It wasn’t a dark and stormy night. We didn’t get many of those in Kuwait. Maybe two or three a year. Most of the time it was clear and hot. And while it wasn’t the hottest night in my 3+ year tenure in Kuwait, it was absolutely the longest of my life. Which was reasonable considering that it was the first and only time in my life that I was held at a Kuwaiti police station on suspicion of attempted murder.
Back in those days, the late 90s, I was running an English language program for an American nonprofit in Kuwait City. By that time, I was an old Kuwaiti hand, having come to the country three years before on a defense contract to teach English for the Kuwaiti Air Force. Kuwait was, well, Kuwait. It defied definition in those days between the wars. We used to call it “Disneyland by the Gulf.” And in some ways that was apt. It was a fantasy land or sometimes, more appropriately, the Middle Eastern version of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. I’ve seen women, fully cloaked and veiled, driving cars with their sun glasses on outside their black veil. Once, I was riding with a Russian diplomat, who rear-ended a Nissan Gloria, driven by a highly-agitated Pakistani gentleman. Jumping up and down, he pointed at the completely intoxicated Russian, and told the policeman, “He drunk! He make accident!” The Kuwaiti policeman looked at the Pakistani, then looked at the Russian, then looked at the Russian’s diplomatic plates. He shook his head sadly and said to the Pakistani, “Alcohol is illegal in Kuwait, so he cannot be drunk. You made the accident.” Such reasoning was difficult to argue with.
But on this particular day, the shoe was on the other foot. We were on break that week. I think it was the Haj Eid, the Muslim celebration after the great pilgrimage to Mecca, in April 1998. But we were off work. I lived in a mulhaq, an annex building behind a four story apartment building. An American lady, the educational advisor at the nonprofit where I worked, lived on the third floor. She had gone to the beach, and I was enjoying the time off in my apartment.
Until my beeper went off.
It was my friend, the advisor – let’s call her Susan. And the beeper read “911.” So, I jumped up and ran up the stairs, noticing a strange puddle of water at the bottom of the steps. When I got up to her apartment, she was a combination of frightened and angry. “This Kuwaiti guy,” she told me, “followed me home. And then he got out of his car and tried to follow me up here. I finally poured water on him and ran him off.” I raised my eyebrows. That was unusual. Kuwaitis following attractive blond women was not all that unexpected, but to actually try to follow one inside, well, that was different. I understood her irritation.
She was getting ready to go on a date and asked me if I would stick around for a few minutes in case he came back. So, I did. We chatted and joked about her stalker and about a hundred other inside jokes about Kuwait. The aggravation of the afternoon’s incident soon faded.
Then something sounded like a jack hammer trying to tear the front door down. We rushed into the living room and she looked through the peephole.
Not only was it him, but he was making an occupation out of hammering on her door screaming, “Abeech! Abeech!” a not too subtle way of saying, “I want to have sex with you.” Susan yelled at him to go away, but to no avail. I yelled at him; he retreated. We shut the door, hoping that was the end of it.
But, five minutes later, he was back at it again, as loud as ever. The building housed predominantly Kuwaitis, and they did not cotton to such displays. Susan was becoming hysteric, both for her safety and her neighbor relations. She called the police, but that was a shot in the dark. Kuwaiti street addresses were difficult to find at the best of times.
Then Susan had an idea, as the cries of “Abeech! Abeech!” hammered at the door. “Let’s let him in, and get him on the couch.” I considered it. On the one hand, it didn’t seem all that bright. On the other, that may have been the only way to ensure we got rid of him. With him on the couch, the police could just take him into custody.
So, we let him in. He was tanked. He held a Dr. Pepper can alternately sniffing and sipping from it. He was a big guy, probably twice my size, but apart from his sexual overtures, he wasn’t acting physically aggressive, yet. I got him on the couch, where he continued grabbing his crotch and flashing gold jewelry at Susan, “I have gold! Abeech! Abeech!”
Susan ducked into the back room to call the police again, and I shouted, “Haram, Haram.” Slang for his actions were “forbidden,” or loosely translated, “get your act together.”
I was standing in the middle of the living room; Susan was behind me in the bedroom talking frantically to the police. Ahmed (let’s call him that anyway) sat on the couch. But between sips of his Dr. Pepper, he became curious as to why Susan was away so long. A couple of times, he started to stand, but I would step in and tell him his actions were “haram,” that Allah would not approve. That started an incoherent diatribe from him about Allah.
Susan was spending a lot of time back there, and I edged back towards the bedroom to see if I could figure out what the problem might be. By that time, Ahmed was getting the message that we were planning something for him. Once I took my eyes off of him, he rose and made it to the balcony.
By the time I turned around to check on him, he was climbing over the railing on the balcony. Apparently, he had decided that flying off of a third-floor balcony onto a marble courtyard was doable. I rushed to try and stop him, but by then, he was gone. I heard the stomach-wrenching thud as he hit the marble.
“Call an ambulance,” I yelled to Susan. And then I dashed out the door and down the stairs. Once I reached the ground floor, his cries could be heard loud and clear. “I’m dying! I’m dying!”
In the interests of candor and honesty, I did tell him that that was what he got for trying to fly off of a balcony, but I think he was in such a shape that my words didn’t register. I checked him out quickly. He was bleeding from his mouth and nose. He had dropped feet first, so I figured broken legs, maybe a broken rib that punctured his lung.
About then, the police finally showed up. A Kuwaiti police lieutenant took charge, which was fine by me. I could see him talking to Ahmed, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Susan had shown up and was nearly hysterical. A cordon of policeman had blocked off his landing site.
After a minute or two, the lieutenant turned around and scanned the growing crowd. He saw us and gestured us forward.
“I am sorry,” he said in heavily accented English. “But you will have to come with us.”
“Why?” It was a tragic thing, but he had done it to himself.
“He says that you pushed him over the balcony and that she helped you. You must come with us for investigation. The charge is attempted murder.”
(Don’t miss Part 2.)