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Home Sweet American Home

It was already 106 degrees in Kuwait City on the morning of September 12, 1990, as we sat on a dirty, reeking city bus bound for the airport and wondered if we were doing the right thing. "I want to go home, but do I want to go this badly?" I asked myself.

My son and daughter, Michael, 14, and Millie, 18, were beside me. We had taken the first step--a cautious but hopeful step--toward regaining our freedom. The bus will take us to the Kuwait airport, then a plane to Baghdad and London and home.

Saddam Hussein's intimidation tactics may have scared the citizens of a tiny, underdog nation, but he never figured on the likes of a church pianist from Northwest Louisiana.

With faith deep as ocean waters and an unflinching sense of optimism, my two teenager's and I undertook a 51-hour journey home that began with good byes to my Kuwaiti-born husband left behind, and ended with a reunion with family and friends in Shreveport, in the early morning hours of September 15, 1990.

We aren't hostages any more. Take that Saddam.

Alisa , a reporter for the Shreveport Times writes:

"I can't put into words how I feel about that man" (Saddam), Mott said Friday afternoon in the living room of her parents' home. She sat in her mother's recliner, exactly like her dad's. Her parents had spent many hours in those chairs, like Edith and Archie, with hands clasped and heads bowed in prayer. The phone, always ringing, was within reach. So was a Bible.

Mott sipped on a Coke--scarce in war-torn Kuwait--and chatted casually as if to say, 'Oh, nothing much. How 'bout you?" But a lot had happened to the family in the two months since they had seen awful lot.

It began as a vacation, a long-anticipated visit to Mike's native home and family. We left Shreveport July 23, and even though just three days later there were hints of conflict looming, we weren't concerned.

On August 2, with the rumble of an invasion scarcely a mile or two away, I telephoned home. "Don't worry, Dad, but we're under attack," I said. (I was never one to think much before speaking....I would just open my mouth and the words would begin.) It was 4 a.m. in Louisiana. At that time, Dad had heard nothing about an invasion. We talked a little, then hung up. He wouldn't hear my voice again until six weeks later.

The war became a pastime, better than the military music videos now droning on the television. Each evening we would go up to the roof of the family home. Hunched behind a four-foot wall, we watched as flares flashed through the night, an attempt to silence chanting, defiant Kuwaitis all across town. Two flares came so close that if we'd been standing they would have hit us.

Throughout the neighborhood were the voices of women and children. "God is great, they cheered in Arabic. "Viva Kuwait." But overnight, Kuwait City had been battered like Atlanta in Sherman's march to the sea.

Schools were looted. The Safeway was smashed, Toys R Us was in shambles. Streets that had been filled with a crazy but accepted bedlam of honking cars were now deserted. After the invasion, no one worked. The Kuwaiti children didn't go to school, since their facilities had been occupied by the Iraqi soldiers.

I stepped outside the family court yard only three times. Two weeks after the invasion we drove down Gulf Drive and saw soldiers dug in. Once I dressed like an Arab woman and walked three blocks. My last outside trip was on the day we left for home. Otherwise, we stayed low.

We had heard that Iraqi soldiers were knocking on doors, robbing and looking for weapons. We devised a plan: If the soldiers came, the family would go to the bathroom, accompanied by a female member of the family. We would run the faucet, and the sister or niece, in Arabic, would say she was taking a bath.

There were other contingencies: Gold rings were hidden on drapery rods. But despite the precautions, we never had to use them. Little did I know at that time that my family and friends in the states were praying for God to place a shield around the home. He answered their prayers.

For some strange reason, I was never overcome by fear. I had peace and I knew we would be all right. I didn't know what would happen, but I was optimistic.

The Middle East stalemate lengthened. Michael's 14th birthday came and went and so did our 20th anniversary. Mike and I began to question how long we would have to stay. I worried about bills that needed to be paid back home. Our jobs were waiting and school had started.

After hearing a Voice of America broadcast about Americans being evacuated, I called the American Embassy. The next trip out was a few days away. We started packing--except Mike, who was a permanent U.S. resident, but still a Kuwaiti citizen.

The Embassy warned that Mike shouldn't drive us to the bus, so we rode with his sister, Nuria. Mike and Nuria's husband followed behind. We were stopped at a few check points, but when Nuria told them where we were going, they allowed us to go through. The soldiers knew why....Sadaam had agreed to let the foreign nationals, women and children only, depart.

The buses that would take us to the Kuwait airport were parked at a 'bombed and gutted' shopping center. There, several American Embassy personnel processed at least 500 evacuees. We had been warned that being seen or associating with Mike could be dangerous for him, so we avoided a lot of contact at that point.

After the processing, the kids and I had to get onto the buses. Did I mention that the bus wasn't air conditioned? Can you imagine the heat? Remember, the temperature at 8 a.m. was 106 degrees.

Mike discreetly entered the bus and gave each of us a 'goodbye' handshake. At that time, we felt safe in the hands of the embassy, so I told Mike to go back home. Naturally, he didn't. He waited until the bus caravan began the two-mile trip to the Kuwait City airport three hours later.

At the same airport that had taken my breath away with it's beautiful decor eight weeks earlier, my heart stopped when I witnessed the present condition. Phones were ripped out of the walls and shattered glass littered the concourse. Larger than life size posters of Saddam Hussein surveyed the area with glee.

Our luggage was not inspected, though the embassy had asked evacuees to remove nail files and scissors, which might be misconstrued as weapons. We complied. I was very upset when they also requested the batteries in my camera. Taking pictures was a 'no-no'.

We were issued exit visas--unsettled by the fact that the Iraqis kept my home address--and boarded a jet for Baghdad, one flight hour away.

On Hussein's home ground, my concerns escalated. I dreaded Baghdad. I had heard they were taking all the money and jewelry. The embassy had told us, "We don't know what the soldiers will do." I was determined to make the best of a woeful situation. "Smile and be nice," I instructed the kids. "You can kill people with kindness."

None of the soldiers bothered us, though one was perplexed as to why I wanted to keep empty Coke cans with foreign inscriptions. "I collect them," I told one of the soldiers. My concerns were unfounded. They were nice. I lost all fear.

Hours later, we were guests--not in Hussein's land but in the Hilton-London. I called my folks, who were not expecting the call. "Dad--," I started. Dad blurted out, "Where are you and are you all there?" We talked for 45 minutes. When I checked out, the phone bill was $180 and worth every dime.

Still the trip home wasn't over. We barely made connecting flights in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Atlanta.

Alisa writes the events now from her end in Shreveport at the airport.

In Shreveport, about 50 friends and family gathered at an otherwise deserted Regional Airport. As if testing the human limits of patience, the plane was delayed to 1 a.m. Friday. Then at 1:15 a.m. Then 1:28 a.m. The welcoming party made a coffee run and strung up banners that said "God answered our prayers."

Mott's mom sat calmly with a yellow ribbon circling her neck, one like the ribbon that had been tied on their front-yard tree for weeks. Her husband, a retired Baptist preacher was relaxed. "I think it's about to all come together," he said. He didn't know what he would say to Mott. "I may not say anything. I may let the tears say what I want to say."

At 1:31 a.m. the crowd pressed against the terminal window, watching the plane touch down, just bright lights in the dark. Mott's mom and dad positioned themselves in front of the ramp leading from the plane. Five passengers walked out, bewildered by the crowd and television camera lights, then screams erupted as Mott, Millie, and Michael were spotted.

Mott grabbed her parents, then one friend after another until all were greeted and hugged. Mott's mom watched the reunions, looking for any signs of fatigue or stress in her daughter and grandchildren. "They're going to be all right, she said in that motherly tone of voice that reassures.

Home at last. Happiness mixed with sorrow. Happy to be at home with family and friends....sad because half of me remained in Kuwait.

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Copyright 2001 Mott Davis. All Rights Reserved