On August 2, 1990, the Iraqi army invaded the small emirate of Kuwait, which Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s president, had declared his 19th province.
The Gulf war lasted a little over six months yet the memory of the conflict remains strong, not least in the minds of the children of that war.
At the end of the school year of 1990, students at an international school in Kuwait said their final farewells as they headed off for the summer holidays.
Twenty years on, Al Jazeera follows a group of classmates who were separated during the war as they organise a reunion and try to find out what happened to their classmates and their school during and after the war.
Al Jazeera’s Nashwa Nasreldin was one of those students. She spoke to her former classmate Ali, whose mother was a Kuwaiti national and father an Iraqi. He was in Kuwait throughout occupation.
After liberation, his father was taken in for questioning by members of the Kuwaiti resistance and the family decided to leave Kuwait. Without proper documentation, Ali was not able to register at a school in Egypt for another three years.
A few years later his parents died and Ali and his siblings were sent to live with his aunt in Kuwait. He has recently completed a Bachelors degree in English Literature from Kuwait university.
Al Jazeera: What do you remember about August 2, 1990?
Ali: I remember going to sleep late. I know it was past midnight. I remember hearing a lot of planes. My mother was on the phone. I heard her say “They are here. What is happening?”
I remember clearly she was telling my father if there is going to be any sort of bombing and if we needed to find a house with a basement because we did not have one. She was really freaking out at that point. Then I asked my father what was going on. He explained that the Iraqi army had invaded Kuwait.
I did not understand. I did not read much about history and politics back then. So I did not understand what the aim was of invading another country. I did not get it!
What do you remember about the first days of the invasion? Did you think it was going to end soon?
Yes, I actually thought it was going to end very soon. I remember seeing rounds fired in the air. Of course at night all the streets were dark and they had those brilliant orange pinkish colours to them so they were easily visible at night.
Do you remember the point where you realised that it was going to last for a long time?
I realised that it would take a lot longer than I thought when we had to dig a well in our garden for water which we would boil and use for bathing and laundry.
Do you remember what your parents were talking about in those first days?
They were really worried. My parents were really worried about their situation obviously because my father was Kurdish Iraqi – he had the Iraqi passport. He was in an odd situation, my mother being Kuwaiti. I just remember they were always tense.
Was it normal back then for Iraqis and Kuwaitis to marry or was their situation a unique one?
I would not know really. Now that I actually think about it, I think it was not very common back then that a Kuwaiti woman would marry a non-Kuwaiti, be it Iraqi or Palestinian – but some of them did it. I do not think it was common, it was definitely frowned upon.
It was frowned upon to marry outside of your own nationality in general?
If your father and mother had met now – let’s say, after the war do you think they would have still gotten married or might it have been much more difficult?
If my parents had met after the invasion, I think there would be a lot of stigma attached to them getting married definitely. It is natural. I mean what do you expect after what happened.
Do you remember the day of the liberation?
I remember waking up, my mother was ecstatic almost. I have never seen her so happy. I have seen her really happy but that was one of the most happy moments I have seen her. I remember it was a very nice morning. It was slightly overcast. It was nice she went off to the streets and I went after her – outside our house. All the kids were running around in the streets.
What happened to your father after liberation?
My father decided that he could not really stay in the country being that he was an Iraqi national for obvious reasons. It would have been very tough. It was not like he could lead a normal life after what had happened. I think around July-August 1991, he moved to Egypt. We followed him around November.
He was taken by the Kuwaiti resistance for a few hours. Do you know what happened?
The Kuwaiti resistance came, knocked on the door and asked for my father. My mother panicked. She asked ‘where are you going to take him?’ They said not to worry and that it would not be that bad. He went and he came back a couple of hours later. He was obviously shaken up because he was taken in for questioning.
Do you know if they asked him to leave?
He just could not see himself living in Kuwait. I do not think they asked him to leave. I do not think they had the authority to ask him to leave. They were just a resistance.
How did the war affect you and your education?
After the invasion and the war, my academic life took a dip. I am not sure whether it was the paperwork or problems with visas but we could not get into a school in Egypt for a while. So there was a three year gap before I could start high school, then there was a two year gap until I found a university because of passport issues and visas.
Why did you come back to Kuwait?
We came back to Kuwait because my parents passed away in Cairo – my mother first. So my aunt brought us back here to take care of us basically. It was just me and my siblings over there.
How did you feel about returning to Kuwait?
I was not looking forward to coming back to Kuwait because I had my life in Egypt. I had friends and university. I was pretty angry about it for a while but now I would not have it any other way. I actually would not want to go back.
How did Kuwait seem to you when you came back?
Coming back to Kuwait was really different for me. The whole place has changed. A lot of things have stayed the same but the feel of it is different. It was kind of surreal coming back.
If the invasion had not happened, how different do you think your life would be?
If the invasion did not happened, my life would have been drastically different. I would have never gone to Egypt. I know that for a fact.
I can not really sit here and project how my life would have been if the invasion did not happen. I am actually not sure because who knows what would happen.
Maybe I would have dropped out of school with the rate I was going at school. I still have a report card that says I barely paid attention in class. I guess I need the academic struggle to actually focus. To see that I need to get myself out of this.
Are you proud of yourself now that you are doing your degree?
I am happy that I am actually close to finishing. I guess I will be proud when I have the degree and on to another one maybe. It depends on how everything goes.