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  • Old Wood

Imprisoned in Kuwait:

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

The Old family has a long history of being polyglots: my father Tom Old, spoke French, Japanese, Spanish, Portugese and a bit of Arabic from his misspent youth living in a Rolls Royce Touring car in the Kasbah… really!

David has Spanish and English at the native speaker levels, reasonably good Japanese, French, Italian, a bit of Arabic, Hebrew and I can order beer in Sinhalese and Malay. I can say “I don’t speak.. “ in Russian, Korean and probably a few others.

Our kids have all studied abroad in China and Japan and a year abroad in Fiji for one of them. Everyone has some spanish, a bit of Japanese and odds and ends of Italian, French etc. We all believe that commerce, conversation and interaction are the best avenues to understanding and therefore peace. I have met some Arab folks, and many others of course, that I did not particularly care for; BUT, I have also met some I immediately felt kinship and brotherhood with.

We were working on the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education on a 138 degree afternoon making the mockups for the worlds largest end grain mesquite floor. Late one afternoon, we looked around and realized that literally nobody was around the enormous, walled and concertina wire topped compound. It was the first evening of Ramadan. Kind of like staying late on the job on Christmas Eve for us. Everyone, EVERY O-N-E had left. It was 138 degrees. We had no water. Our ‘in country’ cell phone wasn’t working and we were well and truly walled and locked into this huge fortified compound well on the outskirts of Kuwait City which is itself one of the most inhospitable places on earth to my thinking. We walked out into the sun and were shocked and a bit scared: 138 degrees can be lethal.

A tiny hut sat beside the gate where we were considering the odds of A: making it over the wall and B: getting shot while doing so. This little door, maybe 1 meter tall, opened and out stepped ‘pajama boy’. He was the low man on the the giant construction site totem pole. Everyone kicked him around on the job site making him wash their cars, go get them coffee, stand out there in the sun so I can be in the AC. He was humble and always had a smile for us when we came in the main gate. I had given him halal McD’s turkey sausage and biscuits. I gave everyone in site McD’s ‘sausage biscuits’ every morning. I bought a lot of sausage biscuits. They loved it, couldn’t afford it. On this Kuwaiti job, there were very few Kuwaitis but all Muslim folks. ‘Not infidel’ but 'not paid' more than perhaps $5 USD per DAY. These folks live very poor, mostly in work camps outside the city in the desert where they can save their dinar to send home to Pakistan or Mogadishu.

So, we are there, baking our brains after a long day working in this heat, no water, no phone and no prospect of getting out. Pajama Boy, whose name turned out to be Mohammad, waved us into his tiny hut. We had to bend double to get in but he had the most blessed of all inventions in there: AC! He sat us on a little wooden box and proceeded to pull out the next most blessed thing under the sun: ice cold Coca Cola’s!! He had like four sodas to last him who knows how long and he insisted on sharing. God will bless him. We have like twenty words of Arabic between us and after a bit, we got him to call our Pakistani ‘liaison’ Mr. Gopalrajishnan, who had also gone home. After a half hour he showed up, Mohammad opened the huge gate for us and we were off to our Ibis Sharq Hotel in downtown Kuwait City and off to America the next day…Ramadan was on and no work was going any longer. A quick note: the happiest sound I have maybe ever heard was in the back of the United 777 full of US Military personnel going home. Shortly after takeoff, the Captain came on the intercom and announced “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now in International Airspace, the bar is open!!!”. Oh happy day for those folks who had been ‘in country' for a year or longer.

The Point: God has His people everywhere you go. Some may be named Mohammad and speak not a word of your language but, believe me, you will still love them as a brother when they offer you AC and a cold Coke and escape from a Kuwaiti ‘prison'. God is good.

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