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9/11: Touching unexpected hearts

Deborah Lomando
Deborah Lomando
Opinion
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Where were we on 9/11? We were living in the Middle East, recently posted there with my husband’s job. It was early evening in Kuwait, and I was cooking dinner. Thrilled that our daughter had arrived for a visit the day before, I was preparing a celebratory meal when the phone rang. My Texas brother, sounding out of breath, and near hysteria, was on the phone screaming at me to get out of Kuwait. When I finally managed to piece together that the United States was under attack, my husband quickly turned the television to BBC News, the best news we could find in that far side of the world. We watched in stunned silence as the second tower fell. 

Immediately, there were the frantic calls from our children, relatives, my daughter’s husband, and friends, all pleading with us to come home. Not really a choice once we heard how international flights were being rerouted and grounded for an indefinite period. The details were beginning to be available. Most alarming: the perpetrators were Saudi nationals. And there we were, obviously Americans, living less than an hour’s drive from the Saudi border. What to do? Were we safe?

Suddenly the doorbell rang. Our landlord, the son of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Italy, was on our doorstep. His first words to us were an expression of how deeply sorry he was, and that he knew we must be frightened. He warmly offered us a place in his home if we were scared and, if we planned to stay where we were, he and his family would provide any assistance we needed. Anything at all.

The doorbell kept ringing. We lived on a typical street in a Kuwait City community with neighbors surrounding us from so many Middle Eastern nations — mostly from Kuwait but also from Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and even Saudi Arabia. Neighbor after neighbor began making their way to our home that evening, all expressing sympathy, offering places for us to stay if we felt threatened in any way, bringing food and flowers, and willing to provide any comfort that we needed. We did not speak Arabic, and many of our neighbors did not speak English, but their concern about us was perfectly clear. It did not take us very long to realize we were indeed safe. Not only were we horrified at the events unfolding in the United States, but everyone around us in Kuwait was, as well.

One of the most poignant moments of that time was the day after. My daughter and I had just driven by the U.S. Embassy to see thousands of floral bouquets heaped around the embassy gates. It looked very similar to those scenes we saw in the UK at the palace gates when Princess Diana died. We then stopped at a gas station near the embassy to fill up the car. A Kuwaiti mother along with her daughter, both veiled and robed in the traditional attire, were in a car at the pump next to us. The mother looked across at us, said something to her daughter, and both got out of their car. Just beside our car, they both stood silently, hands over their hearts, tears in their eyes. They showed us in the best way anyone could, that the terror and tragedy of 9/11 touched so many hearts, not just those of Americans.

Deborah Lomando lives in Las Vegas, and was born and raised in Texas. Originally a teacher with a B.A. and M.A. in American History from the University of Texas, she also has a B.S. in geology. Hired by a major oil company, she was the first female professional in a West Texas field office. During her 12 years with Chevron, she was a senior geologist, but also developed and delivered training on diversity in the workplace. She later returned to the classroom (in California) and received a $2 million-dollar Annenberg Foundation grant for school reform. In 2001, her husband’s job took her overseas and for the next 13 years — nine in the Middle East and four in Africa — she continued to look for ways to make a difference, including teaching at the Bahrain royal family’s private school for girls and serving as an associate professor at the University of Bahrain, coaching young women through their student teaching experiences. Since returning to Las Vegas, she has enjoyed spending long overdue time with her four children and eight grandchildren and devoting free time to grassroots politics.

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