Ottawa woman recalls her experiences during the Persian Gulf War

By: MAHA ANSARI

Left to right: Farhan Syed, Zaina Syed, Jaad Syed and Houda Hassoun

Left to right: Farhan Syed, Zaina Syed, Jaad Syed and Houda Hassoun

She is a software designer who lives in a two-storey house in Ottawa, but news of conflict in the Middle East, from the ongoing civil war in Syria to violent political turmoil in Egypt, transports Houda Hassoun to childhood memories of how the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War left her homeless. Before the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War, Hassoun, 36, said she lived in “a small, one-bedroom apartment in the city of Kuwait” with her parents, Moufid Hassoun and Chada Karroum, and her three siblings. Moufid and Karroum were of Lebanese descent. “Every summer, my mom would take us to Lebanon,” said Hassoun, from a couch in her spacious living room. During a summer vacation to Tripoli, Lebanon, Hassoun’s family received news that they would not be able to return to Kuwait. “I remember it very clearly,” Hassoun recalled, as she gazed into the distance. “It was the summer of 1989. I was 11.” Hassoun said her family was preparing to go to the beach, when her grandmother called her mother and said, “ ‘There’s something on the news about Iraq taking over Kuwait.’ ”

Left to right: Farhan Syed, Zaina Syed, Jaad Syed and Houda Hassoun

“The TV was on,” said Hassoun, “And I could see it. I could see Iraq attacking Kuwait. There were lots of army personnel running, lots of shooting and people behind barricades.”

Two weeks after the outbreak of the war, Hassoun said her father, whom she calls “Baba,” contacted her mother in Lebanon.

“Baba told us they were kicking out everybody who was not a Kuwaiti local,” explained Hassoun, “So he told my mom to enroll us in school and buy a house in Lebanon.”

For six months, the only contact Hassoun had with her father was through messages and letters from relatives.

“We were not able to talk with Baba during his journey,” said Hassoun, her voice trembling. “It was very heartbreaking and we were very worried.”

“We missed him,” continued Hassoun. Tears filled her eyes as she spoke. “We missed him but we were, I think, very—” Hassoun hesitated, her brow furrowed and her eyes focused on her lap “—very good kids. I think we were all trying to be brave.”

Hassoun said she felt “relieved” when her father arrived in Lebanon. “We hugged him and he was crying,” she said. “Everybody was crying.”

The family’s next step was to find a place to settle permanently.

Hassoun said that in 1990, Moufid obtained refugee status in Canada, and so began the wait for Hassoun, her siblings, and her mother to receive visas.

“I was 14 when we landed in Ottawa,” said Hassoun. “It was November seventh, 1992.” With a laugh, she described her first time seeing snow as “fantastic.”

The family rented a two-storey house in Bells Corners. Hassoun said she attended Bell High School and studied computer science at the University of Ottawa beginning in November 1995.

Today, Hassoun has an eight-year old son, Jaad Syed, and a four-year-old daughter, Zaina Syed. She is a software designer for the RCMP. She is married to Farhan Syed, a software architect for the Department of National Defence.

When asked to describe how her experiences after the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War have impacted her life, Hassoun admitted she grows worried when her husband comes home late and said, “I cannot let Jaad and Zaina go five feet away from me.”

“The Middle East is very sad right now,” said Hassoun. With a sigh, she added, “It’s very heartbreaking when we see kids on the news— especially for me, when I see kids looking for their parents.”

“You feel their pain,” she explained. She put a hand to her heart and said, “I can feel it here.”

Hassoun said she speaks regularly to her parents and siblings, who also live in Ottawa.

On what she learned from her experience during the Persian Gulf War, Hassoun said, “It teaches me to really enjoy life. To cherish family. It teaches me to pray for the suffering that people are going through in the Middle East.”

Zaina, Hassoun’s daughter, crept into the room. Hassoun smiled, pulled Zaina into her lap and added, “Really, it helps me realize how blessed I am.”

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