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Kuwait City

Sunday was a relatively light day. We tend to think of Sunday as a day of rest, but that doesn't hold true in the Moslem world. Their Sabbath is Friday, and Sunday it's business as usual.

Down at the local garage, Ali and the boys were changing tires as fast and furious as they could manage, with a line out the door. Tires are an irreplaceable commodity in postwar Kuwait--and evidently in Iraq as well. There's not an unattended vehicle left on the street that's not sitting up on blocks, stripped of its rubber. When Styke smashed up one of the rent-a-cars last week, he left it parked against the concrete median. The next morning, every tire that the thieves could reach was gone including the spare.

But this made for a cute little feature, with lots of puns and good natural sound. It also turns out the mechanics did their best to sabotage the cars brought in by the Iraqis. I edited that piece in the evening, along with another package about the French Foreign Legion. In between, I threw together a one-minute donut1 for a Blystone live shot on more Kuwaiti POWs coming home. I'm told that the two remaining reporters are both haggling over who will get me to edit their spots. I've already made a dub of everything I've done for one of them, so my standing as tape editor would seem to be secured.

The spoils of war...
RPGs and launcher
RPG Ammo Box
Russian RPG Label
...from Russia with love.
Monday we headed out for new and unexplored territory northwest of town. There were reports of a "killing field" where month-old bodies lay unburied. This we never found, but in some way we found something even sadder. We visited the research facility where Doctor Mohammed and Abdullah (our local guides) had worked as scientists before the war. They had been designing prototypes of solar-powered, self-sustaining greenhouses for desert agriculture. What they found in their first trip back must have broken their hearts. Nothing was left; not a pane of glass, a pipe, a valve, switch, or wire was undamaged. It was a pile of rubble and dried vegetation under an empty frame. We made a story out of this, but it was no victory.

Our last stop was a demolished air strip, formerly part of the Kuwaiti Air Force before appropriated by Iraq. It was as bad as the greenhouses, only it was done by American bombs. And these weren't simple window panes--these were brick buildings and hardened bunkers. American "smart" bombs had punched through six feet of concrete and sand to detonate inside, incinerating the contents. Ironically, none of them contained airplanes. All we saw was a charred forklift.

And there were the usual scattered cluster bomb canisters on the runway, which made for delicate working. They all looked expended, but why take chances? We explored the defensive trenches, looking for war trophies. One abandoned APC (armored personnel carrier-ed.) contained a cache of unused cartridges, but no one needed bullets for Kalashnikov rifles. Then I found my prize: an undisturbed ammo box tucked inside a bunker. But there was the usual problem--it was still full of RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades--ed.). These were still wrapped in protective plastic, so I told myself somebody had to unload them sometime, so it must be safe. I gently lifted them out one by one and stacked them on the ground, and at last the box was mine. I was the envy of all the other crews when I carried it into the bureau.

Dinner tonight was at the home of Safaa, a young Kuwati woman who has volunteered as one of our guides. Her father is some sort of international financier, and hers would appear to be a life of privilege. Unfortunately, it shows. It was with a little too much ostentation that she led us through their villa, from one paneled sitting room to the next, pointing out all the imported bric-a-brac picked up in her family's world travels.

Her father joined us for the evening, having just returned from months of exile in Cairo. "A five-star refugee" the Egyptians had called him, he told us with disdain. We had a lengthy political discussion, most of it by him, in which he made it clear he expected--indeed, welcomed--U.S. troops based in Kuwait for years to come. I asked him bluntly what Americans would get out of that, and he insisted it would bring peace and stability to the region. For his business, no doubt; but he dismissed the fact that other Arabs would resent a U.S. presence. The Arabs were braggarts, liars, and cheats, he said, and he for one would not count on them for anything. My general impression was that he wanted to hire the Marines as bodyguards, just like he had hired his Sri Lankan cook. Anyway, the food was great.

But again I'm violating my own rule, staying up late when I've got an early call. In just six hours we'll be on our way back to the Iraqi border, to do some real investigative journalism. More on that later.

1Editor's note, 2011: A "donut" is a taped report that is shown during a reporter's live shot. The live parts come at the beginning and end and the donut comes in the middle. So it's really not so much a donut, but more like the filling in a jelly roll.

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© 2011 Chuck Afflerbach for The Hick Town Times