Memoirs

Five of André’s memoirs, as told to his son Lawrence in 2002.

Also, written by André: The Mystery of the Tepid Brew.

The Iraqi Revolution

André flies to Baghdad in 1958 to install a TV transmitter that never arrives, witnesses a coup d’état, catches malaria in Basrah, and puzzles over speeding taxi brothels. 42 minutes

The Bedouin Wedding

André meets Eliane, confuses her father, and confronts the challenge of marrying someone who has no passport. 26 minutes

Addendum about Maitre Tahger, the Belgian lawyer. 1 minute

Goat and Camel

André moves to Kuwait to install TV equipment and raises the suspicion of his Indian auto insurance agent. 12 minutes

Okay. In the early 60s, just after Eliane and I got married, we went to Kuwait. I had been installing all sort of TV stations in Egypt and in Syria and at the time, I was working for RCA International which was a division of RCA in New Jersey. RCA had sold a lot of equipment to the government of Kuwait and they had no idea what to do with it. The Kuwaitis were totally unable of course to even unpack it. RCA was under pressure to do something about it.

One of the Vice Presidents of RCA who liked me said, “Listen, since the job in Egypt is essentially over, would you consider taking over the TV station in Kuwait, the TV network in Kuwait?” So having just gotten married to Eliane, I popped over to Kuwait, it looked good and I mean the job looked interesting. I had to start a TV, a whole TV system. And I went back to Eliane and said, “Why don't we do that?” So Eliane agreed and we went to Kuwait.

There's a lot to be said about Kuwait and I mean we could fill pages and pages about Kuwait but essentially, I was working very hard, the temperature was very, very ... I mean we have essentially three weathers. It could either be humid, or it could be dry and hot, or it could be very dusty. So you had one week of dust tempest called toz, or you had very humid or very hot and dry weather. So it would rotate from these three weeks, around those three weeks.

There was a very small TV transmitter with one camera when I got there and we immediately expanded the studios and built large transmitters, all of which could be subject of many recordings of hours and hours. But essentially, what happened is that we started building on the beach, the TV station was on the beach next to the American Embassy.

We built some annexes to the existing TV station. And one of the problems is that, as I said it was very, very warm and of course the sun in Kuwait, we are closer to the equator than here and obviously the sun tends to bang vertically on the car, so by the time you finish your work, if you get in your car, you literally you cannot touch the wheel, you cannot touch the doors because you will burn yourself.

Next to the very low level buildings that used to house the new studios that we were building and the new transmitters, we had built on the side of the building some corrugated roofs as supported by pillars and at least it would give some shade. And at noontime, the people who had access, access with capital A like me since I was a chief engineer, we were entitled to park our cars under those corrugated roofs and which were like car ports, and therefore our cars were warm, but not boiling.

One day, we had a program. The TV studios were air conditioned of course. They would record endless programs of Bedouins talking and telling stories which were in fact quite interesting. These were stories of Bedouins talking about what life used to be in Kuwait many years ago. And in the program they would bring goats and all sort of things and drums. It was in fact a very colorful program and I had some pictures that we could add to that debriefing of mine.

One day there was a program, and of course the Bedouins, who were real Bedouins and they would bring all sorts of animals with them, and if they could not bring them in to the studios, because those of course were animals would shit all over the place, they would have to keep them outside. One of them, at the time I was driving a Porsche, so I need to get back on this because the first thing that happened ... Okay, let me go back to the original story now that I realized this.

We were building a big TV station in the mountains, in a place called Matlah and I would have to go back and forth to that mountain, in order to supervise the work. At the time we had a little Volkswagen, a beetle Volkswagen with a sunroof that could be opened.

And one day I was coming back from the new mountain TV station, it must have been two o'clock in the morning, I was totally bushed, I was really tired, and I was driving back and it was very cool. And because it was cool, I had opened my sunroof. And I was driving back to Kuwait City to go back to Eliane and a cold beer and with my roof open and under the moon and driving on the road and happily, and I fell asleep. And all of a sudden, as I woke up all of a sudden, I saw in front of me several camels crossing the road in front of me. And I remember looking at the camel, these camels have a huge belly and they were walking slowly, moving slowly across the road just in front of me and there was one with a huge belly.

And I remember thinking my sunroof is open I'm going to get under that camel and its belly is going to fall in my sunroof and it's going to crush me. So I managed to avoid the camel by not going under him, but then just behind him, yeah just behind him and what happened is that I touched him with the side of the Volkswagen and send him galloping in the dunes next to the road. So I woke up obviously, I mean I was awake and then sort of kind of groggy. The other camels scattered all over the place and the one I ran into the back anyway sort of started limping and run away in the desert. These were camels not controlled by men, these were just roaming camels, wild camels.

I got back to the next TV station the next morning, and after a few days people started commenting to me when I went to see them in the evening when we went to see friends. People started commenting that my car was really smelling, and it started smelling more and more and I would look everywhere and I couldn't see anything. And eventually, going to the garage they said, “You know there is some flesh under that is caught between your car and the chromium bars that used to line the side of the Volkswagen.”

What had actually happened is that I had run into the camel and some of its skin had caught, had been caught between the body of the car and the side railings because in those days Volkswagen had side railings, and of course the thing was rotting.

So I went into my insurance agent who was an Indian. Everybody who was doing anything in Kuwait, Kuwaitis didn't do anything. So everybody working in Kuwait was obviously an Indian and then I went to say, “Good morning sir. I think I've had an accident with a camel and I would like to have my car fixed so you need to remove this, this chromium plate and you need to clean the thing and you need to remove that little flesh which is there and clean my car, repair and touch it up. Thank you.” And the guy said, “Yes I understand. This things happened but I really wonder why you get into a camel. This is not normal you know, you must be very careful.”

Of course this car was totally, was insured against third party also so there was no problem and I was insured in all possible, whether I hit the camel or the camel hit me, I was covered anyway.

So they paid for the repair of my car. And then I sold the Volkswagen and got instead a Porsche, a second hand Porsche which had belong to one of the Behbehani brothers. Behbehanis were rich Iranian-born merchants who run half of the business in Kuwait. Half of the business was run by the Behbehanis and the other, by another family called Al-Ghanim.

So the Behbehanis had Motorola, RCA, Hotpoint, Volkswagen, Dodge and Al-Ghanim had General Motors, Philips, Marconi, and other things. And the two families were always fighting to get the business from the government.

I sold my Volkswagen ... well, I returned my Volkswagen to Behbehani. I took instead a second-hand Porsche that one of the Behbehani Brothers had used a couple of times but wasn't using anymore so I got it for a good price. And by then I was running my, I was driving my Porsche back and forth to work.

And so, going back now to the matter of the TV station, I had parked my Porsche front forward against the wall under that corrugated roof during one of the TV programs. I was working in the technical department, not in the program department, and when I came out at noontime at one o'clock in order to get back home and have a cool beer and say hello to Eliane and have lunch, and have a nap because in those days we used to work until one o'clock then have a nap until four. And start working again from four to eight or something.

I had my Porsche, “Vroom, vroom, vroom.” So I get into reverse and I pulled back and, “Vroom.” And what happens, because as I pull out of the, from under the car port, I realized that I'm pulling in front of ... As I go into reverse, I see attached to my front bumper a goat. And I stopped my car of course and the goat was attached with a rope to my bumper, and my bumper was partly detached because the goat did not want to go with the Volkswagen or with the Porsche and it was pulling back as all goats are known to do.

By then of course the goat is screaming, I am blowing my horn and several of the Bedouins come out of the TV station screaming, “Oh, my goat has been damaged. What are you doing to my goat?” I said, “Why did you put your goat under my car you idiot!” And what had happened is that in order to keep the goat in the shade, they had stuffed the goat under my car, and attached it to the bumper thinking that I will not move my car of course.

So then I had to go back into my insurance agent and say, “Excuse me sir, I would like you to repair my bumper.” And the guy said. “What happened to your bumper sir?” “Well, I had a goat attached to it.” “Then you must be really careful sir. This is the second time in a couple of weeks that you're having encountered with animals. Surely you can do better than this. This is getting to be very embarrassing for everybody.” So they fixed my car and touched it up. And that's my second encounter with a goat. That's one of the famous episodes of Tintin in Kuwait.

The Castle of the Ruler of Oman

André solves the strange case of the nightly Omani pole-vaulter. 12 minutes

The Pirate Station

André convinces a drunk U-Boat captain to deliver a TV transmitter to a North Sea pirate station, which is later decommissioned by the Dutch army bicycle brigade. 31 minutes

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