Life at Sloane House YMCA


Talla - A Student and A Playboy from Kuwait

Talla lived a few doors next to me. He was a dark-skinned student from Kuwait. He introduced himself as “Ted” to girls who did not know him. It took him 7 years to complete a 4-year course. So he was not the good student by any strech. But he was smooth when it came to girls, especialy blondes. There was something about Arab man and their facinations about blones. Our friendship started with a misunderstanding of a personal hygiene. Every morning, I saw him came out of restroom with a one-gallon water bottle in his hand. At first I thought he used it to water his plant, flower or something. So one day, seeing him walk out of restroom with that water bottle in his hand, I said hello and mindlessly said to him: “Water these flowers again?” “Water what flowers? I don’t have flowers!” he answered, seemed perplexed by my question. I asked him what he was doing with that big water bottle every morning. He smiled. He said he never used toilet paper whenever he went number 2. Water was the cleanest way after a shit, he told me. I was so amused. I had never heard of such a thing. I laughed so hard. I then told him what I thought he was doing, he laughed too. We became good friends ever since and in many ways he was more of a brother to me in this new land. However, I always reminded myself not to shake his left hand.

Being a student from Kuwait was the best life a student could ever have: Kuwaiti government subsidized full tuition and some stipends, plus his family sent him money every month. There was no pressure to finish school for Talla. Why bother? Money would never run out and if he failed one semester, there was always another semester and more excuses to stay in the States. So chasing girls, to be precise, chasing blondes was his hubby. A year later, Iraqi invasion changed everything, however.

At the end of the summer of 1990, I moved out of Sloane House to an apartment in Queens. Iraq invaded Kuwait that summer. Talla was in California enjoying west coast blondes at the time. He phoned me when the news of invasion broke out. He told me he was in financial trouble. He could not get money from Kuwaiti government. His family escaped the invasion but they could not send any money to him for the time being either. So he moved in with me in a basement apartment in Queens. A couple of month later, Kuwaiti embassy in Washington D.C. started enlisting all Kuwaiti students in the US to get military training in an army base in New Jersey. One night he called me from the training base and told me that he just completed the training and within a day or so he would be heading to Saudi Arabia where ally troops and Kuwaiti government stayed, ready to liberate his country from the Iraqis. I wished him luck and told him I would look after his belongings and looked forward to seeing him back soon. The next day, however, when I came home from work, I saw 2 military bags lying on the living room floor. Talla and another Kuwaiti student were in his room. I was very surprised to see him and I could tell he felt somehow awkward when he saw me. He told me he didn’t want to fight and left the army training facility with another Kuwaiti student the night before their deployment. I didn’t know what to say. I was happy to have my best friend back, but at the same time I felt sorry for the solders who risk their lives for him and his country.


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