Easter and Gergian: March 29-31, 1991

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

Fri 29 Mar

Good Friday. We were off in the morning. After lunch I went with Scholze and Haglund out to Doha to check out a school and the beach area. I brought back a lot of junk, not so much for myself but for other souvenir hunters. Other people picked up about half of it, the remainder was picked up by an NCO from a Military History unit who was collecting exhibit material. We got back too late to make the church service, so I missed hearing O Sacred Head Surrounded. Weep, Sob!

Sat 30 Mar

Our departure date from Kuwait is 7 April. There are rumors that we will be re-deployed to Iraq to run refugee operations but so far there is no truth to the rumors (and it never happened, though the 431st sent teams on a rotating basis). The 431st leaves today for Khobar. We spent the morning on a drive-through of Sabah-as-Salem, Dhaher, and Sabahiya. The economy may be reviving elsewhere in Kuwait, but there is little evidence of it here.

After the first few days, we have been getting the impression that something is wrong here. Just after liberation, it was not surprising to find people disoriented, dazed, or simply busy celebrating. But the damage in Kuwait, apart from the burning oil wells, is minor. All the roads are intact, the power lines are mostly up, and power is being restored. Within a few days of a major disaster in the US, people would be recovering. The boss would be out with the janitor, if necessary, to get his business back in operation. The Kuwaitis are so dependent on foreign labor they have no idea how to get going, and the Arab concept of personal pride will not allow many of them to do manual or menial work. The police told some of our people who had been helping to get their cars going: "When you go, who will change the oil for us?" At the handicapped hospital in Sulaibikhat, there were attendants who took care of the patients throughout the occupation, but the idea of cleaning never occurred to them, even when we were there helping.

The Palestinians present a particular problem. They did much of the labor in Kuwait, and in addition, Kuwait pumped millions into Palestinian organizations. Yet, when Kuwait was invaded, a lot of Palestinians collaborated openly with the Iraqis. These people have a positive genius for fouling their nest everywhere they go. That distorted Middle Eastern concept of pride causes them to reason that if they can't have their way, they will help anyone who wants to destroy whatever is around them. The persistent rumor is that Kuwait will try to deport them all.

Before doing our drive-through, we went to Mishref to use the phones. 1LT Kuhr and SPC Demerath were in line when the phones were shut down and the free connections were cut off! Later on I called Shawn collect from the airport. In the afternoon I read and dictated a second tape to the Roth Space Group (as it turned out, the first tape took six weeks to arrive, and didn't even get to the group until after they had drafted their report). After that I played volleyball. The whole week has been nice and sunny. It was 90 today, but it cools off nicely once the Sun goes down.

CPT Pressner had a T-shirt he got from the Chicago Police: "HOMICIDE - Our day begins when your day ends!"

Shawn sent me a Desert Fax and a letter the same day. I got the letter two days ago. The Fax came today - 16 days after being sent. I love high-tech instant communication!

Sun 31 Mar: Easter

Easter Sunday, still sunny and warm. The unit had off today. I spent most of the day reading or writing letters. At 1700 we went to Easter Mass at the cathedral. What a difference from a week ago. By now the lights are on in parts of the city, and it's sunny instead of pitch black. About 10 of us sang in the choir. We got to meet the bishop, who's from Malta. Kuwait is a diocese of its own; the rest of the Arabian Peninsula is the diocese of Abu Dhabi, the largest diocese in the world. Most of it is Saudi Arabia, with four priests, all very low profile, and no churches. The nuns gave each of us an Easter egg dyed with natural dyes. They pressed leaves against an egg, wrapped it in an onion skin, and dipped it in boiling water. The end result was a light brown egg with a green leaf print. I saved mine (it lasted until we tore our billets apart, then it rolled off a box onto the floor and broke. What a shame).

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Gulf War Image What a difference a week makes! On Palm Sunday (March 24) we could hardly see because the smoke was so thick. On Easter the wind blew another direction and it was bright and sunny. This is the cathedral in Kuwait. They have Masses in English and Konkani, a south Indian language. There have been Christians in south India since the second century.

At 2000, some of us went to the Media center for the Gergian festival. Gergian is the midpoint of Ramadan, the Moslem holy month. It is a bit like Halloween in that the kids dress up and go from house to house begging treats, but there are no spooky overtones. Because of the curfews and general shortages, a Gergian festival was held at the Media Center instead. The kids were dressed in miniature versions of traditional costumes and were absolutely adorable. A lot of the little girls were wearing dresses with Kuwait flag designs. They put on a few skits and traditional songs, then the Crown Prince visited, and pandemonium ensued. I was surprised to find that the Arab version of a cheer is a lot like an Indian war whoop. Despite the jubilation, the security was astonishingly loose. In fact, some of our MP and civilian police people, notably CPT Wayne Scholze and SSG Bob Haglund, were there keeping an eye on things and pointed out some weak spots. For example, the festival was held in an open courtyard surrounded by covered walkways, and the guards on the roof had been looking in instead of out.

Afterward, some of us handed out candy in the auditorium. There was a kitchen with a small window, which was mobbed. To give some of the other kids a chance, I took a bag of candy and went out. Wrong idea. It was a feeding frenzy. That should be good for at least a bronze star.

SGT Don Langel, who brought along some needlepoint projects he was doing for his children, finished his first one today.


Gergian is the halfway feast of Ramadan, and is celebrated a bit like Halloween (but without the occult overtones). Kids dress in costumes and go from door to door begging treats. This year the festival was held at the Cultural Center for safety reasons.

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A Visit From the Emir

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