Kuwait: Class of 1990
Class of 1990

Nada: ‘Kuwait was idyllic’

Nada says that children growing up in Kuwait led a very sheltered life.


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 former classmate Nada, a British national of Palestinian-Iranian origin. Nada was in the UK with her mother and siblings at the time of the invasion.

Her father was still in Kuwait and they immediately lost all communication with him. After numerous attempts, he managed to make his way to London, bringing with him the story of his escape through Iraq and Jordan.

Nada is now an art director for a marketing firm in the UK.

Al Jazeera: What do you remember about Kuwait pre-invasion?

Nada: Every year we would leave and come to England for summer holidays. There was nothing different that year. The only thing that was slightly significant was that on the night we left I was really emotional and was crying and saying goodbye to all the family. Everyone was just thinking I was being a bit strange. I do not know why I felt I had to hug every one and say goodbye.

Did your family not go to England with you?

My mum, brother, me and my sister all came to England. But my dad stayed and mum’s mum, my gran and her brothers who live in Kuwait as well. We were quite a tight knit family, and our home was always full of family that used to come in and go all the time.

Do you remember trying to get in touch with your dad after the invasion?

I remember we would try to get in touch all the time. I remember even trying myself, trying to call and it would be like a dead tone. I do not know why I did it but I think we all just got really desperate so we were taking turns to call.

And I can not remember exactly when he ended up getting in touch, but it was actually when he got out and he was in Jordan. He got in touch and let us know that he had gotten out.

How did he get out?

According to my dad, he tried several times to drive out and every now and again, like for the first attempt I think he took my uncle and then they turned back. And then he might have tried again and then again got turned back and then on the last time he just went by himself, he just said I can not do this anymore and he drove and he got through.

But the worst part was he had to go through Iraq and obviously the Iranian-Iraqi thing. I do not know how big a deal it was at that point but it was I suppose it was still raw, after the Iraq-Iran war.

So apparently at that time they were okay with him, but he still had a machine gun stuck to his back while they were taking him through all the searches and stuff so it was obviously very scary but no one knew where he was. We did not know, my grandmother did not know. And then he drove through Iraq and got to Jordan.

Did your dad ever tell you stories about the invasion?

I remember him saying that on the day of the invasion, he had seen the trucks with the tanks coming down. Because we were quite far out, I think he was probably one of the first people who saw the tanks and so that is when they realised it was quite serious.

He told us stories about how the soldiers had tried to loot the wheels. They were taking all the wheels off the cars and I think because obviously my dad needed his car he was conscious that he kept an eye on it so that was quite a worry for him as well.

Was it an expensive car?

He had a BMW. But funnily enough he actually drove out with it. We ended up having a car in England which is very strange because it was very difficult being in England at that time, because his income was all based in Kuwait and my mum was not working so we were really struggling initially but he rode up in a BMW and we were supposed to be really struggling. It was just very strange.

It was very strange time. Because being British citizens we kind of had to ask for state help. But it was interesting, because we as British citizens were kind of getting some support financially but it was minimal. But our Kuwaiti friends were getting something like £500 each a day. They were very well looked after by the Kuwaiti government.

Was it difficult to adjust to a school in the UK?

I think the transition of being in school in Kuwait where I had friends to then coming to a country that we used to come to every year on summer holidays then starting school and trying to integrate culturally was not easy.

To be fair the school that I went to did not have many foreign students. It was me and a black girl, I do not know where she was from it could have been Sudan. And she was subjected to a lot of racism. It was not necessarily racism for me but I was odd for them and they did not quite understand.

I got into the school and they were not very helpful because they were convinced just by reading my name that I might be one of those kids that needed extra help and tuition and I would be a real hindrance.

But it turned out that because of the way we were schooled I was probably two years ahead of the class I was put into, going from someone they thought was going to need extra help I actually was doing the work in half the time that the other kids were doing so that unnerved them as well I think.

How did growing up in England compare to growing up in Kuwait?

I think you can not compare the time that I spent here to there – it is just too different. For over in Kuwait it was really idyllic, it was really innocent. You were just sheltered from everything, and it was all about growing up and having a great childhood.

It would have maybe been different if I would have been there for a bit longer. But when you come to somewhere like England, when I came here I was 10, kids my age were able to go down to the shop and you know buy sweets and you know go out and play or do whatever and that amount of freedom was very strange for me.

I found it very difficult and was trying to adapt because in Kuwait it was all about being protected and in England it was all about your freedom to do whatever and I just could not.

I just could not adapt so I found it really scary if I walked down the road on my own. I would be like constantly checking, thinking that someone was going to kidnap me.

What do you miss most about Kuwait?

I think the big thing that I miss about being in Kuwait is just the family. The rest of the family ended up going to Houston, Texas, which is now where they live permanently.

I miss the family, I do not know if I miss anything else because it would have never been the same. I am sure if I had been there another five to six years it would have been a completely different place because I would have had the freedom to go out with my friends and do what I wanted the way that I did in England.