Monday, 13 May 2013

A Memorable Dinner

          Mike and I often went out to eat at night. It was simpler and cheaper than eating in. He had been in Kuwait longer than me and knew lots of places to eat and eat well. On occasions we would go into the poorer parts of the city. We both enjoyed the potluck that this provided. There was never any posh set ups, tables were usually Formica topped or had oilcloth laid on scaffold planks and biers. Eating spanners normally arrived with the meal, as did a glass of water. Such establishments had scrupulous hygiene standards, well by their ideal that was the case but there was a lot left undone. Occasionally cockroaches would join you for dinner. They certainly wouldn’t get a hygiene pass from the authorities here. We should have stayed with what we knew, but the food was often exceptional.
          On one occasion we took a taxi into the posh centre of the city, it was 11 September 2001. We had both been watching the events of the twin towers unfold on the TV. I thought I was watching a film at first, I didn’t realise it was a newsreel. Many of the people we lived amongst were Americans. The last thing we wanted that night was to listen to a bunch of rednecks putting the world to rights. We passed by parts of the city that we would normally like to go, parts that were still damaged from the war. Whole sides of buildings were missing but having nowhere to go the occupants were still living there, just a few blankets or a tarp tied in place for their privacy. A far cry from the luxurious apartment block we lived in on the edge of the city.
          At Maxims the doorman greeted us. Inside a waiter showed us downstairs to a table on the far side of the lower dinning area. This was fortunate for us. We ordered non-alcoholic drinks, as is the law in this Muslim state, and chatted about the events of the day. We gleaned information from some noisy Americans sitting across the other side of the restaurant, all conjecture of course. No we didn’t ask, but they have a way of permeating everywhere they go and to be fair they were angry, The Americans had never been attacked on their own mainland before. Welcome to the real world boys!
          We enjoyed dinner. It was of a better standard than our usual fare. Gulf states usually do seafood so very well and here was no different. Prawns are all grown and only a few fill a plate. They served fish we had never heard of and copious quantities of salad, rice, and side dishes filled all the space on the table left by the main course plates.
          There are many things you cannot do in a Muslim state and there are many things you should not do. Most people know what you can’t do, wine women and song sort of covers that, but what shouldn’t you do? Well one thing you shouldn’t be doing is going out to dinner the same day a bunch of Arabs blow up America, coz you just know these Arab boys are angry. If you do go out you should keep ya trap shut, coz you just know these Arab boys are angry.
          Well our American friends didn’t subscribe to this theory at all. “What we should do is bomb these Mother fuckers back to the Stone Age,” said one. This of course would be a pointless exercise because with the exception of mobile phones and motorcars they are still in the Stone Age. What they wanted their government to do to the Arabs was almost unspeakable. “Nuke the bastards,” said another. Well I am assuming you get the gist of this evening.
There were many nationalities sitting in that restaurant that night, me a Brit Mike an Aussie about ten Americans, not to mention Kuwaitis, Iraqis, and Afghanis. The last thing you need to do when you are sitting down to dinner with the ‘brothers’ of those who had just blown up your country is to mouth off. Americans, particularly rednecks, are good at that.
          It was at fifteen minutes past nine that the bomb went off. I know this because my watch broke in the explosion. There were several bombs in town that night all timed to go off together. We were lucky; the ceiling came down in the basement and showered us with debris. Two of the Americans were killed as a support pillar crashed on to their table. Mike and I ducked under the table and were waiting for the dust to clear. The front of the restaurant was blown out and the ground floor was destroyed. Many staff members were killed outright. The doorman ‘miraculously’ had crossed the street to use the toilet.
          I was bleeding from several wounds but only superficially. Mike had blood running down his forehead. “What the fuck was that,” I said. He said he thought the Americans were being too vociferous! “Wait a bit there might be another explosion.” We could hear sirens in the distance, but only in the distance, they didn’t seem to be getting any closer. A few people started moving so we got brave and came out from under our refuge. The sight before us was one of mayhem. Most of the ceiling was scattered on the tables and floor. People who looked like ghosts, covered in dust from head to foot, were standing surveying the scene with stunned looks on their faces. The support pillar that killed the two Americans was trapping another by the legs. We helped to lift it off him. Both his legs were smashed above the knees; he was rolling in and out of consciousness. The Americans dealt with him and their dead compatriots while all the time telling anyone who was in earshot what was going to happen to those ‘cowardly mother fuckers’. They just never learn. Mike and I tended to some of the others but most wounds were minor. The locals were apologising for the ‘outrage’ bought upon us in their country. Nothing we could say would placate them.
          Generally we got off lightly only two dead and one seriously injured. The rest of us had either got just cuts and bruises or were unhurt. We were all shocked! Slowly those of us that were walking got up the stairs and to the front of the building, what was left of it, where we were tended by the medics that eventually turned up.
          My overriding memory of that debacle that I shall never forget is a Kuwaiti police officer asking if I had paid for my dinner. It was totally surreal.

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