I stayed at the Sheraton Kuwait the other week. It’s the first time, oddly, that I’ve stayed in that particular hotel and I would recommend it most heartily as the best business hotel I’ve ever stayed in: everything you need is there where you want it, from a printer in your room to free, high speed wireless Internet throughout the whole hotel. It’s truly excellent.
I do remember seeing it as a burned out hulk. Together with the Ramada Salaam, which was a boat, the Sheraton was one of two hotels, and in fact very few buildings, destroyed by the Iraqis as they legged it out of Kuwait. Apparently what they found scariest was the pinpoint accuracy of the cruise missiles and smart bombs, which is one reason why they didn't have the time or inclination to set off more of the explosives they'd wired up across the city. The speed of the US pincer-movement advance was the other reason, of course. I can attest to the accuracy claim, having seen the neat hole punched in the 9th floor of the telecommunications Ministry building that led to the vapourisation of the Ericsson-made international switch. The operator positions on the other half of the floor were untouched. I have the photo to prove it. (well, actually I don’t. I lent it to Motivate for their Gulf Business 10th anniversary of the invasion issue and forgot to get it back, but you know what I mean).
I had a minder for the week, provided by the Ministry of Telecommunications, because I was working on a supplement about the remediation of telecoms in Kuwait following the occupation. His name was Jaafar and he was a nice bloke, although one of life’s natural victims. Stuff just happened to Jaafar and it was never good stuff. He never expected good stuff and so was rarely disappointed. He went to university in the States and the kids thought it would be real fun to put a tab of acid in the Kuwaiti guy’s tea. He tried to describe the consequences to me, but I felt he fell far short of the reality – all those years of repression and trammelled thought suddenly bursting into a horrifying technicolour unleashing of everything, everywhere altogether.
He must have been a complete wreck for months afterwards.
It was thanks to Jaafar that I got a tour of the national museum, the other damaged building, which was closed to the public. The Iraqis had made a tremendous mess of it, taking most of the exhibits and burning the rest. The lady that showed me around was at great pains to show me the fireproof carpets that hadn’t burned. These were made in the UK, she kept telling me, as if this built an association between us of some sort. British people were in vogue right then, everywhere you went kids would shout out ‘Boosh good, Thatcher good!” at you.
The worst thing was the big hall in the museum. The soldiers had hanged pigeons by piano wire from the rafters as a sign that peace was dead. They couldn’t find doves, you see.
As we were driving to some telephone exchange or another from the museum visit, Jaafar took a wrong turning and ended up in a narrow dead end. There was no way he was going to be able to turn his enormous American car and I watched him just slump at the wheel. As he dejectedly surveyed the latest evidence that God had it in for him, it started to rain. He turned to me, his face a picture of misery, as the fat drops started to spatter on the windscreen.
“You see, Alex?” He said. “Zis is ze story of my fcuking life.”
I did like Jaafer.