Al Ahmadi was grey. A kind of artificial Pompeii where tar took the place of ashes. We followed a sandy path south-west towards the "Dragon's Heart" as we call it here, trying to joke about it.In reality, we were deeply struck by our surroundings in the little state of Kuwait invaded by the Iraqi army in 1990 and liberated by an international coalition in February, 1991.
Slowly, the sun, foot after foot, disappeared into the dense columns of black smoke. All noise was muffled, enveloped in the wind that whipped the grains of sand and the clanging of the Fire-fighters' caterpillars, the screeching of the water pumps used to cool the wells, the sound of the flames very similar to that of a large aircraft warming its engines. We had to wear gas masks. For hours.
And for hours, thirst bit at our throats while the temperature reached 54°C in the shade. A non-existing shade in this desert near the wells where we moved through the sticky darkness like ghosts and thermometers had no sense: for a range of many metres, the sand vitrified around the flames the Earth angrily spat towards the Sky.
We decided to go further south, towards Al Wafra. On the horizon, a thin, silvery strip revealed a tormenting view, crushed between the darkness of the Sky and that of Earth, which recalled that something still existed outside of here. If it were not for that silvery strip, we would have been overcome by anguish, alone in this place, disfigured by our gas masks, our eyes wide open, seeking some familiar point of reference.
| ||An image of Kuwait during the oil-wells fire |
(photo Blue Planet©)
We stopped. I got out of the vehicle and the soles of my shoes stuck to the tar that had fallen from the clouds. We were appalled, terrified in the blackest place of the Earth. Al Wafra was a ghost town. There were many experimental cultivations. Tomatoes, palms, flowers. The sky was clearer now, but the horizon was still hemmed in by the grey smoke that the sun could not penetrate.
We say a car parked close by with its headlights on. A dignified man in his white jaballah and kefiah watched his Egyptian assistant water a small palm from a water tank. Taking off his gas mask, he showed us the palm purchased in London, just over a year before. It is of a special type, very precious.
He brings it water three time a week. Plants are very important, he tells us. Plants are Life. Two weeks later, on request of the United Nations, twenty-three more companies of specialised fireman, from all over the world, came to join the four American companies in their attempt to extinguish the oil-wells of Kuwait. It was November 6, 1991 when the last of the flaming wells was extinguished after eight long months of fire-fighting.