis killed, and had to be taken to the hospital. They also said that the eyes of one of them were taken out, that was Ahmed Qabazard. At the hospital there were always, I don't know what to say, horrible scenes. Dead Iraqi soldiers or dead Kuwaiti young people. I remember after the liberation, when I went to the hospital to look for my husband, I saw a group of girls, wearing black clothes, they were pregnant. They were Kuwaiti girls raped by Iraqi soldiers, got pregnant and were brought for abortions, imagine that. So, at the hospital you heard a lot of things. In addition, we always heard stories... I depicted some of those stories in my paintings, after the liberation, like the martyrs of Al Sawabir, I also wrote a story about them. Being here, during the occupation, as a witness with creative abilities, in writing and painting, was very necessary. There had to people here to document the events because a creative piece of work, whether a picture, a painting or a text, affects the recipient faster than a film or a story, it's something with an effect. Furthermore, it's a historical documentation, I mean, at the Sharjah Arts Museum, when I held my first retrospective exhibition, I could, for the first time, show the pieces I made during the occupation, in two large halls. One of them was dark, as if you were going to a funeral, so the atmosphere was very influencing. Back then I kept painting from the morning till the evening, non-stop, painting took me out of the tragic situation in which I was. My daughters painted with me, Muneera, Fatma and Ghadeer, okay? By day they didn't have school, or anything to do, so painting was the only breather. Of course, I lived a crisis with their drawings because they were kids and while I followed the formal style in my work, they were so frank. Fatma, in particular, has a caricature style, so she painted the Iraqi soldiers as monkeys and the Kuwaiti soldiers punching them. She was a good painter and all I did was hiding their paintings. Muneera used to paint the checkpoints and how she was frightened as the soldiers looked at her.
-You mentioned that so many things had not been documented or were not there anymore?
-Yes, of course.
-Like what for instance? An incident or a story that took place during theoccupation? Something you witnessed-- -For instance, something that was not documented, we were a group and with us there was a group of political activists, who were in Kuwait before, many of them were with the opposition. We used to issue a daily bulletin, called "The Popular Movement." We tried to print the largest amount of them to distribute among the largest possible number of citizens, okay? About 15 or 16 issues of that bulletin were published. I used to write some of them, of course. Of course, no names had been mentioned or they could've arrested us. In that bulletin we wrote about all the practices of the Iraqi regime against us, the things that happened and the news that never reached the people. We motivate people to keep resisting and not to cooperate, not to go to their jobs or open their shops and such things, okay? As a kind of civil disobedience. That bulletin was kept in my studio and I remember I was once printing a poster that said "No for the Occupation" and Khalid Al-Wasmi, who was a member of the National Assembly, turned to me and said, "Om Ghadeer, what are you doing?" I replied, "I'm printing." And he said, "Please cook something for us, we are starving." I didn't know how to cook and had no one to cook for me so I said, "Find someone to send you the food, I don't know how to cook."
-That was Khalid Al Wasmi.
-Khalid Al Wasmi. -In the previous interview you mentioned Ghanim Al Najjar too.
-He was with us, have I mentioned all that? I forgot.
-Was there anyone else? Other names you recall were with you in the resistance?-There was Falah Al-Wasmi and young people like Muhammed Bu Shehri and Majed Sultan, who helped us distribute the money we got from abroad, Iraqi money, which we distributed among the Kuwaiti families, okay? It was a huge group, but I can't remember all the names now, but we were ... Distributing that bulletin was extraordinary. I remember my husband was once with Dr. Ghanim Al Najjar, taking those fliers to distribute them. They were hiding the whole lot under the seat, in the back of the car, okay? A soldier stopped them at a checkpoint, got them out of the car to search the back seats. Of course, had he found those fliers, those two wouldn't have stayed alive, okay? What happened was that his gun prevented him from getting that far so he cursed them and called them names and said, "Go away." Things like that happened. What happened was that after the liberation no one talked about those activities or those efforts, those were things... some of the young people who had the fliers and the poster I made, were arrested and one of them was executed, Yonis Mallallah, a Kuwaiti young man who was very active. They executed him while his wife and mother were watching at 12 o'clock, at noon. I did a painting depicting that and some Iraq soldiers and officers saw it but didn't understand anything of it because I painted white mummies with bullet holes in them and a clock pointing at 12 in the background. All what they said was, "Why are they bald, without any hair?" That was all what they understood. I used to paint the Iraqi soldiers as scorpions, I don't know if I told you that I found the inspiration for that in the Failaka stamps? I mentioned that, okay. One of the things that happened was that we used to sell clothes in markets we established, and the Iraqi soldiers came to flirt with us, okay? They said for instance, "How much is this shirt and how much for you?" Things like that. So we went through a lot but we didn't have the feeling that we want to show off to any one for what we did, it was a patriotic incentive for everyone, even with the children, to whom we brought flour, water and stuff to make dough for bread and cakes, we brought them even the food coloring, to make blue and green cakes, okay? All those things were forms of resistance, everyone, living in Kuwait during that period and tried to do even a simple thing, was in the resistance. I don't know, have I told you the cake story? I knew someone, an acquaintance of my grandmother's, who cooked well, she was a poor woman with children, and I didn't know where her husband was. I had an agreement with her to try to bring her the meat, chicken, rice and stuff and she would cook for me, a pot for her and another for me. One day I went to her to get my share of the food, which I gave her its stuff the day before, okay? I said to her ... that day was the last day I had gasoline in my car, there was a small amount left in the tank. The Iraqis didn't give us gasoline, if we didn't change the registration plates, and we as a kind of...
-Change them with Iraqi ones?
-Iraqi plates, as a kind of civil disobedience we refused to change ourregistration plates, so should you go to a gas station they wouldn't give you gasoline, okay? Some people had Iraqi plates and those used to go to the gas stations and buy amounts of gasoline and sell it to those who didn't have the Iraqi plates. Others stole the gasoline from parked cars, it was a whole thing. Anyway, she said to me, "There is a gas station in Da'iya, there are Iraqi soldiers there, just show them this paper and they will fill your car tank." I said, "What's in the paper? A genie?" She said, "It has some prayers and some of the soldiers are Shiites, who are influenced by such things and will give you gasoline." I said, "Okay." When I got there and showed the soldier the paper, he went crazy and shouted, "Get out of here or I'll shoot you. What's this paper you're giving me?" I said, "It has some prayers." He said, "What prayers? Two spoons of sugar... A cake recipe!" [She laughs]. The woman gave me a recipe for a cake by mistake.
-Did you get the gasoline?
-No, I took off in fear for my life.
-He didn't give you any gasoline?
-Of course, he didn't, but luckily, he didn't kill me. She made a mistake andgave me a paper showing how to make a cake. [She laughs]. I went through a lot of situations where there was a hair between me and death, some of them... What I'm thinking about now is this, is there anyone looking for those people? Those who were in Kuwait, to find out about the secrets, the things that happened. We went through so many situations, I remember the day I had rice in the car and got to another checkpoint. There the soldier said, "Mmm, I smell rice, hmmm, is it for eating? Give us some, we are starving." That was in the last few days of the occupation. I said to him, "Haven't they told you that the Kuwaitis put poison in the food?" He said, "What?" I said, "Don't you have orders not to take food from the Kuwaitis lest they'd poison you?" He said, "Go!" I didn't want to give him my children's food, let him go to hell.
-You mentioned you had a lot of stories with the checkpoints.
-Yes, a lot, yes.
-Do you remember something else about...?
-I don't know, the story of the camera, have I told you that? I have. Okay, oncemy children were with me and they had bought some sweets, yes, they were children, you know the co-ops were empty, so I used to go with them, looking for a place that sold chocolate, sweets and stuff. In Al Surra I found a supermarket that still had some sweets, so I bought them, a big box of sweets. Anyway, we got to a checkpoint... My eldest daughter was a little bit older, she was a teenager, so I always dressed her in ugly clothes, tied her hair up and made her wear glasses so the soldiers wouldn't see her, I mean wouldn't want her, you know what I mean? They were capable of doing anything. We stopped at the checkpoint and a soldier looked at my little girls and said, "Who are these? Where are they from?" I replied, "They are children, what do you want?" He said, "Nothing, I want the sweets they have."
-Did they give him the sweet?
-Huh? They broke in tears, "These are our sweets," I said to him, "Man, I'vehardly found them some sweets." Another story took place, my father...at the time we had a house in Shuwaikh, it was knocked down of course but the land was full of palm trees, okay? In August it's the season of dates so I thought I'd go and get some to eat, okay? I took an Iranian farmer, who worked for my uncle, an Indian cook and a woman I think.
-That was during the occupation?
-The occupation, yes, I think I had a Filipina maid, anyway, I took the three ofthem in the car. On the way to Shuwaikh a checkpoint stopped me, and the soldier said, "What's this cocktail of people you have?" I said, "We have some palm trees and we are going to collect some dates." He said, "And where are they from?" I said, "They are an Iranian, an Indian and a Filipina." He said, "And what do they know about palm trees? Take me, I'm from Basra, I'd take a tree out easily." I said, "No, you should guard the country, stay where you are, you guard the nation, stay and protect your victories and let me go eat, [She laughs] go collect the dates."
-And you went and got the...?
-Yes, I went and collected the dates, the Iranian farmer kept cursing thatsoldier [She laughs] saying, "He's envious of the few dates which we are going to get." Such things happened all the time, they stopped you and one of them would say, "What's wrong with you? Do you have a funeral? Has your mother died?" "My mother was abroad," I said to him, "My mother, there's nothing wrong with her, how did you know that I have a mother? Why are you saying such an awful thing about her?" He said, "You are not wearing lipstick or makeup." I told you about that incident. Yes, things like that happened, they just harassed you. Such stories are numerous, and I included some of them in my books The Departure of Windows, The Basement Candles, and The Diaries of Fattoma, but they are still a few drops in ocean.
-What about after the liberation?
-At the time, how was the transition period, I mean the chaos and the eventsdirectly after the liberation to restore Kuwait, what was that period like?
-No, the chaos went on for a long time, under the occupation we had not been toohungry, okay? We could manage but later, with no electricity, refrigerators or food, it was so tough.
-When was that? -That began just before the liberation, about ten days prior tothe liberation, maybe more, no, less than that. Right before leaving they burned everything down, I remember I was in my family's house in Jabriya and my daughter, Ghadeer, came to me crying and said, "Our neighbors' son, Hussaino, has a red apple this big, they are distributing apples in Jabriya and you are sitting here, go and get us some." and I went....
-Who was distributing the apples?
-There were trucks from Saudi Arabia and all the countries of the region, inaddition to the international organizations, distributing food. I remember the Spanish Red Cross, who came and gave us food, we stood in lines, it was such a long line. When my turn came, they handed me some lentils, tea, and rice. We already had such things, we wanted something to eat, there were no fruits and of course no meat, fish or such things, forget it, okay? At least had there been any tinned food, we could've turned it into something to eat. I gave the man those things back and said to him, "Our houses are full of these things, we want something to eat. What are you giving us? Do you think you are in Africa? This is Kuwait and you are giving us lentils and such stuff?" I also remember the Saudis brought us Doux chickens, those frozen French chickens. We were in Shamiya and we looked tragic while they were throwing the chickens at us to catch them, okay? An old woman standing beside me said, "Girl, were these slaughtered the Islamic way?" I said, "They are giving us chickens, were these even cats, I'd take them."
-That was just before the liberation?
-No, no, after the liberation.
-After the liberation.
-No, who could give you food before the liberation?
-No, after the liberation, we suffered a lot, we had no water, all of us, andwith the oil fires, whenever you went, your hands turned black and your face turned black. We hardly had any water to wash. We tried to get the water in any way possible, so we ... When my husband came back, after he'd been released, he spent the days touring the deserted houses, which had water tanks, with little water still left in them, to get some water, okay? I even called him "Muhammed Tanker" [She laughs]. I don't know, have I told you how I made okra sauce with the French army ration? I told you, yes.
-You mentioned oil fires-- -Yes.
-Will you tell me about the environment? How was it?
-Yes, the rain was black, it was February and it still rained, and the rainwatercame down black in color. I got the Otitis (Inflammation of the ear) because of the smug, we found it difficult to breathe. It was dark even at noon, we didn't see the sun. We were happy to have gotten rid of the scorpions, the invaders, but at the same time, mmm-- it was a tragic situation. The soldiers, who entered Kuwait, Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis, tried to mitigate our suffering, they brought us food and other things they could help us with, I still remember, I don't know if I can say this, if you don't like it remove it later, okay? Sheikh Saad had just come back and staying in Al Babtain's house. He threw a huge feast and invited some people. Next to the house there were water tankers. A group of us, Kuwaiti women and children gathered, in training suits and with black faces and rumpled hair, we looked scary. We stood in front of the palace with signs that said, "We want water, we want food." Okay? That was our right, okay? I remember the CNN recorded that and showed it abroad. It was true that we had been liberated but we were hungry and thirsty, okay? It was a tragedy, there was no water to drink nor food to eat. I used to cook rice and tomato sauce for my children on one day and tomato sauce and rice on another day. A Kuwaiti soldier came, while we were standing there, and said, "Isn't what you are doing shameful?" I said, "No, it's not, we are almost dead, someone must save us. Get us anything from abroad, get us food from the neighboring countries, water, help us." The situation was very complicated, mmm, I mean, the shops were looted and so were the houses. I went to my brother's house, in Fintas, it was on the seafront, I found the house turned into a barrack, the garden was full of trenches and in the basement, I found letters, written by the Iraqi soldiers, okay? They left their stuff in the basement where they were staying, okay? Of course, all the --. My book The Departure of Windows was inspired by the houses which had no doors or windows, everything was taken, it was a tragic situation. That situation and those images were stored in my mind and after the liberation I started to write and documented everything in what I published.
-Those letters you saw, what was their content?
-Their content was that they were desperate people. Of course, they had been onthe borders with Iran for nine years and they were thrown into Kuwait. They didn't know why they went there or why they came here. They didn't defend neither a cause nor a patriotic issue. It was also very painful, for them, to go and occupy a country of Muslim people, like them, a close by and a neighboring country. Half of the Kuwaitis have relatives in Iraq and half of the Iraqis have relatives in Kuwait. In every three or four Kuwaiti families there's an Iraqi mother, an Iraqi uncle or an Iraqi grandmother, okay? There was another big tragedy, even after the liberation, with some Iraqi families, Kuwaiti families, whose origins are from Basra, because their accent is still Iraqi. Wherever they went, they spoke with an Iraqi accent and people cursed them and called them names. They said, "We are Kuwaitis." And people said, "No, you are Iraqis." See how the situation was? The Kuwaitis whose accent was still Iraqi were treated cruelly, by their fellow Kuwaitis. Even the Iraqis who stayed in Kuwait, they were terrified of dealing with others. The whole situation was confusing. There were Palestinians in Kuwait. Have I told you about the Palestinians who helped me during the occupation? Yes, after my husband had been taken as a prisoner, my daughter, Ghadeer, broke her leg, okay? I had to take her to Mubarak Hospital but I didn't have a car or rather had one but I was afraid that they might take it, anyway, my neighbors, who were living in the University Residence, Palestinian teachers who ran away from Fahaheel and Abu Hlaifa, to stay in the empty houses of the university teachers.
-Where are those?
-In Jabriya, the houses of the university teachers were in front of my father'shouse. They took my daughter to the hospital because the treatment was better, by the Palestinians there, okay? Later, just before the liberation, when the electric current was cut, they brought me a small generator and taught me how to run it. They used to bake and get me some bread or cook and get me some food. They sympathized with me, being a lonely mother with three kids and no one to help me, so many times... what can I say? I was so sad when all those people were kicked out of the country, this was a big mistake.
-What can you tell me about that? I mean when they sent the Palestinians out of Kuwait?
-Will you tell me about that?
-Yes, that was a very sad thing because there were more than half a millionPalestinians living in Kuwait, some of them carried Ghaza travel documents, those were refugees and their children were born in Kuwait, they grew up here. Of course some people cooperated with the invading troops, those who were the followers of Abu Nidhal and the Palestinian regime, at the time, okay? The ordinary people didn't cooperate [She coughs], Sorry.
-Mmm, but the people who worked in the country, competent people, like GeorgeAbu Hana, for example, okay? He was a competent doctor and a genius in Hepatology or Nephrology, I'm not sure, I don't know his field. There were many competent people the country dispensed with; it generalized the tragedy with everyone but there should've been a selection process. The ones who hadn't cooperated should have stayed, those were useful to the country and by sending them away, Kuwait lost many competent cadres on whom it had spent a lot.
-What was the....
-[She coughs] Sorry
-No, it's okay, what was the public opinion in Kuwait, regarding this issue?
-The public opinion of course was in a blind rage, Palestinians? We don't wantthem because they cooperated, some of them in fact did, those showed the invading troops the well-known Kuwaiti figures, one of them was behind arresting a huge number of leading figures [She coughs]. Sorry, will you switch it off? -Okay.
-A very strange story happened, in1987, I was working for Al Arabi Magazine, Ihad a colleague, Ibraheem, who was a calligrapher, he was an amazing man. He started working for Al Arabi magazine a long time ago, many years before me and one day he came and resigned. When I asked him why he said, "We are a group of Palestinians, okay? A religious Sheikh came to us and asked us to leave Kuwait quickly - that was in 1987, yes. The Sheikh said, "You must leave Kuwait quickly because I dreamed that an earthquake will happen in Kuwait, an awful thing will happen, and you must leave." The man continued, "We are about 20 families, we resigned, and we'll take our kids and go to Jordan." He was taking all his family away. I said to him, "Are you crazy? What earthquake? We don't have earthquakes in this area." He said, "No, something that no one can imagine will happen." When the occupation took place, I remembered Ibraheem and the prophecy of that Sheikh who told them about his dream. I thought, "Praise God, as if he saw what was going to happen." It was really an earthquake. Those were the Palestinians, and the Yemenis, too, were treated unjustly. The Yemenis are some of the best people, in both good manners and decent conduct. When you want someone to handle your accounts, you need a Yemeni, they are well known for that. They are also simple people. All of those were kicked out, Palestinians, Sudanese and Iraqis. Some Iraqis who had escaped from Saddam's regime were sent back to Iraq. There was no selection process. All the subjects of the rejectionist countries, those were called the rejectionist countries, had to leave. In 1994, Yemen was among the rejectionist countries, but I went and held an exhibition there. I was sympathetic with the Yemeni people, I love them, so I decided to hold an exhibition there. They invited me and I didn't say no. I was willing to take part in any activity, in those countries, except for Iraq, of course. So, what happened, in that chaotic manner, was a matter of settling scores. This is something no one knew about, it wasn't published, some ... I don't know if I can say this or not. There were some people, who were considered as oppositionists, and those who were undesired for and ... -You mean Kuwaitis?
-Yes, Kuwaitis, yes and they have been settling scores, okay? Of course theyhave been disposed of and in the chaos, at the time, they were said to be killed by the Iraqis, okay? Some people ...
-Because there was no clear administration or something?
-There wasn't, of course there wasn't clear authority, there was nothing. Hadthere been a dispute, between me and someone, I could've gone to their house and killed them, and I would've said later that the Iraqi soldiers had killed them. Personal conflicts took place. As I told you, there were people who spent their time in the basements, watching Arabic movies and TV shows and eating nuts to appear later saying, "We are the resistance heroes." Okay? There is no proof, okay? They attributed others' heroic actions to themselves. Here, as I told you, all of us were heroes, even the newly born children. Have I told you about Al Sabah Hospital? My cousin was in Al Sabah hospital, she'd just given birth to baby and I went to visit and help her. Of course, her baby was born during the occupation, so she was in the hospital. The entrance to the hospital had a giant poster of Saddam wearing sunglasses and a lot of trees in the background, as if it was an advertisement for California, okay? Inside the hospital each mother was holding tight to her baby, the infant, because the hospital was teeming with cats, tiger sized cats, which wanted to eat anything, even those infants, born a few days before, okay? When they brought food to the women, they tried to eat as much as possible otherwise those cats would share the food with them, okay? It was a frightening thing. The hospital was full of soldiers, of course, who entered the women's wards easily, it was a disaster, okay? The incubators were stolen, all of them, and as a result, the preterm babies suffered, it was such a tragic situation. I tried to find children's milk and diapers for my cousin's baby, okay? Such stuff, we tried to get those things... Have I told you about the Iraqi soldiers who lost their hair? No, it's one of the stories which we exchanged, when we gathered every night, the stories we heard during the day from people.
-Where did you and your neighbors gather?
-In my house, in my house, or ... I hid in five houses. Whenever I heard thatsomeone was arrested, I took my children, with my clothes in handbags, and went to hide in another house. When the air strikes began, on January 17th, we went to my father's house because it had a basement. There was a manager of a co-op, in Nuzha or Salwa, if I'm not mistaken, I don't remember exactly which co-op, okay? An Iraqi officer came to him and said, "The boys' hair is full of lice, I need something to get rid of lice." The manager gave him two cartoons full of Nair (Hair removal cream) and said, "Take this, let them put it on their hair. They can also use it on their faces, it removes fungi. They must leave it there for three or four hours and in the morning, they won't find a single louse, then let them wash their heads." They took the Nair and left. A friend of his, the manager of another co-op, said to him, "What have you done? They'll come back and kill us." He said, "No, if they come tomorrow, tell them that I was a thief who stole the cash register and escaped to Saudi Arabia and that you are looking for me. Give them any false name and let them look with you, okay?" The following day the officer came back with some soldiers, of course with no hair and their faces swollen and full of blisters. He kept shouting, "What happened to them?" The manager told him that the man was a thief and so on. That was a kind of revenge but with a feminine touch, it was so nice. [She laughs]. I remember I once went to a co-op, the Salwa co-op, I was living in Salwa. I saw an old woman chasing an Iraqi soldier, who had a bag of nuts in his hand, and saying, "You are a soldier, how could you eat nuts? Soldiers don't eat nuts, the soldiers are on the front, eating sand, dust and gravel and you are here eating nuts?" He just looked at her while she was chasing him and fighting him over the bag of nuts in his hand. [She laughs]. Eventually he threw the bag on the floor and said, "Damn you, you bothered me, I don't want it, I don't want any nuts." The woman picked up the bag and went to buy it. [She laughs].
-Have you witnessed many situations, like that one, involving Kuwaiti women?
-Ooooh, not like that, when I ... after the liberation and after my husband cameback, I went to Bahrain for two days and from there I went to Cyprus, where my family was. I spent three days there with so many Kuwaiti families living in the same area.
-Do you remember which families?
-There were the families of Behbehani, okay? Marefi, I don't know, many familieswho have houses in Cyprus, okay? They were staying in those houses and gave my family a house to stay in. For three days I had been telling stories and people gathered and listened.
-Because you were in Kuwait during the period and they were in Cyprus?
-No, because I am a storyteller, I have the ability to tell stories. I writestories and hence my ability to tell them. Many people were in Kuwait, over that period, and saw even more, but they don't have my abilities and that's the importance of me being a witness. Of course so many times, when I was in distress and the air bombing grew heavier, I cursed the moment I decided to stay in Kuwait, but after the liberation I felt that it was a great blessing, yes, I am the witness, I even have a painting with that name "I am the Witness," okay? I depicted all that in my paintings later, I spent years painting and writing and I had a radio program and... I mean, I tried hard but I don't think anyone has used those impressions stored in me.
-In that period, after the liberation, let's say in 1991, how were theconditions in Kuwait, like the roads, the governmental institutions, how was the situation?
-There were no institutions, I went back to work in October and when I did, wehad no chairs, at the ministry, there were no chairs in the offices. There were desks but no chairs. I found a chair but the following day they stole it so I brought a bicycle chain with a lock and chained the chair to the desk so as no one could take it, okay? We were still living a condition of trauma, I mean many people didn't return to Kuwait except after the smoke and fires had stopped, okay? And those tanks, kept in the fairgrounds, which we went and stood on top of them to have our pictures taken, were contaminated with radiation, uranium radiation, and we took pictures with them, I don't know what made us do that. Everywhere there were remains, so all the places reminded us of what we had gone through. There were burned houses. In addition to our looks, clothes and stuff, I mean for eight months there was not a single hair stylist, no, there was one called Warda, in Jabriya, who was working. I don't know if I can say that or not, the only thing she did was hair removal, because the women of Kuwait had turned into carpets [She laughs], okay? I remember I managed to go to her to get my hair and my daughters' hair trimmed, okay? But so many things were not working, the institutions, the ministries and the schools. The schools were completely looted, they had no furniture, no books, nothing. Till September 1991 students couldn't study, maybe for six or seven months, everything was lagging behind.
-Do you remember how the situation at schools was? Did you go and see? -Yes, Iwent to many schools and many houses, as I told you.
-How were they?
-Mmm, in some places you could see, pardon me, human stool on a desk or a bed, Imean, I remember the French Cultural AttachÃ©'s house, here in Bayan. He held a dinner party or a small reception, for the French soldiers who were here, and he invited me and my husband, after he had returned, because he knew us, okay? He said to those present, "All my clothes were stolen and are now in a laundry in Baghdad." okay? On the wall, in his house, which had no furniture, everything had been stolen, it was written, "Your dirty blood, Bush, can't be cleaned, not even with Tide." Have I told you about the French general I met in that party?
-Yes, you told me briefly, but since you mentioned those words written...
-Do you remember any slogans or words written on the walls or the streets?
-Yes, of course, "Long Live Saddam," for instance, they were glorifying Saddam.
-What about the slogans which the Kuwaitis wrote in return?
-Oh, the Kuwaitis? The Kuwaitis wrote nasty things against Saddam and thesoldiers, obscene words, you know how vulgarity could be, but it was a kind of outlet, okay? And... The Iraqi soldiers glorified Saddam of course, otherwise they could've lost their own lives. But what they wrote they found covered with black paint, in the following morning, the resistance people went, covered it with black and wrote nasty things beneath it, okay? Those slogans, on the walls, some of them were messages for resistance, yes. The most exciting place, for me, was Rumaithiya, a labyrinth of 13 blocks, after the liberation, when they went to clean the sewage system, they found soldiers who people had killed and thrown there, okay? I remember there was a huge dumpster, in Jabriya, a giant one, I remember they dumped the weapons there. I remember, when I went to stay in my father's house, I opened the safe of my father, may God rest his soul. He was still alive back then, I found a gun that dated back to the Second World War, an antique, how sorry I am for it. I thought, "Should they come to search the house and find it, my husband, children and I would be executed." So, I gave the gun to my husband and asked him to get rid of it his way. He went to a dumpster, at the end of the street and threw it there. The next day, at 5 o'clock in the morning, the soldiers were at the house searching it. I mean God loves me, it was like an inspiration, okay? They searched the house and my husband met them and talked to them, he is a diplomat and a smart man who knows how to talk. The soldiers went upstairs, where I was asleep with my daughters and the Filipina maid, I don't remember where I got her from. Anyway, I said to the soldier, "These are my daughters, asleep." I had already covered them of course, particularly my eldest daughter. "There nothing here to search, they are children." He said, "Let me have a look at the other rooms." I let him. He then said, "The officer wants to talk to you downstairs." I went down and a few moments later I heard the maid screaming. I went back to see him attacking and kissing her, they were deprived, yes, okay? Deprived and with no manners. I shouted at him, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm searching her." [She laughs]. I said, "Is that a search? You want to rape her not to search her." I reported him to the officer who called him down. -Such incidents happened a lot?
-Yes, of course. I'm telling you, should they see a woman by herself, she'd be amess. It was very dangerous, okay? We heard many stories, even after the liberation, in the agriculture nurseries they knocked down a wall and found dead girls, buried in the wall itself. Kuwaiti girls, they were raped and buried, naked. Who could've done that 30 or 40 years ago? Pinochet, the dictator of Chile, killed people and buried them in a wall, in a football stadium and poured the concrete on them. Saddam learned from the dictatorships of other countries, the dictators, and tried to apply such horrific things they did and that was one of those practices, okay? They raped the women, buried them in a wall and poured the cement on them but a member of the resistance, who was still alive, knew that piece of information and they knocked the wall down to find them buried in it --the wall was built on them.
-That was in the agriculture nurseries?
-Yes, it was in the nurseries.
-How were the nurseries like?
-Of course, the agriculture nurseries, I went to a morgue after the liberation,there were some French journalists coming for a visit, and because I speak French well, so the French embassy asked me to escort them, to translate for them. One of the places we went to was Al Sabah Hospital and they said they wanted to enter the morgue to see the resistance people whom the Iraqi soldiers tortured; their bodies were there. They wanted to take pictures of them and there were also dead bodies of Iraqi soldiers everywhere. I had never gone into a morgue, despite being an art student I always escaped the anatomy classes, I don't like dead bodies [She laughs]. The manager of the hospital said to me, "Thuraya, don't get in, you won't stand what you're going to see." I said, "No, I am strong enough, I survived the occupation and I will tolerate this, I can see this thing." Anyway, I went in and smelled the stench, just the smell, of course I saw many dead bodies, I freaked out and went running and running till I saw a tree in the yard. I sat under that tree and kept crying. The smell of the dead bodies is still in my nose. After all those years, whenever I remember some moments, I cry, even on TV interviews, everywhere. There are stories that, when I tell, like my story when I went out of the basement, I can't but cry, I get choked up with tears. Those tears have never dried, and never will, I mean the tears of all those who lived that period, even the children.
-When you went with that delegation, and saw that sight, all those dead bodieswere brought from the agriculture nurseries?
-No, no, those were people killed, their bodies were gathered from everywhereand kept in the morgue, okay? The bodies of the Iraqi soldiers were sent to Iraq, I think, they claimed them to be buried there. Those were dead people and must be buried, even if they were the enemy, they still should be buried.
-Were there certain known places for torture, used by the Iraqis?
-Yes, the torture, I mean, during the occupation, not in the beginning but aftertwo or three months, a group from the resistance came to me and said, "Thuraya, we passed by the Free Art Atelier and found it full of soldiers. They are taking things out of there. There are paintings of artists there and valuable books, there is an old library. We can get you two pickup trucks to take whatever you want from the atelier and hide it anywhere - particularly my paintings - We'll hide those things anywhere and after the liberation, should Kuwait be liberated, we'd return them. We want to preserve those pieces of art, by pioneering artists. They are so valuable." I went there and started to collect things. The famous Kuwaiti sculptor, Issa Al Saqr, may God rest his soul, came to me and said, "Thuraya, what are you doing?" I said, "I came to save as many pieces as possible and these young people are here to help me to keep them somewhere." He said, "No, don't touch a thing, come, I'll show you something." I went to his studio to see that all his sculpturing tools were used in torture. The place was covered with blood but I don't know where they had taken the bodies to, only the chisel and knives were there. He said, "Look at my tools, they used them to torture people, what are you concerned with? Do you have a guarantee that Kuwait will be back?" I said to him, "No, there's hope." He replied, "I, personally, have lost hope, don't touch anything, let's see what happens." Unfortunately, I couldn't carry out the idea. I mean they used any place they found to torture people. The hospitals, of course, the operating theaters, there were some doctors too, who cooperated with them, okay? They took part in that, in addition to the individuals, specialized in torture, who they brought along.
-You mentioned the trauma that happened during that period.
-After the liberation, have you felt that the state took any steps to treat thattrauma or shed light on it in any way?
-I don't know, they've established the POWs Office and the Martyrs Office. Therewas also a society called "The War Victims," okay? The government tried to help people but what could they do? The wound was too deep, and the pain was excruciating, particularly the... Take me for instance, my husband was a prisoner, but nobody gave me any attention or even called to ask if I needed anything, no. I mean... I remember we came to the Meshrif communication center and there was one telephone set we could use to make an overseas call. I called my family, but I couldn't speak, I kept crying and so did they. The place was like a Hisayniya, everyone was crying. Yes, I don't know. And what did they give us? They gave us 500 dinars to support ourselves, okay?
-In that period, you mean?
-At the time we presented our Civil IDs and they gave us 500 dinars, to supportourselves, we didn't have any money.
-You, personally, how did you try to adapt, with your family, after theoccupation period till life became sort of normal again?
-Personally, it was too difficult for me, even for my art, my paintings and mywritings. I spent a long time unable... I kept turning back to the older subjects I had tackled. I did a very good research on violence and its effect on art. In that research I concentrated on the nations that underwent wars and occupation and the effect of those on the creative people, particularly visual artists. The research was published in a seminar held about that topic in Sharjah. They invited me to Sharjah last year where I talked about the occupation and its effects on my art. After the liberation I took the 80 paintings I made and toured the world with them. Wherever I had the chance to hold an exhibition I showed those paintings. I showed them, for the first time, in Paphos, Cyprus. I took them as papers, framed them and showed them there. The Cypriots who came to the exhibition cried even more than the Kuwaitis because they lived the same tragedy, they underwent the Turkish occupation and the war that broke out there. [She coughs]. Those who came to the exhibition said, "We felt that you were talking about us." Of course, all the paintings I showed were symbolic, there was nothing direct in them. Some of them were direct of course but I was so careful. I showed those paintings in London, too. I held a special exhibition at a gallery there with the help of the Ahli United Bank of Kuwait, then I held an exhibition, organized by the Kuwaiti embassy, at the trade center.
-That was in the early 1990s?
-In 1991, the summer of 1991, then I showed my work in Edinburgh, Scotland,okay? Some of the paintings were shown in a room with the photographs of torture, which was fully documented. On the door of that room they put a sign that read "Pregnant women, children, people with heart conditions are not allowed." I used to go into that room, hide behind a stand and cry. Of course, I didn't allow the girls to enter the room to see those paintings. After that I showed those paintings in Athens and many other places around the world, over a period of ten years. I carried those paintings and showed them here and there. Unfortunately, most of them were sold, given as gifts or lost except for the painting named "No for the Occupation" which I still have a copy of, the only one of 50 copies I had printed of it, okay? All of them were sold or given as gifts and some of them are kept in museums. Last year it was the main title chosen by the largest museums of New York for their exhibition, the exhibition was called "No for the Occupation." The exhibition was about the nations that suffered from occupation and oppression, so the name of that painting was the main theme. The painting gained a lot of popularity. It was shown last year in Art Dubai and was sold too. I mean, I did something simple, the aim of which was to say something, and despite being direct, it lived and grew more glamorous over time.
-So, we can say that you analyzed your experience and interacted with the painthrough art.
-And writing and literature too.
-And literature. What about the people who were in Kuwait? How did you feel thegeneral situation was like? How did people get back to their daily life?
-The nice thing, during the occupation, was that we affiliated with one another,all the classes of the society. Even in the meetings held, we had a Diwaniya where they gathered, okay? There were army leaders, Muslim Brothers, Salafis, not the Salafis, they were not cooperative, Muslim Brothers, Sunnis, Shi'its, badu and hadar. All the differences vanished, okay? Different origins faded away and everyone was willing to cooperate, okay? Unfortunately, all those differences resurfaced, and that beautiful convergence faded away with time and once again arrogant people appeared. It was a bright side during the occupation that such a thing was there. [She coughs].
-You talked about going back to work--
-Yes. -That was in the end of 1991?
-No, it was in October or November, something like that, not in the end of...
-After the summer, I used to work for Kuwait TV, in the calligraphy and drawingdepartment. Of course, the situation was tragic there and a job from which I gained nothing, just like all the governmental jobs, from which I never benefited, so I asked for a transfer to Al Kuwait Magazine. It was better for me there, as a journalist and an artist, better than the television.
-You mentioned that you had a radio program at the time?
-Yes, it was called "By the Way," I used to participate in it, telling storiesabout the things that happened during the occupation. It was so popular with people. I don't know why I didn't continue, perhaps it stopped, something like that.
-Was that program documented?
-Yes, it's in the radio library for sure. Yes.
-How... I mean when your daughters went back to school, how was that period?-Yes, the schools lacked a lot. I remember my kids were at the New English School, okay? My husband helped the school with the teachers and gave them photocopy machines which we took from different places during the occupation and used for printing the fliers. The situation was tough, there were no university professors nor clerks. In 1991 the schools lacked a lot of things. I remember that one of the places I went to was the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters, it wasn't in the city but in Shuwaikh, I don't remember where exactly, yes, close to Sulaibikhat, they had a huge building there, it was a total mess. When you entered any ministry, you'd find files and papers piled on the ruined desks. The newspapers, I remember I used to work for Al Qabas newspaper, okay? I went to the newspaper to find the door to the press room blasted and the press machines stolen of course, and taken to Baghdad, okay? I walked through the offices, the...the desks were not there anymore, there was nothing. Of course, Al Nidaa newspaper was printed there. I remember a non-Kuwaiti journalist, who used to work with us in the newspaper, and later she turned out to be an agent with the Iraqi intelligence. In the beginning of the occupation she called me and asked me to go back to work saying that they would give me a decent salary and that they wanted Kuwaiti competent persons for a new newspaper called Al Nidaa. She also said, "The age of tyranny and injustice was over, and it'd be better for you to go back to work otherwise we know how to get you." She knew my house in Salwa so I took my kids and went to stay at my mother's house. [She laughs]
-Haven't you contacted her?
-At the time there was no WhatsApp or anything like that and I hadn't calledher. Later on I found out that she called a group of my colleagues, as she used to work with us, and said that her husband was a Kuwaiti who had died in a car crash and so she became a widow while she used, every now and then, to go to Baghdad, attend Saddam's birthdays and so on. With her there were two or three other people who had been acting in a suspicious way. We were in the Ministry of Information, one day, a month before the occupation, and a full Iraqi delegation visited us, okay? They toured the whole television building, pretending to be learning the latest methods of media and stuff but they were spying. We were stupid enough to leave the doors wide open for them, giving them whatever they wanted. They were intelligence agents; Kuwait was teeming with spies. My manager, at the television, was a Syrian, he called me and said, "Come to work, everything is fine." I said to him, "We won't go back to work, you can do that if you want. We won't work. We took a stand and decided not to go to work." Unfortunately, I had a big bookcase full of valuable books, about art and stuff, all of them were gone. Yes, as I'm telling you, the situation, there was no production, capability, nothing, for more than a year, till 1992, when things began to become clear.
-You mentioned that the streets were destroyed and ....
-Yes, of course, yes
-How was the period of cleaning Kuwait?
-I don't know, because when my husband came back, at the end of March, okay?Everything was upside down and there were land mines too and that was a problem, I mean in some desert areas, not in the city, so one had to be very cautious. I remember when my husband came back, with another one of our neighbors, his friends, they used to go and visit the Iraqi trenches, in the desert and take documents, papers and stuff, to see what the soldiers wrote. I have all those things, I don't know why don't I use them, okay? They even found, in some trenches women's clothes, underwear, nightshirts and stuff, yes. You know the Sable shop in Salmiya? It was the center for Iraqi prostitutes, ones they brought from Baghdad, okay? To entertain the soldiers, the officers, of course, not the soldiers, okay? They were also available for whoever wanted them, for money. The Iraqis said, "Here we got you some of the things which are forbidden for you." I remember at the Idham Roundabout (Currently the United Nations Roundabout), they sold spirits, they sold alcoholic drinks there, okay? Some Kuwaitis used to go to Basra, too. We went and came without any problem, as Iraqi citizens. I even remember I once went to a hospital, I was sick, and the clerk asked me about my nationality. I said, "Kuiraqi." He said, "What is a Kuiraqi?" I said, "Kuwaiti and Iraqi becomes Kuiraqi." [She laughs]. I'm telling you, they tried to buy us with the things which were forbidden here, alcoholic drinks, women and stuff. Those prostitutes, I saw them, they looked disgusting, with their hair dyed in blonde, makeup and clothes. Of course, they wanted to spread those women among people to bring them information, it was an intelligence method more than anything else. There, a son could spy on his father while living in the same house. Then they spread a group of soldiers, among the Kuwaiti families, in Dishdashas. Those used to say, "We ran away from the Saddam regime, hide us among you." It turned out later that they spied on the people who hid them. They knew where the resistance people were, what they did and so on. On the other hand, in Rumaithiya, for instance, when the resistance youth bombed a house or a building, where Iraqi soldiers were, the following day the Iraqis came and burned the neighboring building, which had nothing to do with the matter, to the ground. I mean, the work of the Kuwaiti resistance was not deliberate, it was haphazard, because we had never gone through such an experience, okay? We were groups trying to do anything, those were innately actions, we had never carried weapons or had any help with them. The military personnel, who were here, taught us. My husband was a hunter, so he knew how to use a gun, okay? We did everything haphazardly, okay? What the human nature told us to do, at the moment, we did. I even wrote about a twinning, between Kuwait and Prague, okay? When the Soviet troops invaded Prague, what did the people of Prague do? They removed the signs of street names and houses numbers. The Kuwaitis did the same thing, without even knowing about Prague, but they did it so that the Iraqis couldn't find the streets. So if anyone gave them an address of a house or the name of a street, they wouldn't be able to find it. All the names of streets and numbers of houses were removed, the people removed them, okay. That was what the Czechs did, twenty or thirty years earlier, with the Prague Spring, when the Soviet Union invaded it, the people of Prague did that. I think, anywhere in the world when people become under occupation, even if they didn't have any experience, they try to do anything, their human nature dictates on them. That's an aggressor and we must fight him. The history of the resistance movements in the world is the same. All the results of occupation and suppression are the same, okay? After the liberation we spent years, Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis, under treatment from the effects of the shock that hit us, it wasn't something simple, everything wasn't simple. As women, what we feared most was rape, okay? When they arrested someone, we went with everything we had, gold, television sets, VCR sets and stuff, to the police station and filled it to the ceiling so that they'd release the person they arrested. Sometimes that succeeded but in some other times it didn't, if the one they arrested was really with the resistance. Most of the resistance individuals who were arrested were gone. I don't know, have I told you the Nuzha incident? It's a very touching one and I wrote it in a story, okay? A story called "The Embers of Memory." My husband was with Dr. Ghanim Al-Najjar and Muhammed Al-Badr, they were with the resistance. They were with a group of high-ranking army officers, generals, in the house of someone called Isam Al-Saqr, okay? The house was rented by a Palestinian employee, in his bank, who was in London when the occupation took place, so the house was empty, okay? That house was in a corner and not very visible, so Al-Saqr said, "The house is all yours to gather in." It was something we, as Kuwaitis, did at the time. When a house was vacant, we brought some people to live in it. People who lived in the coastal areas or something. We gave them those houses to live in so at least they wouldn't be looted because they were inhabited, okay? When a house had a basement, we brought people to stay in it. So, Al-Saqr gave them the house to use and from there the operations were run. Money was brought from abroad and there was a list of the families among whom the money was distributed. Weapons were distributed there. The resistance base was in that house, okay? One night someone knocked on the door and they opened it. It was a clerk, at Kuwait University, called Sameer Arafat, or Iraiqat I don't recall the name. Anyway, the people renting the house were his relatives or something. He said to the men, "Who are you?" They said, "We are from Failaka, we left the island and we're staying here." But when he looked, he saw that they were all men, okay? He had some doubts, okay? That night my husband and Ghanim Al-Najjar were there to get some money while I was at home, with a list of the Kuwaiti families, among whom we would distribute that money. We gave everyone some money to run their affairs because using Kuwaiti money was prohibited, okay? I was at home waiting for them. Anyway, after ten minutes my husband and Ghanim Al-Najjar left that house after an intense discussion amongst the group. One of them advised the group to leave the house as that man might report them but they said, "He was convinced and won't come back. Tomorrow morning we'll gather our things and leave." Anyway, my husband, Ghanim Al-Najjar, Dr. Ghanim Al-Najjar, and Muhammed Al-Badr, may God rest his soul, left the house to another, okay? Five minutes later the Iraqi soldiers surrounded the house and arrested all those who were in it. Everything was there, documents, lists of the names of people, everything, and of course all of them were executed, none of them came back alive. They were taken to Baghdad and never came back. Of course, my husband could've been with them, but it was destiny that saved him. In the other house, one of Al-Sumait family, I don't remember his name, went to them and said, "Come on, leave, the others were arrested." So, my husband and those who were with him ran down the street, where they had parked their cars, and drove back home. As soon as they entered the house I said, "Where is the money?" All I saw were yellow and green faces, out of fear and horror. My husband said, "Come on, gather your stuff, your name is on the list, they'll be looking for you." Dr. Ghanim Al-Najjar was staying with us at home, because they were looking for him. Throughout that period, for six or seven months, he'd been staying with us. Wherever we went he went with us. He was a nice person and helped us a lot, so his presence was very important.
-Let me move a little bit forward, to the period of the reconstruction of Kuwait--
-In 1992, what was different about Kuwait, before the occupation and after liberation?
-Of course, the destruction was overwhelming, what could've changed? Restoringthe country took a long time. Between 1992 and now the difference is huge. The country was a mess and if it wasn't for our financial abilities, we wouldn't have been able to get it back as it was. It's a lot better now of course, but-- I mean, the Qurain house is the only remaining house that reminds people of what happened. I wish we left a few things that show what happened. The Kuwait National Museum held exhibitions, at the time, about the effects of the occupation. I participated twice in those exhibitions and won prizes too. Badr Al-Yaqub was the Minister of Information, back then, I think his name was Yaqub, yes, Al-Yaqub. There were orders to buy all the artwork, I'm glad about that, it was the right decision because the works were all there with a good documentation and the feelings of the artists were vivid. I also took part in the GCC countries exhibition, with a painting called "The Last Bullet" and I also won a prize at that exhibition. So, what can I say? Kuwait recovered slowly, just like a sick person who needed convalescence, a person who was treated and needed a recovery period. People have suffered for years and wherever they gathered they talked, that is no longer the case, but they spent years talking about their stories during the occupation.
-You mentioned memory, was there, after the liberation, any attempts to tacklethe situation or...? -To treat the memory of people, my husband...
-Ohh, I mean to erase the memory of the invasion, deal with it or treat it, inyour opinion? -The issue was still hot; the subject of the occupation was the top subject. I mean, when my husband came back from Iraq, he went to Canada for treatment, to refresh his memory because for him it was such a shock. He was in a concentration camp where the cell that housed a hundred people had three hundred men and every day a few of them died. There was no food or water. He himself was about to be executed, just ten minutes before the news of releasing him came, in a deal for the exchange of prisoners of war. He was moved to a courtyard, blindfolded to be shot, because he was a troublemaker, he's always been like that. He was trying to stir the prisoners against the authority, turn them against the prison keepers because they gave them dirty rainwater, okay? Water full of worms, hair and stuff and many of them had the diarrhea and died, moreover, the conditions were not healthy at all. Five minutes before they executed him a high-ranking officer came and said, "Don't execute any Kuwaitis, we need them for the exchange of prisoners, through the Red Cross." And they used them in the exchange of prisoners, a Kuwaiti prisoner for an Iraqi one, that's why he wasn't executed, okay? The strange thing was that, this was one of the stories my husband told me, on the way to Basra, they were on buses taking them there, the air strikes hit and destroyed the vehicles in front of and behind them and their bus wasn't touched, the bus of the Kuwaiti prisoners, can you imagine that? He said, "We saw the vehicle in front of us flying and so was the one behind us, but we were not hit." They might've been killed in the bombardment but the air strikes were so accurate that they hit only the Iraqi military vehicles and not the buses because they knew that those buses had Kuwaiti prisoners on and so they were not hit.
-That treatment, did the country pay for it? The therapy?
-No, it was at his expense, I think, later on, they used psychiatrists, I don'tknow a lot about this matter but I know that some people got... You could feel that the Kuwaitis, who stayed in Kuwait, turned into very aggressive people.
-Anything provoked them, and anything made them nervous, very quickly. Unlikethose who were abroad. Of course, many people came back to find that they had lost a lot of valuable things they had in their houses, or lost their children or relatives, okay? Their businesses, they came back to start from scratch, okay? There was no compensation, from a country as rich as Kuwait, what could you do with 500 dinars? You couldn't treat a fly with them, what is 500 dinars? They issued the compensation law, some people submitted a request for compensation while others didn't, I didn't submit a request for a compensation for my stolen paintings or the gallery I used to have in Al Salhiya and half of it was gone. I didn't submit a request when I was... My husband was a prisoner of war and I told him to submit a request for compensation, but he said, "I don't want Iraqi money, it's dirty." I remember when I went to Baghdad, during the occupation, I went there twice, okay? I used to say to him, "Let's buy this or that." And he always said, "I don't want to buy anything here, I won't let them have my money." That was the feeling of people, "We won't give them anything, nothing." Have I told you about our trips to Iraq, to Ba'quba? Yes.
-Regarding what you mentioned about the period after the liberation, how was thereaction of the Kuwaitis towards the Arabs of other nationalities?
-As I told you, some of the Kuwaitis were aggressive. Just like I told you, whenthey heard someone with an Iraqi accent, they treated them awfully, and insulted them, okay? It happened, you could find an Iraqi woman, born and living in Kuwait, who avoided being in a gathering, I mean it was a very sensitive matter. The Kuwaitis adore the Iraqi songs, okay? We sang these songs as a genuine form of art that cannot be denied, nevertheless we boycotted them for five or six years and that continued till the removal of Saddam. Look now, when they invite an Iraqi singer, and see how the people interact with and love them. It's art, after all, it has nothing to do with a military regime, but it was the feeling. It's just like when you go to Cyprus now, should they hear someone speaking Turkish, they'd beat them, okay? Should you ask a Greek for a cup of Turkish coffee, they'd scold you, okay? What I'm getting at is that it's the human nature but thank God, that faded away with time and we, once again, love the Palestinians, the Iraqis and all the nations, whose regimes stood against us, not the people.
-In the 1990s, you mentioned that they expelled the Palestinians, how were thosecompetent staffs compensated for?
-With Egyptians and people of other nationalities but the Palestiniancompetencies are not replaceable, never, they were the best teachers and their ways of teaching was amazing, of course some of them, not all of them were good. But those among them, who were born in Kuwait and the country supported them and became engineers, doctors and so on, how could we kick them out? And that happened when we had no one. After the liberation we expelled that competent work force and suddenly we discovered that... Moreover, those were a population with a huge purchase power that drove the market. They also filled the apartment buildings which became vacant and their owners lost their investments, it was a tough situation.
-Personally, what were you doing during that period? -The 1990s, of course I wastrying to heal myself, my husband and family, from the inside even my family members who were abroad, everyone was affected, okay? I tried to find myself a spot under the sun, once again, using my many years of experience, my art and writings, I came back active, to write for newspapers.
-First, I was ... I've worked for about five years for Al Watan, then moved toAl Qabas, for four or five more years. I had a daily column there titled "Inspired by the Street." I also wrote about I covered the art exhibitions and wrote investigative reports. -That article was in Al Watan?
-Inspired by the Street, the ...
-It was a column, yes, in Al Watan, then I moved it to Al Qabas. I had adisagreement with Al Watan and resigned. It was my column and I took it with me from one newspaper to another.
-What subjects did you write about in the 1990s?
-Not only the 1990s, but also in the 1980s. My writings were funny andsarcastic, and I always wrote between the lines and... When they started censorship in Kuwait, in the 1980s, I had a big problem with the censorship. I used to take three or four articles hoping they'd allow one and the rest they banned. Of course, you know that they dissolved the National Assembly and there were almost martial laws and stuff. There was strict censorship on newspapers. Back then I was... The funny thing was that some of those censors became editors later [She laughs]. So, I always tried to write between the lines and in a sarcastic style, but it reached the Kuwaiti public In general I was very observant and wrote about subjects in that style. After the liberation I took a larger space, I couldn't go back to Al Qabas, I think I wrote for Al Watan for a while.
-What did you write about?
-I wrote, for instance, about issues related to Kuwaiti women and Kuwaiti peoplein general, freedom of opinion and political issues, but always in a sarcastic way, I mean not mockery but I try to write in a light tone because I know that sarcasm... People don't like to read for a preacher or a Mulla (Religious man) sitting on a pedestal. They like to read something funny that touches them, so I tried to be funny. If I wrote something and it doesn't make me laugh, I wouldn't publish it, that was the style I was known for.
-In the 1990s, what were the topics that interested the Kuwaiti public?
-I was... I wrote, at first, about the things that happened during theoccupation. I wish I published those pieces in a book, it's a must, okay? After that I wrote about many topics. The National Assembly was reelected, I don't remember when it came back. Till that time Kuwaiti women had no political rights, okay? That matter interested me a lot.
-Tell me about that, how was it like back then?
-I was a feminist, okay? I was very supportive of political rights for women. Ieven had a poster that said "Where is My Right." That poster was very famous and is now kept in the Human Rights Museum in Geneva and I received a letter of gratitude for it, from Kofi Annan back then. The poster depicted an angry woman with duct tape on her mouth, so she couldn't vote. I'm very proud of that piece and I participated with it, in the 1990s, in an international women conference in Beijing. A very funny thing happened there. We were part of an NGO delegation, in an official delegation sent by the state and was formed by Sheikha Lateefa.
-Do you remember who were with you in the delegation?
-The NGO, Ferial Al-Feraih, with a group of the Women's Cultural Social Societymembers, there was Fatma Al-Abdali, too. It was a group of distinguished women. As a group we were with the NGO, but they were with the state delegation. They even gave them a private plane that took them to Beijing and back. Anyway, those were with the state delegation but we both discussed the problem of the POWs. We also raised other issues, related to women and their political rights. As an NGO, our expression was more sincere, because we were a public institution, and not the government advocates, okay? I saw them once, that state delegation in a demonstration. They gathered us in an area called Huairou where all the activities were held, outside Beijing, okay? They were shouting, with signs that read "Human Rights" and stuff. I said to them, "Where are you going?" They said, "isn't this a demonstration for human rights?" I said, "Yes, but they are demanding the rights of lesbians. You can't follow just anyone; you are not sheep." [She laughs]
-And they didn't know what the matter was?
-They just saw the sign "Human Rights" and followed them. That was somethingthat happened. There is another story that I'll tell you later, just turn that off for now, I can't tell.
-Have you had any other participations with the women's rights? Other than thatof Beijing?
-Yes, I went out on demonstrations, I remember they gave us our rights in 2005?Yes, in 1996 there were elections and a group of us, the Kuwaiti activists, went out on a demonstration. We went to the polling place in Meshrif to vote, okay? The police surrounded us with patrol cars and a helicopter above us. They threatened they'd spray us with water if we didn't go back home and we got scared and left. At the time I was working for Al Watan newspaper, in 1996, yes, I was with Al Watan, anything that happened I wrote about the following day, I also took pictures and made a painting about that subject.
-How were the numbers? Were there many or few women with you?
-No, sometimes we reached a hundred women, something like that. I stillremember, in the 1980s, that we went to the Sharq police station, where they registered the voters' names, to register our names. We went to the office of the man in charge there to register our names....
-That was in the 1980s? -The 1980s, yes. The man received us and said, "It's notup to me, I can't register your names, you don't have that right." We used to do things like that. We used to go to the campaigning gatherings of men and sit in, okay? We took with us the wives of ambassadors and diplomats and went with them everywhere. Some voters, or candidates, who were enthusiastic for the political rights of women, allowed us to be there and talk, that was long before 2005, when women got the right to vote. I was very enthusiastic and... of course not a single woman won, okay? And the reason was the Louis Vuitton bags, the gift...
-What's that story, if you remember it?
-One of the candidates gave every woman that showed him her nationalitydocument, a Louis Vuitton bag with some money in it, as a gift I mean as an election bribery, which took many forms, yes.
-In 1996, when you went out in demonstrations, were there any Kuwaiti mensupporting you or went out with you?
-Yes, of course, they certainly supported us and told us what to do, there was avery strong cooperation.
-Do you remember any names?
-Any groups? -There was a very good national mobility, it was the sameopposition, that started in the 1980s to dissolve the National Assembly, it went on, even after the liberation, to support women. There were many names but unfortunately, they have disappeared now.
-In addition to the voting matter, what other rights have you demanded for women?
-I was, and still am, interested in the personal status law, okay? That matteris discussed publicly right now, the law to protect women from violence. You are invited on the 16th of this month to an exhibition that will be held in my gallery, do you know where it is? I'll tell you later, okay? At this time every year that exhibition is held, and the revenue of the pieces sold goes to the Abolish group. It's a group trying to abolish a law issued in the 1950s, when the rupee was the currency of Kuwait. That law states that a man who kills his wife, sister or mother, in a crime of honor, gets a short term in prison then gets released, okay? According to that law it's not murder but rather defending one's honor. That law, I mean that group are urging the National Assembly to abolish that law, many Gulf countries have ... because it's an inhumane law, okay? In addition to defending and protecting the women who fall victims to violence. Those are very important issues, mmmm.
-You talked, let's say, from the political or the legal point of view?
-The legal, yes.
-Aaa -Sorry, I'll just see
-You talked about your interest in the rights of women and the political issues,what about your art in the 1990s?
-The 1990s, my art? Well, as I told you, I've been influenced by the occupationfor many years. Of course before the occupation I used to paint women, angels and such things, all my topics were from heritage, the environment, the fairytales and so on, but all that vanished and that white being, that dead ghost, the mummy stayed. The smell of death remained in my nose and my memory cells. I spent years unable to get rid of all those and I haven't restored my artistic well-being but after a long time, I mean, you can say that after 1995 I began to tackle different subjects.
-Subjects like what?
-In fact it's hard to remember because of my long history in art but mostly, Iwent back to the daily life subjects, personal matters that influenced me, I spent a long time drawing paintings about the Kuwaiti POWs, the prisoners and detainees' issue was painful for people, they didn't know whether their children were dead or alive. I think they didn't know that they were not alive except after the fall of Saddam, yes, it was hard to get rid of all that.
-You said that you had moved from Al Watan to Al Qabas, so you fully experiencedjournalism in Kuwait--
-Not only that, even after Al Qabas, at the beginning of the millennium I wrotefor Al R ... Al Rai newspaper, yes, Al Rai, for a few years but this time I had a weekly column, not a daily one because...
-What was it called?
-"Inspired by the Street," too.
-Inspired by the Street,
-Inspired by the Street, yes.
-Will you describe for me journalism in Kuwait, considering that you...
-Yes, journalism, I worked in journalism, I mean I began writing for the Kuwaitinewspapers when I was 15. I remember, when I was in high school, my father used to take me to the newspapers to deliver my articles and he was so happy with that. He always said to me, "Thuraya, I met my friends, at the vegetables market, today and they asked me to tell you to write about so and so." He was very happy that I wrote and painted and happy that I was well known despite being so young. They sometimes invited me, on TV and interviewed me. I was still in high school when I began writing for Al Ra'id Magazine, issued by the Kuwait Teachers Society and for the Union of Kuwait Students Magazine, okay? I also had two large pages in Al Nahdha Magazine. I even remember one of the journalists working there who said to me, "Why don't they give you a salary? You write and that's an effort you exert." I remember that the name of the page was "My Corner," that was in Al Nahdha Magazine. It was a weekly magazine and they showed my picture at that young age.
-In which year was that?
-Actually, that was at the end of the 1960s, okay? I was 16 or 17. I remember Iwent to the managing editor or editorial secretary, I'm not sure and I don't want to mention his name [She laughs]. Anyway, I said to him, "I've been writing for you for some time now and you give the writers salaries, will you give me a salary for my effort?" He said, "You are from a rich family and your father is wealthy, what do you want a salary for?" I said to him, "Your father is wealthier than mine, do you work here for free?" I was young but I had such a big mouth [She laughs]. "Do you work here for free? You take a salary, okay? Doesn't your father have enough money?" Then I stopped writing for them. Later, when I went to Cairo to study, I began writing for the union there. The Union of Students was very active, and I became the editor of the magazine. Of course, I was a young girl, who didn't know life that well, I wrote everything in the whole magazine, and I wrote my name under everything. The other students said to me, "Thuraya, that's not right, it's not valid journalism. It seems that you made that magazine for yourself." I mean one learns with time. Later on, when I went to Moscow, I was the President of the Student Union there and we used to issue a magazine called "Here is Kuwait" or "The Voice of Kuwait," something like that and I was its editor, too. So ever since I was young, I've loved journalism and enjoyed the work of a journalist a lot. I loved to write and go to deliver my articles and I had a desk in Al Watan and later in Al Qabas... I even remember I spent a month drawing in Al Watan for a Saudi poet, he wrote the poems and I made the drawings for them.
-When was that?
-That was in the 1980s, then they gave me three dinars for each drawing, I meanit was a tragedy. Anyway, I even remember, the late Muhammed Musa'ed Al-Saleh, when I said to him, "A box of tomatoes, at the vegetables market, is more expensive than my articles, my drawings. I make special drawings for your poet, even the Saudi poet himself complained saying that my drawings are better than his poems, okay? And you give me three dinars?" As a compensation he gave me six dinars. [She laughs] Anyway, I remember that the managing editor of Al Arabi magazine sent for me and he was with the chief editor, Al-Rumaihi, and said to me, "Thuraya, you work for us but at the same time you draw for Al Watan, you can't work in two different places." I said to him, "You are appointed by the government, just like me" - I was aware of what I was doing -- "In the afternoons, or during the week days, you give lectures at the University and have other activities, outside the magazine, and no one asks you about that. I also leave the ministry for another job and you are not the one who appointed me, it's the government and only The Public Servants' Bureau can question me. Should I, after I leave the ministry, work as a hairdresser or a dancer, it'd be none of your business. I don't do that other work during the work hours here, I do it at home, okay?" It was a monthly magazine and all I did were three or four drawings and the work was done. I hardly had convinced him that I was a journalist and could do a reportage. He said, "Jack of all trades, master of none and I don't like those who wear more than one hat." I replied, "I will prove to you that the other hat I'm wearing, is better than the first one." Then I went, without asking him, and did a report about the Tareq Said Rajab museum, no one had ever done a report about it before. The report was with pictures taken by the photographer whom I took with me, without even asking for the editor's permission. I went and handed him the report and they published it and it turned out to be great. Later, he sent me, on a tour in the Gulf, to do a report about the popular markets in the Gulf. I went to Oman, in 1986. Back then we, as Kuwaitis, needed a visa to enter Oman, but they let me in because I had a diplomat's passport, but the embassy had to interfere so that they'd let the photographer in. Anyway, I made the report and it was published in the International Markets Magazine, they translated and published it. With time I proved to him that I was a good journalist, just like being a good painter. I used to work like hell, in Al Arabi, despite being displeased. I worked for the Ministry of Information to get sabbatical leave at the Free Art Atelier. For over 18 years, I applied for that leave every month, but I never got it. That's another story which we can talk about later. Anyway, back to my work in journalism. The upsetting thing was that, after I left Al Arabi to work for the television and Al Kuwait Magazine after that, Al Arabi celebrated its 50th anniversary, at the time Dr. Sulaiman Al-Askari was the manager, and they mentioned everyone who worked for the magazine, except me.
-In which year was that?
-That was at the turn of the millennium, the 50th anniversary. When I startedworking there the magazine was 25 years old, add 25 more, I don't know if you are clever at math.
-2004, yes. He was the chief editor I don't know... Al Arabi Magazine and hewrote about everyone. They issued a book about all those who worked for Al Arabi magazine, except for me. They didn't mention my name, they neither honored nor thanked me. Not the Ministry of Information, not the magazine, no one. Of course, it upsets you, after all what you've done, to find no appreciation. Even the newspapers I worked for, okay? When I went to any of them, people there looked at me as if I was a stranger, not the one who...
-What was the reason, in your opinion? -The reason is simply that in journalism,in Kuwait, there is no loyalty. I know many journalists, Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis, who were sacked suddenly and kicked out, without even being given their rights, okay? Many painful situations happen but journalism is a beautiful world for the relationship between the journalists and for the reportages you write.
-Have you made any reportages after the 1980s?
-Yes, I have.
-Like what for instance?
-I wrote many reportages after the 1980s, I mean, I used to write about theexhibitions, held by artists, about the elections and our visits to the campaign headquarters, okay? One of the reasons for which I left Al Watan, in 1996, was an article I wrote about a visit we made, with a group of women and journalists, to a campaign headquarter for men. We protested and tried to express our opinion and so on. The newspaper twisted the article to make it include things I hadn't written. The article made it look as if I had gone there, sat and talked with the men and that I had been so happy with that. Of course, my name and reputation were on the line and my family got very upset. When I asked them to republish the article, as I wrote it, they refused so I resigned and left.
-And you went to Al Qabas?
-Yes, I went to Al Qabas, yes.
-The articles you wrote about exhibitions, were they critical ones?
-Yes, critical, I wrote my point of view as a critic, there was nothingpersonal, but the Kuwait Art Association got very upset, they didn't want any criticism, all what they wanted was for everyone to praise their work.
-When was that?
-That was in the 1980s too, they expelled me from the association, okay? I meanit was like a divorce order by the court. I was at work, in Al Arabi, when I received a letter, okay? You are fired from the association, we don't want you anymore because of your big mouth, okay? I accepted the matter, despite being one of the first members of the association, my sister, Fareeda, and I were 16 when we joined it.
-In the 1990s, you also wrote those critical articles?
-In the 1990s, in 1992 or 1993, when I got an award from Qatar, they gave me mymembership back. I won an award in Qatar and wrote about the participating Kuwaiti artists. I did interviews with people there and they expressed their opinions, those were their opinions, not mine. They said that most of the Kuwaiti artists, who were participating -that was after the liberation- and who had lived through the occupation, their paintings should've been about the occupation. Take for instance a very famous artist, he was the president of the association, he took his old paintings, with old streets, ships and stuff. The frames were of texture, the fabric used for making military uniforms, okay? Just the frames, what's that? With most of the artists you didn't feel that they had gone through a crisis or a disaster, okay? I wrote my opinion and they expelled me from the association once again [She laughs].
-For your criticism?
-Yes, they wanted to honor me, for winning the award, but they changed theirmind and said, "We don't want you." Then I went back and was expelled again. I don't care about the association now, I have nothing to do with it and it makes no difference to me, it was a sweet past gone.
-Why, do you think, there was no interest in the occupation period, by theartists who used their old paintings, instead of...?
-Perhaps they couldn't paint or didn't have the ability to express. There was ahuge group of artists, who copied from pictures, right? Even for the exhibition, which was in the museum, under the theme "The Aftermath of the Invasion."
-When was that?
-That was in the 1990s, I think in 1993 or 1994, something like that, okay? Imean most of those, who participated with paintings, copied them from the invasion pictures, they were not their own impressions. Many artists were not in Kuwait and didn't live that period. I mean there was a huge difference between being here and being abroad. Those who were abroad were worried but those inside were under the threat of death, you could smell death wherever you went, it was a totally different situation. -How did your art change, between the 1990s, being influenced by the occupation, and the turn of the century?
-Yes, at the turn of the century I began to go back to the world of myths andthe theme of the turbaned woman. Then, from the year 2000, I began to take part in the artistic forums, in Europe and many different countries. Those forums sometimes went on for over a month and they were so enjoyable. I met many artists there and in 2003, with a group of European and Arab artists, we established a group called "The European Union Artists." I used to go to Germany, every year, it was in Germany, and it was such a wonderful experience but unfortunately the group got bankrupt, they didn't have enough money and consequently it was cancelled. Nevertheless, it was a great gathering, my best pieces of work were produced in those forums, why? Because they provided you with all the capabilities to produce, without any commitments. They gave you everything, food, housing, everything was available, and they gave you a studio, the materials and everything you needed to work, so it was such an enjoyable experience.
-What stories or experiences have you lived in those forums?
-Ohhh, a lot, [She laughs]. So many funny stories, I'm even thinking aboutcollecting them in a book, because there were some bizarre situations. I remember in, mmm, I think in 2005? When did Sheikh Saad die? No, Sheikh Jaber?
-I think in 2006.
-2006, yes, I was invited to a forum for carvers, being one myself, inMauritius, in an institute called the Mahatma Gandhi institute. It was a forum for graphics carving, and we stayed at the university residence, okay? Yes, the university teachers' residence, it wasn't bad, but the food was full of chili, curry and stuff, I was a mess, I didn't tolerate spicy food. Anyway, the real problem was my room, whoever bathed, in the building, I got up in the morning to find soap, hair and stuff all over the room, the room got flooded with water, I didn't know why people bathed and I got their traces. When I complained, there was a Tsunami a short time earlier, so they called it the Tsunami room, they said, "We have another room, but the problem is that it's infested with cockroaches." I prefer water and dirt to a cockroach flying in the middle of the night over my head, so I accepted the situation. Every morning as soon as I opened my eyes, I called them to come and dry the floor then I got out of the bed, it was a disaster [She laughs]. That was one of the things, yes. I also remember, in one of the forums I participated in, held by an Italian artist, in an area called Kilimanjaro Lake. That woman invited us to the forum but she had no money because she was supposed to have a sponsor but she couldn't find one so she tried to manage, doing whatever she could. We spent two weeks there eating pizza and I didn't eat spaghetti, okay? She accommodated us in the student athlete's residence, whenever you turned in the bed it squeaked. That was not the problem, the real problem was that the bathrooms were communal, for both men and women, and the doors didn't close. When we told her that she said, "When you get into the bathroom sing all the songs you know, that way anyone coming will know that someone is in the bathroom." So, when you went to the bathroom you could hear people singing. [She laughs]
-And you sang those...?
-Yes, what else could I do?
-What songs did you sing? [She laughs]
-Russian songs, Kuwaiti songs, what I knew but the most important thing was [Shelaughs] that...
-No, I like to sing in Russian, Iranian, in the languages I know. That was oneof the things which were funny. In many forums, I found out that the place is not suitable and stuff, so I became more cautious. When someone invited me to an event, I asked for a room with a bathroom, just for me. I participated once in a forum in Hungary and they accommodated us in the residence of the College of Agriculture, in an area surrounded by swamps. They gave me a room with a torn net, but I didn't know that, and the mosquitoes killed me, I turned into a pizza. I wasn't even able to walk, and they took me to the hospital where they gave me a calcium injection and stuff. I said to them, "The Hungarians hate the Romanians and this area is on the borders." And they said, "Those are not Hungarian mosquitoes, those are vampire Romanian mosquitoes. Because Romania is famous for vampires and they fly from there to bite you and go back, okay?" So sometimes you stay in places with a hot weather or places where the conditions and food are not suitable, okay? I remember I was invited to a forum, in Hungary no, Bulgaria, and every day they fed me chicken, because I couldn't eat the other types of food. One day I was having lunch and in front of me was a chicken and I got a paper and drew a chicken with the X sign all over it, meaning that I didn't want to eat chickens anymore. The memories are so many, yes.
-You mentioned that your art was, in that stage, influenced by myths, what doyou recall of those?
-The myths, my Master's thesis was about Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, I read allof One Thousand and One Nights and spent years looking in bookshops and books, so I love so much the turbaned women and that mythical atmosphere and the symbols like pomegranate and stuff, so ...
-Are there certain myths that you remember or ones that affected you?
-I love One Thousand and One Nights, Scheherazade and Shahrayar. In the 1980s,while being in Senegal I painted a lot about that subject, and my book, which was published this year, I'll give you a copy for the university, okay? It was published in Sharjah, a book in which four art critics, from different countries wrote in, an American, a British, a Bahraini and the Kuwaiti is my daughter. That book has everything about me, it's amazing and it's in both Arabic and English. It documents my 50-year journey, from 1964 till the present time. It's a wonderful book and I'm so glad that my daughter put it together and happy that it was published. That was about the arts forums, what time is it now? Okay, wow, a little bit more, okay?
-Would you like to add anything about that period, of 2000s?
-The year 2000, I mean, the millennium was very important to me. It witnessedpublishing some of my books, a novel titled The Time of the Red Flute in which I talked about the period I spent in the Soviet Union, or the beginnings of that period, I wrote about it in a narrative style. It was my first year as an expatriate student trying to adapt to a system, which she had neither lived before nor been used to. Then I published a collection of short stories, in two books, An Electrified Woman and A Fish Riding a Bicycle. In addition to the poetry collections The Rings of Forgetfulness and An Abaya of Love on the Shoulders of the Moon. As a writer, I believe in quality, I mean it's not important to publish a book every year or hold an exhibition every year, what matters is to be productive and to present something that you are, above all, pleased with, something that adds to Kuwaiti literature, something with value.
-You mentioned that your paintings were influenced by the myths, but what aboutyour writings? What were they about and what influenced them the most?
-My writings, The Time of the Red Flute for instance, reflects my memories inMoscow, I mean it's almost an autobiography, but I used another person in the novel, I mean another name, but who reads it will know it's me, who am I kidding? [She laughs]. In An Electrified Woman I depicted samples of women's sufferings, I always like to write women's stories, stories with something good.
-That's An Electrified Woman?
-When was it published?
-I think in 2006 or 2007, I don't remember, sorry, I'm not that good with dates,okay? A Fish Riding a Bicycle was published in 2013 or 2014. Here I chose some stories that happened to a group of women, I don't know why I like to write stories inspired by a woman's life, a woman I know, a woman I created or a woman who is me, okay? A Fish Riding a Bicycle is inspired by an Irish saying that goes, "A woman who wants a man is like fish riding a bicycle." A fish can't hold the handlebar and so much so is a woman who wants a man, she's equally helpless, just like a fish riding a bicycle. I used that meaning and used it as a title for my novel. My poetry collection... is a collection of poems, my first poetry collection was published in 1999, by Dar Souad Al-Sabah Publishing and Distribution, and since1999, I've started writing those poems and published many of them in Al Watan newspaper, I think, okay? I collected those, the poems I wrote over a period of 10 years, in the book The Rings of Forgetfulness. Then, in 2014, I went through a family crisis, mmm, a crisis that deeply affected my marriage and my family life and I remember in 2015? Yes 2015, I travelled to Brighton to spend the summer there, my daughter lives there, and for two months I sat in the cafes of Brighton and wrote poems, okay? I later collected the poems I wrote, during that summer, about 60 poems, in one book, An Abaya of Love on the Shoulders of the Moon. All those poems were written in one atmosphere, an atmosphere of pain but full of symbolism and projections. I was happy with that melancholy and loved it. That was my last (baby) in literature and now I'm working on a novel, The Houses in Memory Cans.
-Can you recite any of the poems you wrote in ..?
-Hmm, I have a poem that says: "Lying sewed a transparent shirt, with nosleeves, it hardly covers the flaws of the truth." That was about lying. I wrote another poem about the kiss; I write poems of courtship. The verses say: "Shall I saddle the horses of my desire to invade lips that taste like berries? Shall I leave the hordes of kisses occupy the dark cheeks?" I also wrote about the sentence "I love you" some verses that say: "The word, I love you, shall I set it free? Or shall I imprison it in the dungeons of my life?" I don't keep all the poems by heart, okay? I mean, all of them are about the relationships between men and women, the falsity in them and love, it's something very human.
-Great, is there anything else that you like to add before we conclude this interview?
-What I want to say is that, the occupation, the period before the occupation,the estrangement for 15 years and my life now, of course I've made a thousand paintings and, God willing, I'll hold an exhibition, in 2018 or 2019, to show the fruits of the extraordinary efforts I've exerted for two and a half years, aaa, I have huge ambitions, and my book will, God willing, will see the light soon. I'm so happy with this interview and for giving me the chance to document something, I have a crowd of memories and in every interview, I share some of those memories with you, thank you for this wonderful effort.
-Thanks, thank you.
-I'll go get you the book, okay?