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Kuwait City

Five weeks ago I landed in the Middle East, and today was my last full day in Kuwait. I do like some sense of closure to the story, and this wrapped things up nicely.

We finally got in to interview the Kuwaiti Minister of Something, whom we had been trying to find since last Friday. If he had anything significant to say, I missed it; I was watching the needle dance on the VU meter and not even hearing the words coming through the headset.

Been there, done that...
Kuwait T-Shirt
More disappointing was the press conference we attended, held by three American generals, a total of five stars among them. Mostly they said hooray for our side, and again I was only processing volume units. But when we returned with the tape, I was much chagrined at the poor sound quality recorded on the tape. It was as if I hadn't even been there, aiming a mic on a five-foot pole for over an hour. I know it left my mixer sounding better than that;1 all I can figure is that Sean accidentally switched on the camera mic instead of my shotgun mic. An ironic close to my last day of sound work in the Middle East.

Evening was spent in packing--and unpacking the things I didn't want to take back with me. Six tubes of ChapStick were donated to the CNN medicine chest. I gave Sean the last of my granola bars, and the weather-beaten ammo box I had lugged home from the marina. Ali, the boyish guide, saw the Frisbee so it was his. I had picked up a cheap "Free Kuwait" T-shirt at the PX2 after the generals' press conference, and I presented it to the silent, sinister-looking Wael. Hamad, the fun-loving frat, brought me a collection of new and old Kuwaiti currency, and he received my collection of CNN lapel pins.

I missed Rob and Chester and Mark Dulmage. While we were at the PX, they were dispatched to the front lines to await the word on the signing of the official peace treaty. Another bit of closure; we arrived the day of the cease-fire, and I leave the day the U.N. formalized the agreement. They are overnighting with the troops, so I bade them farewell over the walkie-talkie. My final instructions to them: bring me the face of Saddam Hussein. I left them a carton of Marlboros from the PX and a carton of Kools from Oakland.

Dick Blystone was surprised and sorry to hear I was going. He told me he had already mentioned my name to the London bureau chief, and the London boss told him, "Don't think you discovered Chuck Afflerbach." I'm definitely leaving here with an inflated opinion of myself. As I said my goodbyes, I realized that I had actually been in Kuwait longer than anyone else but the two reporters, and they're leaving on Friday.

After the last feed of the evening, a few of us settled in at the socializing table; Hamad had brought in a bottle of ouzo, of all things. But we drank it: myself, Hamad, Wael, and Ali, along with Bert the crotchety old maintenance engineer from the Georgia backwoods, John Fiegener ("Fig") the wide-eyed Oakie, and another satellite engineer, Steve Masters, who lives like a hermit in his tent next to his mobile uplink. We talked about nothing in particular--women and beers we had known, places we had seen and how they compared to other places we had seen. It was a long goodbye--no one can hurry through a bottle of ouzo.

Finally I went upstairs, to get some sleep before our drive back to Dhahran. On the balcony of my room I coaxed a couple of tunes out of my harmonica, and took in the city view one last time. The lights are on in considerable numbers now; street lights in full glow, spot lights on several downtown highrises, some with several floors all lit up inside, and even a tall building with casino-style illumination on one entire side. It's a reassuring sight, and I can leave Kuwait now with a clear conscience knowing that life will surely go on.

1Editor's note, 2011: Shame on me for using the oldest excuse in broadcasting: "It's fine leaving here." Every technician knows you can't argue with that. But you can't argue with the response, either: "Well, it's bad coming in here!"

2Editor's note, 2011: And one last army acronym: the "PX" is the Post Exchange, the one-stop shopping center on any U.S. Army base, or "post." It offers little pieces of home at discount prices.

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© 2011 Chuck Afflerbach for The Hick Town Times