Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another Gulf War story

The ubiquitous air raid siren tower
Thanks to all who read yesterday's post and to you who wrote heartfelt comments.
Here is another story from January or February 1991 about the Gulf War.
I was working then as the Hebrew-English translator of a foreign embassy [which shall remain anonymous] in Ramat Gan. Very early one morning the First Secretary called me at home and said, "Ms. Dina, come quickly please! The embassy was partially destroyed by a Scud missile last night! We all have to work quickly to salvage the papers and equipment." (He meant quickly, before nightfall, when the next salvo would undoubtedly be unleashed on us.)

I came and found that a Scud had exploded in the street, damaging or destroying all the surrounding houses. Our roof had caved in, right onto the Ambassador's desk. What luck that no one lived in that house at night!
The three Embassy personnel and their wives and I started packing up whatever was not broken. Israel's Foreign Ministry would bring a shipping container to put the stuff in, to store until we could find a new place to rent.

His Excellency, in his suit and tie, fielded questions from a front yard full of reporters. He had been keeping a neutral stance toward Iraq till then. The foreign reports kept asking him, "So, Mr. Ambassador, how do you feel toward Iraq NOW?"

Even I was allowed to give one interview, because it was a TV crew from my hometown, Chicago. They were expecting and hoping I'd shout some expletives at Saddam Hussein or shake my fist at the Iraqis or break down and cry, or something dramatic. Sorry to disappoint them. I said something like . . . I was not about to let anger take over inside me, and that all we wanted was to get on with our lives.

My son was on leave from the army that weekend and he came to help too. He found some jagged, twisted pieces of metal from the Scud. Souvenirs from a crazy dictator.
We had been awake and working a long time. No one thought about food or drink. I was so deeply touched when the Ambassador of Japan came to convey his concern, carrying several boxes of hot pizza! Hawaiian pizza, with pineapple! God bless him. The kind of humility that makes a man great.

We ate, made an end to the packing, and each of us went home, each carrying his government-issued cardboard box with a shoulder strap that everyone had to carry with him during the war. It contained firstaid against chemical warfare--a syringe that you could poke in your thigh (right through your jeans), some kind of powder to put on affected skin, and the gas mask. Oh, and a rubber tube which could be inserted through the mask if you needed to drink water.

Household hint: to stop the gas mask glass from steaming up and obstructing your vision, rub the inside with a raw potato.


Kay said...

Holey Moley, Dina! This is too frightening for words. I guess it hits much closer to home when you know a friend in the midst of it. I'm going down to breakfast now and will tell my mom about the Japanese diplomat. I know she'll be pleased. Pineapple on pizza? I've never had one of those... yet.

JM said...

What a fantastic story, Dina! As much as we read or watch the news, it's impossible to have an accurate picture of moments like these, living far from the conflit... Only being there you can feel things the way they really happen!

Interesting to know that potatoes keep the gas masks clean. On scuba diving you just spit on the inside glass.

I really appreciated your archaelogy posts although many photos haven't downloaded...

bennie and patsy said...

OH! God bless the Japanese diplomat. I think about you every time the news comes on.

Catherine said...

Just like yesterday, I realize how far are this conflicts even if we follow them on TV news. Your day-to-day informations, Dina, make it so real.
I imagine it's in these time of war that you become aware of the worth of a person. The legendary "courtesy" (I don't know if it's the right word but you'll find the idea) of the Japanese Ambassador has toned down your bad day.
Hope this air raid siren tower will remain a subject for picture and it won't be used anymore.

Dina said...

Kay, calm down. That was a long time ago. What, you don't know pineapple on pizza?! But it's called HAWAIIAN pizza!

JM, yeah, true, nothing like being there.
For a diving mask, fine. But we had no time for such preparations. The potato thing you can do beforehand.
I don't understand why my pics didn't download for you. But over the past few days the Internet connections have been acting very strangely for me and a few friends. Let's hope it improves soon.

Shalom Bennie and Patsy, yes indeed. After all these years, the pizza in the hands of the Japanese Ambassador and his little bow (as in bowing) in presenting it--that's what I remember most.

Catherine, you are right.
And when the Scuds and the threat of chemical warfare ended, I declared that after those terrible two months all the future troubles in my life would seem trivial.
Well, in Jerusalem right now we don't need the air raid warnings, but the Israelis living in range of the rockets being fired from Gaza hear them almost every day.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Why am I not surprised you kept your cool. I'm glad. I hate it when the media tries to pull out tears.

Cloudia said...

God willing there will always be an Israel; one hopes she will live among neighbors - not enemies.
Thanks for your courage, Dina!
So glad that Hawaiian pizza brought you folks comfort- ALOHA!

spacedlaw said...

So sweet of the Japanese diplomat!
You were incredibly lucky that the strike happened at night.

I wonder if the potato trick can also be applied to diving masks?

N.B. said...

even if the story is dramatic, I don't succeed in not smiling thinking about the Hawaian pizza...(perhaps it's the only one that is difficult to eat to Rome).

Mediterranean kiwi said...

amazing story - i often feel so glad to feel so safe in my town.

the island of crete is just so far away from the present horrors of our mainland (athens is not doing very well on the terrorism and crime stakes at the moment)

Olga said...

Hello Dina, another great story! I wasn't in Israel (yet) during the Gulf war, so I can only imagine... thanks for sharing! (and thanks for visiting my blog!)