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From Naim Mahlab

Going through my papers, I found a visa issued to my father in 1929 by the U.S. Consul in Baghdad. What intrigues me is how he managed to make the trip from Beirut to New York with no language skills other than Arabic. Once in the U.S. he had no difficulty as he was guided by his younger brother, Saul, whom he had sent to New York a few years earlier to manage the business office he had opened there.

As far as I can remember, he was a seasoned traveller. In his youth he covered the eastern coast of Arabia, with his father, on numerous trading voyages. They must have felt safe enough to make these trips. I recall his telling me that he once was asked by a local Sheikh to convert to Islam, as he, the Sheikh, wished to adopt him. He, of course, declined the offer and remained on excellent terms with them, particularly with Sheikh Mubarak Al Sabah, the founder of the present ruling clan of Kuwait, who had neutralised his brothers in order to retain the "Emirate" in his own line.

During the First World War, my father moved the family to Kuwait where he was, obviously, very much at ease. My mother became a close friend of the Sheikh’s favourite wife, Um Saoud. Among the stories I remember is the one about Um Saoud telling my mother that she remembers being kidnapped, as a child, while she was playing in the street in a big city whose name she could not remember. She was brought up by her kidnappers and somehow ended up in Kuwait. Judging by the "European" features of her children, she was, probably from the Balkans. We remained friends with the Sabahs until the recent events made it difficult.

Such friendly relations between Moslems and Jews, was the norm until recent events soured them. I remember when I was returning from school in India in 1943, the ship I was on stopped in Bahrain to pick up the ruler, Sheikh al-Khalifa, who was on his way to Kuwait. Since I was the only Arabic speaking passenger on a British boat, I spent a lot of time talking to him. He showed what I can only call keen and all but fatherly interest in my studies and future plans. Once in Kuwait, Sheikh Fahad al Sabah, who was a close friend of my family, came on board to receive his visitor. I asked permission to take a picture of them, and they kindly posed for one. I find it very sad that such good relations had to end in the present bitterness.


Naim S Mahlab





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