GROUP-HISTORY.
ROH GROUP KUWAIT 
HISTORICAL FACTS

 

On returning to Kuwait in early 1989 after being at home in UK for a period of time, I tried to make contact with a man called JOE who was listed in the “where to find” as a “loner” of the fellowship of AA in Kuwait. I was told that he would be at the Holy Family Cathedral on a Friday afternoon around 16:00 hrs.

I went to the church feeling quite excited with the prospect of meeting another AA person but at this time but was unable to find him. I asked a couple of the priests but they could not help. There were perhaps hundreds of people milling around and I was so disappointed in not finding JOE.

I left the grounds of the Holy Family Cathedral and headed over to the Sheraton Hotel feeling quite flat and lonely. I had built up my hope too much for my own good.

After drinking some tea in the lounge of the hotel I decided to try once more to locate Joe. In those days we had no mobile telephones or e-mails or text messages etc. and it took a bit more leg work in order to contact others.

Arriving back at the Holy Family Cathedral grounds I wandered around looking for Joe, often stopping and asking people if they knew a “guy called Joe who comes here on Fridays”. (Could it be that only a desperate drunk would do this type of thing?)

Well, guess what? My Higher Power must have intervened because suddenly I hear a voice behind me say something like – “Excuse me sir but are you looking for friends of Bill W. and Dr. Bob?”

I turned around and there stood this man whose appearance gave me the impression he was from India. I replied, “Yes”. He just offered his hand and said – “My name is JOE and I'm an alcoholic”.

Although I had never before in my life set eyes upon this fellow there was an immediate and powerful bond between us which is so hard to describe. I wanted to hug him but thought better of it in case he might be offended.

He invited me to follow him and he led me to the only palm tree in the N.E. corner of the Holy Family Cathedral grounds. There he introduced me to a pretty young woman named Simone who was also a friend of Bill and Dr. Bob.

 

The three of us simply chatted to get to know each other for no more than about  30 minutes before saying cheerio and making arrangement to meet again the following Friday – same place – same time.

I went back to my car feeling elated. I was no longer alone in Kuwait with my disease. There were two others with whom I could relate to and the spiritual connection between us three had already shown itself. It was quite amazing.

At that time the three of us were not a “group” so to speak. What we had was a truly informal get together in the boundary of the Holy Family Cathedral in Kuwait city.

 

There was no “Preamble” or “Serenity Prayer” just 3 recovering drunks happy to meet once a week for 30 minutes in the hot sun. Sometimes, during the week, we might get a chance to speak to one another on the phone (no mobiles – just the hard lines but it worked ok).

After a few weeks passed we were joined by another man called Fritz from Holland. Now we were four.

 

We started to go to a restaurant after our 30 minute gathering at the Holy Family Cathedral. In those days Kuwait did not have the wide choice of eating places that there are today.

 

We used to frequent Caesars restaurant. At that time Caesars was just opposite the Sheraton and a short walk from the church. I have some fine memories of those times together.

Later in the year we had a new Kuwaiti member. I shall not mention his name at all but refer to him as “B” to protect his anonymity in this sensitive place.

 

“B” came from a good Kuwaiti family and he was a successful businessman. By his own admission he was an alcoholic.

Soon after “B” joined our little gathering we were approached by a lady from Canada. Her name was Jean. Now we are really going places.

By early 1990 we had obtained the use of a small room in the corner of the compound. There was no A/C  at first but with the help of the Bishop we did arrange for a unit to be installed. This made a big difference.

With great inside help from our Kuwaiti member “B”  we were able to introduce the recovery programme - (of Alcoholics Anonymous), to the local psychiatric hospital in Sulaibikhat.

At least two of us would go weekly  to the hospital and explain the essentials of the recovery programme to the medical staff. We did this until a group was up and running in the hospital itself.

 

Thereafter we backed off to allow the hospital group to develop in its own way. The hospital meetings were conducted in the Arabic Language as most of the patients were either locals or Arabic speakers.

During 1990 we had several visitors to our meetings and one of them was an American financial consultant  I shall call “P.”

 

This fellow would visit Kuwait on business frequently and would come along to our meeting on a Friday. (But more about this fellow later on).

We now had reached a point in our evolution where we slowly developed a group format and a structure based solidly on the 12 Steps, 12 Traditions, Guidelines, 3 Legacies and 12 Concepts for World service. We all agreed that our best thinking had got us here and we earnestly tried to conform to the suggestions as outlined in the Recovery Programme.

 

In the middle of 1990, we lost Jean from the group as she had to return to Canada with her husband. We missed her a lot as she had so much wisdom and was very active in the fledgling group. We learned much from dear Jean and she and I kept in touch with one another by letters and the odd phone call.

On 2nd August 1990 our world was turned upside down when Saddam Hussein sent his army into Kuwait.

 

For us at the Holy Family Cathedral it was a blow because due to the fact that we could no longer move around freely, our meetings stopped altogether.

With the exception of JOE and me, all others had (fortunately) either left the country before invasion or were on holidays outside of Kuwait.

JOE lived in the district of Hawally, which at that time was a stronghold of the Palestinian community in Kuwait. In 1990 it was estimated that over 450,000 Palestinians lived in Kuwait and the great majority of these lived in the district of Hawally.

I lived in the district of Dasman and (being on single status at the time) I was housed in a building consisting of about 48 studio apartments on 6 floors.

Sometimes, I would manage to get through the checkpoints to visit JOE and his wife in their home. They would let me share their food and it was so good.

 

Sometimes the local children would see me and start yelling “Ameriki Ameriki”. In all probability and because the UK had a Prime minister (Margaret Thatcher) that was at the forefront of international leaders condemning the invasion, those kids would chase me and throw stones at me.

Being a white skinned Brit I stuck out like a sore thumb in Hawally where you hardly ever saw anyone other than Arabs. It reached a stage where I could no longer go there. It was too dangerous for me and for JOE and his wife. Harbouring Brits was a punishable offence introduced by the Iraqis so I had to stop going to see them.

 

Soon after, JOE and his wife were able to leave Kuwait. 

 

Then I felt so alone. I’ll never forget that feeling.

Although I managed to avoid it for a while, I was eventually captured by the Iraqi Muhabbarat (secret police) and taken to Iraq spending my time as a hostage (“guest of Saddam Hussein”) in a place called Faluja.

During my captivity, it became necessary to break my anonymity to one British fellow who was also a hostage in the same place as me.

 

Booze was available to those who could pay for it and people were always trying to get me to have “just one” even when I excused myself by insisting I was allergic to alcohol.

 

Therefore, I confided in this one person that I was “alkie” and a member of AA. It worked and in fact I used to share quite a lot with this guy. I was grateful for that.

On the day before we were to be released from Iraq and to be sent back to UK we were taken to a Hotel in Baghdad called the Mansour Melia Hotel.

 

It was about 22:00 when we walked through the hotel entrance and into the atrium.

 

There were people from the British Embassy handing out a bottle of Johnnie Walker and a carton of Dunhill cigarettes to each Brit that came through the door.

 

I declined the whisky but took the cigarettes and questioned the wisdom of handing bottles of whisky to men who had been taken hostage and locked up by the Iraqis.

 

I spoke to the Ambassador Harold Walker (later to be come "Sir Harold") who politely informed me that these were gifts from the British Public and it was the duty of Embassy staff to distribute them. He told me not to worry, there would be no trouble.{This proved to be just an optimistic hope as trouble (because of drunken behaviour) did break out during the course of the next few hours}.

 

It was fortunate for us that the Iraqi Muhabbarat who were mingling with the released expats kept their cool otherwise it could have been a different story.

 

We were eventually provided with a place to sleep for the night with a promise that the following day we would be repatriated by air to UK.

I could not sleep and went down into the atrium area where there were perhaps 200 people milling around, drinking, smoking, chatting. I saw my pal who I had been locked up with in Faluja and we continued chatting away at the prospect of being free very soon and getting to see our families who we had not seen for months.

Looking around, I spotted “P” from the Ray of Hope Group in Kuwait. I must have let out a yell because my friend looked at me and said “is that one of your special friends?” I said yes and excused myself to go over to see “P”.

My joy to see him was shattered when, reaching to within about 6-8 feet from him, I could tell he was drunk. He looked at me and looked away as if he had never seen me before in his life.

 

I was mortified. I could not believe he would have picked up a drink. I was that naïve having convinced myself that ANYONE who practised the recovery programme to the best of their ability could not pick up a drink.

Since those days I have learned so much and although it’s sad to say I truly do accept the premise that my sobriety is contingent upon my spiritual condition and not much else. If my spiritual condition is unhealthy then so is my sobriety at risk.

Moving on to 1991 the country had now been liberated by the allies. I came back to Kuwait where work had begun on the reconstruction of the country.

 

I quickly got in touch with JOE who had also returned and we went to see the bishop at the Holy Family Cathedral about starting our meetings again.

 

This time the Bishop kindly allowed us to use a nice little porta cabin about 12x4metres with an air-conditioning unit.  It was perfect for us.

There were many expats flooding in and in no time we had about 10 people in all regularly attending the meetings. I had been in Kuwait about 3 months and went back to UK for a break.

When I returned about 3 weeks later, “B” came to my lodgings to see me. He was upset with what was going on in the group. He told me that the group was closing the meeting by saying a Christian Prayer. “B”being of the Moslem faith was uncomfortable with this.

At the next meeting I asked for a group conscience meeting. This we had after the regular meeting that evening and I asked why the group had introduced the “Lord’s Prayer” and dumped the “Serenity Prayer”.

 

The decision to do so was defended by most of those present because it “was common in the USA” where most of the new people in the group had come from.

My argument that this was not USA but Kuwait and that this was a predominantly Moslem country and the fact that “B” came into the premises of a Christian place of worship fell on deaf ears. The group decided to continue using the “Lords Prayer”.

 

I was adamant that I would raise this subject again at the next meeting.

At the next meeting “B” did not show up. I again asked for a group conscience decision on the matter of the “Lords Prayer” issue. Again the group conscience decided to stay with it.

After the meeting I went to the home of “B” and he was quite upset. It was only the second time he had missed a meeting since he first came “to the rooms” and he and his wife were quite disappointed.  When I told them of the decision of the group conscience, “B” told me that he would not come to the meetings any more.

I was very upset about this –not with him but with the unthinking attitude of the group members who carried the decision to continue with the “Lords Prayer” in spite of being fully informed of what was going on.

Again at the next meeting I raised it, this time as part of my sharing. I expressed my disgust that the group had succeeded in turning away a fellow member because of a selfish desire to do what they do in another part of the globe.

 

I finished off with saying that “B” would not be returning to the group as it had lost its “magic” for him and he no longer felt a part of it as he had done previously.

 

To this date he has never returned to the Ray of Hope Group. Being the “only show in town” it was a real blow for him (and for me too).

As a result, the group conscience at the next meeting decided to revert to the “Serenity Prayer.”

 

But irreversible damage was done. Although I kept in touch with “B” outside of the meetings, he never came back. He began to drink again within a few months.

I was so upset that I vowed never to stand by and allow things that would damage the unity of the group.

 

Neither would I allow such things to go unchallenged, even when I was clearly out voted and in the minority of opinion.

 

It has caused me lots of pain personally and I still do it but I will never stop.

 

My aim is to stay sober and to carry the AA message to those who want it. I will never win a popularity contest in the rooms of the ROH group but this I owe to AA as a minimum.

In 1992 we officially adopted the name “Ray of Hope Group”.  We contacted the AAWS for some literature and to be recognised as the first AA group in Kuwait.  

 

And so it began.

 

The group went from strength to strength and we had our ups and downs like most groups do at times. But we overcame them and continued to flourish.

 

We continued to hold our meetings in the porta cabin and progressively evolved from one meeting a week to three meetings a week.

  1. ·         These were Big Book meeting on Sundays.

  2. ·         Step/Tradition meeting on Wednesdays.

  3. ·         Open Discussion meeting on Fridays.

 

The biggest attendance at any of our meetings (according to my recollection) was 25 (on two occasions) but on average over the years from around 1994 until 2015 we averaged about 9.5 members per meeting.

 

I have had the pleasure of meeting and greeting several hundred people over the years that have come briefly to our group. I have kept in touch with some but most are just memories of the past.

In spite of these numbers we have had to rely upon a very few core group members to keep the doors open over these years and to provide necessary services for the group to function.

The Holy Family Cathedral administrators have been very understanding towards us and have always allowed us the use of a room.

In June 1997, we had to leave the Holy Family Cathedral premises for a few months due to major renovations of the buildings. We tried and tried to find an alternative public venue where we could hold our meetings during this period but were largely unsuccessful.

 

Finally and with great difficulty we managed to get the use of a room in Sawaber Complex in Sharq district.

 

It was not quite what we would have liked for reasons I shall not disclose at this time but it was at least somewhere that members of the public could come to an advertised AA meeting.

In November 1997, the reconstruction work was completed and the Bishop (Micallef) allowed us to use room no 7. We have been there since and throughout each year.

In 2000, Jean in Canada invited my wife and me to her home in Ontario.

 

We went to Canada and then travelled down to Ohio in USA with 40 others from AA groups in Ontario where we attended the World Convention in Minneapolis. It was a revelation for me.

For example:

 

One day, I was walking through the city on my way to the stadium in order to meet a guy called Larry.

 

Now Larry and I had stayed in touch after he left Kuwait to return to his home in USA. He had been a member of the Ray of Hope group.

 

We arranged to meet up at the convention venue at a pre-arranged time and location. On the way to meet Larry, I got chatting to a man going in the same direction.

 

He noticed my name and group on my badge and said “Hey, you're from Kuwait?"

 

He then asked me if I had ever met a guy called Larry whom he used to sponsor.

 

When I told him I was about to meet Larry he was "gob smacked".

 

The result was that he came with me and met Larry who he had not seen for quite a few years. (I had to share this with you. Was it a coincidence?????)

In the build up to the 2003 war against Iraq planned by the USA and UK amongst others, many of the foreign nationals in Kuwait were advised by their governments to leave Kuwait.

 

This “evacuation” started in February 2003.

 

Amongst those that left Kuwait were many thousands of Kuwaiti nationals.

 

The roads became quiet and the city at night was like a ghost town.

 

There was talk of chemical and possible nuclear weapons in the Iraqi military arsenal and people were leaving in droves.

 

I personally did not believe this nonsense and stayed on.

 

My wife left for UK and our group was down to just a few of us - (5).

On 19th March, the bombing of Iraq began. JOE and I would turn up for every meeting just in case someone might turn up.

 

Sometimes another member who had decided to stay in Kuwait would show up.

 

During this time, the air raid sirens would be going off regularly warning the populace of incoming Scud missiles.

 

It was quite surreal at times but more often than not the air raid warnings were just noise – no missiles.

 

It’s true that there were a few missiles that reached Kuwait city but not as many as the propagandists made out. As usual, far too much hype and not enough fact.

After the infamous “Mission Accomplished” statement that the USA president made from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln many people started to return to Kuwait.

 

Again there were newcomers similar to what we had 12 years earlier and the meeting numbers swelled.

From then on the Ray of Hope group continued to function as normal holding 3 meetings each week at the Holy Family Cathedral. It has continued until this day.

My own thoughts are along these lines. If the ROH group continues to function according to the principles of the past then it should continue to survive.

 

Should we detract from these principles then I fear that as a recovery group we may lose sight of our primary purpose i.e. “to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety”.

This we owe not only to AA itself but to JOE and a few others who have kept the group going in spite of some difficult moments in our history.

 

Dear JOE, you can rest in peace up there in the “BIG MEETING” with Bill and Dr. Bob and others  knowing that we are still surviving as a functioning AA group and not an entity that is trying to be “all things to all men.”

NOTE; The information provided comes in part from my diaries, records and my memories of events. You may rely upon it as being   reasonably accurate. Although this is the basic history of the Ray of Hope Group we do in fact celebrate our Anniversary in October each year using the symbolic date of 22nd October 1992 as the beginning of the group.

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