Since wishing would not bring us food, Tom and I decided to risk going out to raid Ted’s freezer in Abu Halifa. The roads were deserted of all but car wrecks, some of which had not been there when Tom and I made our “spearhead” drive. The gate in the Abu Halifa wall was closed, and a gatekeeper asked what we wanted.
“We’re here to visit Jerry, in apartment 1930,” I said, feigning familiarity. It appeared the residents of the building had formed their own security patrols to keep out looters. I recognized the gatekeeper as an American I’d seen at a party Ted held a month earlier: Tom and I had status as his fellow US expatriates then. Now he eyes us with suspicion.
We did visit Jerry for a while. He told of new attempts by small groups to drive to the border, mostly people with four-wheel-drive vehicles going across the desert. There were also reports, Jerry said, of carloads of corpses there, people who attempted to drive out of Kuwait but either had unsuitable vehicles for traversing desert, lost their way, or broke down . . . . and died in the heat. Again, I wondered about Ted and the others.
When Tom and I left him—we hadn’t said why we’d really come—we went to Ted’s apartment one floor up. I expected it would soon be taken over as an Iraqi observation post. The fax line was dead, and when I dialed Diana’s number, I heard only static. I assumed this was the consequence of the destroyed telecommunications tower. I noticed two dozen bottles of Ted’s wine fermenting in the bathtub and thought about all the good bottles he and I had enjoyed months before. Each bottle had a cap attached to surgical tubing that ended under water in a basin; fermentation was evident as bubbles in the water. We took only the squid from the freezer, leaving the greens and boxes of processed foods. As we carried this bag of frozen food out toward the gate, we were challenged by the building’s security patrols.
“What do you have there, guys?”
“Just some food from a friend,” I answered.
“Can’t let you keep that,” was the response. “It’s our food now. Nothing leaves here.”
I wonder now if the patrol would even have taken this food if Jerry had accompanied us. These apartment complexes, enclosed as they are in Kuwait, were taking on a new life, transformed into walled cities by the fearful residents trapped inside. Even though this patrol was made up of fellow-Americans, their greater identity now was as residents of Abu Halifah; and Tom and I, residents of a walled city in Manqaf, were outsiders, therefore a threat; we had morphed into intruders, rivals for a limited food supply. If this patrol detained as well, Tom and I could face the fate of Jean Valjean.
I had no way of telling how many people lived in these towers, but our buildings seemed about half full. The Arab residents had disappeared, leaving Europeans, Tom and me, and some Pakistani families.
August 10: (from History Commons) Perhaps 2,000 Americans are hiding from Iraqi soldiers throughout the capital city, and at least 115 are already in Iraqi custody, essentially being held as hostages. Iraqi forces bring a number of Americans, mostly oilfield workers, to Baghdad, where they are put up at local hotels. The Iraqis do not allow the “freed” Americans to leave the hotels or meet with US Embassy officials. It is clear that though the Iraqis call them “guests,” they are hostages. Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, learns to his dismay that his superiors in the US are similarly reluctant to consider the Americans as hostages, arguing that if US officials begin calling them hostages, then the Iraqis will treat them as such. Perhaps Iraq is holding the Americans only until their control of Kuwait is complete, and will release them.