Keeping a Low Profile

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

mj As the rhetoric between Iran and Washington heats up once again, so have the ‘warden notices’ from the American Embassy in Kuwait been increasing in my inbox. They all basically say the same thing–telling Americans living abroad about recent perceived terrorist threats in the region and reminding US citizens to be aware of their surroundings at all times while eschewing congregations in public.  The warnings come so often that it’s easy to become desensitized to the threat and just quickly delete the messages while moving on with life. But all it takes is a simple reminder, such as this week’s launch of a satellite test rocket by Iran, to put things into a dangerous perspective.

As an American living in the Middle East for the past 12 years, I have somewhat adapted to the continuous threats that are a part of daily life in the Gulf. The first I remember occurred right after September 11 when reports that a powdery white substance had been left at various American installations in Kuwait. They turned out to be bogus and not what they were suspected to be which was Anthrax. The second happened when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and again Americans were told to either leave the country or create a ‘shelter’ in their home in the event of Iraq using the purported biological warfare and WMD’s that the U.S. convinced the world it possessed. The latest threat, which has gone on the longest and thankfully has not materialized as of yet, is what has been keeping me up at night.

Will they or won’t they? That’s the question on the tip of just about everyone’s tongue these days. Only time will tell if Iran will be attacked by the US or Israel because of their nuclear enrichment program. No one knows what Iran’s response will be, but President Ahmadinejad has promised that his country will attack any Gulf State that helps in an aggression against them. So, keeping a low profile is paramount for me as the Holy Month of Ramadan is set to commence in Kuwait.

I am pretty much the only American that I know of in my city. My children are the only Americans in their school, which has a complete English curriculum along with Islamic and Arabic courses. As a parent, I constantly worry about them each day as they head to school. Everyone, of course, knows they are American.  However, when it comes to meeting new kids on a public playground or even talking to a waiter at a restaurant, I’ve told them to say they belong to a different nationality. The reason is again in line with keeping a low profile. There is a lot of hatred in the Gulf directed towards the American government for the continued wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And although I have always been treated well and with the utmost of hospitality while living in the Middle East I would much rather be safe than sorry.

For me, keeping a low profile means that I don’t always go to the fancy American grocery stores in Kuwait that carry my beloved Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Kraft Mac-n-Cheese. Instead I make do with the local grocery stores and the limited American brands they have on offer. It also means I am scrupulous when making new friends or giving out my contact info. This is the hardest as I am a ‘people person’ and have always been surrounded by friends. As a result of my guardedness, it takes me longer to make friends and the isolation creeps in fast. Thankfully, the Internet has proven to be my saving grace as I have ‘web buddies’ from all over the world.

Americans living in the Gulf enjoy many perks–like no taxes, cheap gas and high salaries–however it all comes with a hefty price tag. Safety and peace of mind are two commodities that are priceless.


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