Also, written by André: The Mystery of the Tepid Brew.
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
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
Lawrence Kesteloot: Let’s talk about the Bedouin wedding.
André Kesteloot: Ah, the Bedouin wedding, that was an amazing thing. How far back do you want me to go?
LK: As far as necessary to cover the event.
AK: Okay, well originally, you know that I met Éliane in a railroad carriage, you know about that. Do we want to talk about that?
AK: Well, Éliane may have a different version, so you may want to get Éliane’s version also but essentially a couple of colleagues of mine and I booked a trip to Luxor and Aswan in the south of Egypt, which is Upper Egypt, strangely enough, and we got on that train and in our carriage were some interesting persons including Éliane and one of her friends, and a Swiss woman, fairly attractive also, and we spent most of the night, I think as we were tracking to Luxor, we spent most of the night laughing and I think drinking also, but I can’t remember drinking, I certainly remember talking and laughing et cetera, and after a couple of days it seems that Éliane decided that she wanted to put the grab on me and somehow we became entwined. She has more details about that than I do.
We got back to Cairo. I was at the time, hum, having a relationship, shall we say, with another woman, and Éliane and I decided we should get rid of our respective partners of the time, and I separated from that lady, who was a very nice person also, but of a different kind altogether, and we started going out more and more often together and I think Éliane at the time used to say that she was taking Italian lessons, lessons of Italian language, to her parents, which was just one of those lies that women invent, and we would go out at night and go to the movies and eat on the way back from the movies. We would eat fried sheep brains, delicious stuff, on sandwiches, in the street. Delicious stuff, excellent, morh, it’s called, morh means brains, so if you say of someone that he has morh it means he’s a brainy fellow but morh is also the brain of the sheep, and you would buy that from a shop fried and eat in a sandwich, so we used to go the movies and go out and things.
And then, I’m not quite sure of the dates, I could find the dates, eventually if you want to publish that we ought to find the exact dates, but I think that around January ‘61 the ruler of Belgian Congo, Patrice Lumumba, was killed by what was rumored at the time to be a Belgian plot, which may in fact have been either an American or a Belgian plot or maybe both. Anyway, Lumumba was a communist, he had been trained in Russia and at the time Egypt was undoubtedly very much under the control of the communists also. At least they had very close ties with Russia. And Egypt, to show its dissatisfaction with the move of killing Lumumba, decided to kick out all the Belgians. So I was kick out, or I was asked to leave, and my colleagues and I, two other colleagues and I were asked to go back to Belgium, and therefore the person in charge of the installation of all the TV stations, an American, was left alone.
So I went back to Belgium and started writing to Éliane back and forth, and I would sent her a letter every other day and she would send me a letter every other day, and eventually, through those letters, we grew fonder of one another and it was decided by both of us that we should probably get married eventually. So at the time I was still in Belgium and I went with my mother to a well-known jeweler, who used to sell platinum and gold to Jacques, to Grand Jacques [Jacques Marot, André’s step-father], when he was a dentist, and we had a beautiful ring made, which Éliane still has, and which is made of platinum and two pearls that my mother had. And we had that ring made and so I was ready should I be able to back to Egypt to take that ring with me as an engagement ring.
Meanwhile, Éliane went to that American who was in charge of the TV installation, a man by the name of Hank Seay, and she said, “You know I really want to get married to that Belgian fellow, why don’t you do something about it?” and Hank Seay was able to obtain a new contract for me to go back to Egypt. So one day out of the blue RCA said, “Okay André, you’re back on contract, why don’t you go back to Egypt?” and miraculously there was a visa for me at the Egyptian embassy, although in fact Belgians were not supposed to go to Egypt. I went back to Egypt and rented an apartment very close to where Éliane used to live in Heliopolis, and we would meet and we went back to courting one another, and Éliane’s father became somewhat nervous about the fact that I was courting his daughter and didn’t seem to be willing to pop the question.
So one day he said, “Well, young man, what are your intentions?” and I said, “Oh, I have every intention of marrying your daughter,” and in fact I produced the ring, which was a proof of my good faith. So then it was decided to get married but the problem is that in the meantime Éliane’s father, who was Egyptian, I think, no, who was Italian by birth, like Éliane, and had in fact by then switched to Lebanese passport because during the war if you were Italian you would have gone into a concentration camp under the Brits, so although they were born Italian they became instantly Lebanese. The Nasser government believed that, and maybe rightly, that a lot of travel agents were using their contacts overseas to transfer money in and out of the country because in fact, in the Middle-East the tradition is that you don’t actually transfer physically money, you essentially give a piece of paper to someone else and the money never leaves the country, I mean it was just something that was invented by the crusaders, about ten centuries ago.
So anyway, they said, “We need to nationalize all the travel agents,” including, of course, Éliane’s father, so one day they called him to the mougama, which is the secret police building on Midan el Tarrirh, on the main place, square in Cairo, said mabrook, which means congratulations, you are now an Egyptian, and give me your passport. Well he refused to give his passport and refused to become Egyptian because then you would have been unable to do business or to travel as he wished. So he did not want to become an Egyptian. Meanwhile, the Egyptians said, “Well you are no longer Lebanese.” So the question was, if I were to marry Éliane, she had to be either an Italian, an Egyptian, or a Lebanese for me to be able to marry her. She could not be Egyptian because had she become an Egyptian then her father was Egyptian, so that was not acceptable. She could not be a Lebanese because meanwhile the Egyptians had taken their passports away. And she could not be an Italian because she didn’t have an Italian passport anymore, the only thing she had was a birth certificate, I think, on which it said that she was an Italian.
So we went to the Belgian embassy, which by then had become an annex of the Swiss embassy. And we went to see a man whose name will come back to me in a moment if I think about it, but who was the Belgian consul, a very nice guy whom I had met many times before, and I said, “Here is my predicament, I would like to marry this young woman and how do I do that? You are the Belgian consul, why don’t you do something about it?” And he said, “Well, I am the Belgian consul, but there is no Belgian presence, you are the only Belgian here because everybody has been thrown out. The only thing I can do for you is, why don’t you go and see the lawyer who represents all the Belgian interests in Egypt,” and those interests in those days were humongous. We had the metro, the beer, the Stella beer, the metro was Belgian, all the electricity was Belgian, a lot of the transportation was Belgian, so the Belgians were well-ensconced there, and the lawyer who took care of all their business was a man by the name of Maitre Tagher.
So we went to see Maitre Tagher and said, “Well we are recommended by the Belgian consul, mister so-and-so and what can you do for us?” And he said, “Uuuh, let me see whether I can arrange something.” And he sort of thought about it for a while and a couple of weeks later he came back and said, “Okay I know how to do it,” he says, “she can’t be an Italian, she can’t be a Belgian obviously because she’s not Belgian yet, she can’t be a Lebanese, she can’t be an Egyptian, she’s going to have no nationality, we are going to say that she is a Bedouin.” In the sense that Bedouins are people who were born in Egypt but were never of any particular citizenship and you don’t have to prove the citizenship because Bedouins move and go back from Libya to Egypt to, you know, all over the place.
Now for Bedouins to marry they only have to prove that they are older than eighteen and that’s it. So Éliane went to see a dentist, as I recall, and the dentist, of course who was also well-aware of who Éliane was, produced a certificate to the effect that she was more than eighteen years of age. So, now, since she was a Bedouin, the place to marry her was the wakoff, and the wakoff is the place where you register mortgages, which is interesting, so that’s quite a mortgage that was put on my life at the time, so the mortgage organization, the wakoff, is some sort of a large brown dirty building and I think probably a Saturday, I can’t remember but Éliane probably knows that, a Saturday we were asked to come to the wakoff and our lawyer Maitre Tagher was there with a judge of some kind and all the paperwork was ready and it was all understood that here was a belgicki, a Belgian André Kesteloot, Kastaloot in Arabic, marrying some Bedouin woman by the name of Éliane Klat.
So as the wedding was proceeding, which was essentially a piece of paper, we asked some, we needed some, what do you call them, witnesses, and we bought, we brought two pharaj. Pharaj are the people who stay in the corridors and you ask them to bring a coffee or a coke, so we said tal Ahmed, come here Ahmed and Mohammed come and sign that you know these people to be of good morals, so immediately they put their cross on the piece of paper, and then some other guy walked in the corridor and said, “Ah that’s not right, can’t do anything about that, that doesn’t seem right,” he knowing full well what was going on, of course, and he probably wanted a bakshish on the side, so my lawyer, Maitre Tagher rushed out, did something to the man, and then the man said, “Oh okay, then it’s okay.”
Came back and eventually the paperwork was finished, and it was either a Friday or Saturday, probably not a Friday, probably a Saturday, Friday would have been a holy day. And all of a sudden around twelve o’clock, after about half an hour of strange discussions in Arabic and in French, we were married! So I had borrowed one of the cars of Maurice, Éliane’s father, and we drove back from downtown Cairo to Heliopolis, and came back to the parents and said, “Hey, we are married!” So they couldn’t believe it of course, so champagne et cetera et cetera.
And then the parents of Éliane wanted to organized a religious marriage after this civil marriage, because the first marriage was civil, so they organized the marriage which took place in the cathedral of Heliopolis a couple of days later, again Éliane knows the dates. And although the actual priest who was running the mass was the local priest who ran the cathedral, the person who actually did most of the work, who did most of the speeches and the benediction, was an old friend of Maurice, Éliane’s father, a Jesuit by the name of, the name will come back also in a moment, he and Maurice had been friends for many many years, oh, Father Ayrouth, who was a delightful person whom I liked very much, whom we both liked very much.
And then all of a sudden we were married, and we went back to the Swiss embassy which ran the Belgian interest section, and Éliane obtained then a laissez-passer of the Red Cross, of the International Red Cross, issued by the Swiss to the effect that she, Éliane, was now married to a Belgian and was entitled to travel. And with that we traveled to Belgium, we stopped in Switzerland where my mother and my step-father were waiting for us, drove to Belgium, and then on the basis of the fact that this laissez-passer proved that she was married to me, we got a Belgian passport for Éliane, and a marriage certificate, which we still have somewhere, which is all nicely bound in leather. And that was recorded in the St. Gilles, near Brussels, mairie or maison communale, and therefore we were then married officially under Belgian law. And so that’s what happened and we can embellish on that eventually with some more details.
LK: You had the reception at Rue Americaine [“Rue Americaine” was the name used to refer to the house designed by Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta for himself. The house is on Rue Americaine in Brussels.].
AK: Yeah, I don’t remember very much of that reception, I think Éliane will be much better than I would be for that, I remember vaguely, it was such a turmoil of things, my parents had organized a reception and the whole family was invited, but I don’t remember very much of that, it all happened in a turmoil, I think that Éliane, I mean to me Rue Americaine was the place where I’d lived all my life, so it was nothing special, for Éliane, who saw it for the first time, it was an incredible palace with all these things, and I remember Éliane telling me that she was very much apprehensive about how she would be received by the family and all that, and of course she was received with open arms and everybody loved her, and she immediately recruited everybody and was loved by everyone because she is such a nice person. But I remember that she told me one day that there was a fair amount of apprehension when she first met all these people, you know. Who are these people, and all that. So that’s the first, you may want to stop for a second now.
LK: Well, Klat is not a Bedouin name, but nobody seemed to notice that.
AK: Well, Bedouins don’t have any name, it could have been anything, it doesn’t matter. I mean, nobody believed that she was a Bedouin anyway, this was just a flim flam. Everybody, I mean the judge, the lawyer, everybody knew it was a flim flam, but it’s the kind of thing that could not really be fought, I mean everybody knew who she was, I mean the judge knew who she really was, Maitre Tagher knew that she was really the daughter of Maurice Klat who was a well-known travel agent, so there was no doubt that it was a flim flam. But everybody said, “Well, you know, if she wants to describe herself as a Bedouin, enh!” You know, I mean, nothing much can be done about it.
LK: Did you ask Maurice for her hand in marriage?
AK: Yeah, Maurice had been insisting that I should do something about getting married, and I remember that one day we were driving, since we both lived in Heliopolis—Heliopolis is about half an hour from Cairo—we would drive every morning in Maurice’s car, down to Cairo so that I could then go to the TV station where the TV would provide transportation for me to go the transmitter site. And one day I was sitting up front near Maurice, Maurice was driving, I was sitting on his right, and Éliane was in the back with Lucien and some girl that Lucien was then courting I think, an employee of Maurice, and I said something to the effect that I wanted to marry, I said to Maurice I want to marry Éliane, and I’ve brought this ring and I really would like to, and I thought I was very clear, and he had absolutely no idea what I was doing. And finally, you know, I stopped, and he didn’t seem to register, and I remember Éliane on the back seat saying to her father, “André’s saying that he wants to marry me!” Ahhh!
So that was a major moment, but it was total confusion, I obviously didn’t say that very clearly, or maybe he did not understand, but it was not one of those situations where I’m on my knee and I’m asking, “Oh sir would you please grant me,” you know, it didn’t quite work that way, and of course traffic in Egypt is total confusion, you are trying to avoid donkeys and small children and assorted women in black, in black dresses, so maybe he was concentrating on not killing the pedestrians, while I was concentrating on trying to be as obscure as I could be, and without actually saying, “Will you grant me the, Allez vous me donner la main de votre fille?” or something like that, so there was another moment of confusion there. But it all worked out rightly.
Actually the reason why he was so insistent, as Éliane probably told you, is that of course in the Middle East it’s very warm at lunch time, so most shops close around twelve or one o’clock and start again at four o’clock in the afternoon like in Greece, and therefore I would go up again with them most times back to Heliopolis, I had my own apartment, and I would often have lunch with them and then there would be a little nap, and one day I was having a nap in Éliane’s room, and ahem we had locked the door, and Éliane’s father tried to get in and of course the door was locked and he took that very poorly, he thought that maybe we were up to something. I will not deny or affirm anything, I will not comment on what we were doing or not doing in the room, but he got somewhat annoyed and then he took Éliane on the side and said, “You know this can’t go on, hmpf,” et cetera, I don’t know this guy, suppose he goes back to Belgium and he leaves you alone et cetera et cetera, but of course we already knew we were going to get married, there was no doubt about it, we just, we had no focused on the importance of telling him or not telling him that we were going to get married, it was evident, there was no doubt about it, we were very much in love. So to me it was obvious and to Éliane also, we just had not discussed that very much with the parents, and I think it was obvious also for Denise, who was very prim and always netches, well-dressed, black stockings, black shoes, high heels, tick tick tick tick etc. But to her that was evident, I think, that we were going to get married, it was just for Maurice that things were not so clear. And probably he was right, had I been the father someone who was then, what, twenty years of age or something, she was born in ‘39, by then we were in ‘61, so she was 22, maybe he thought that maybe if I didn’t marry her, she would be dishonored or something like that.
And so we got married and then we left Egypt because we couldn’t stay there, there was really no reason for me to be in Egypt except to get married. The fellow, the American fellow Hank Seay, who had arranged that with RCA, had only arranged that so that I could come back and meet Éliane, but I mean there is not very much work there. Meanwhile he, Hank, who was working for RCA, and I was working for RCA—they, RCA, had sold all sort of equipment to Kuwait and they were in a pickle because they didn’t know what to do about all this equipment, because the Kuwaitis were less than capable to install it or even run it obviously, and so while I was still in Egypt they said, “Why don’t you pop over to Kuwait and if you want and if you like it, you can get—we, RCA, will get you the job of chief engineer of the television of Kuwait.” So they had enough power on the government of Kuwait that they could arrange et cetera et cetera.
So apparently the Kuwaitis had said, “Do you have someone that you could recommend?” so I popped over to Kuwait and I liked it, seemed like a good thing to do and I had nothing else to do for the moment, so we went back to Belgium to get married, and then by then they had offered me the job to become the chief engineer of Kuwait, so then Éliane and I went to Kuwait, where we stayed for something like two and a half years, again I could check the dates exactly, and that’s another episode, that’s Chapter Two of the Tintin adventures, Adventures of Tintin in Kuwait, that’s something else altogether. So Kuwait of course was much less civilized, it’s a totally different story, but very pleasant, we enjoyed ourselves there. I think that we should always enjoy ourselves whatever we are doing, but I mean so that’s the end of the Egyptian marriage thing, trip to Belgium, where we stayed for a little while, and then we went to Kuwait for two and a half years, then after two and a half years, we can expand on Kuwait later on, but after two and a half years the Egyptians, and particularly the Nasserites, the supporters of Nasser, wanted to control the propaganda, the Egyptian propaganda in Egypt [he means Kuwait], and they wanted me out of there, so after two and a half years, it became difficult to stay there, they wanted to put Egyptians in charge of everything.
LK: The Egyptian propaganda in Egypt or in Kuwait?
AK: No, the Egyptian propaganda, the Egyptian embassy in Kuwait was very powerful, and they wanted to control Kuwait, so they were pushing pushing pushing to put more and more Egyptian engineers or pro-Egyptian engineers, and so they arranged that, they said, “You know, we’ve had enough of André,” things are starting, and so life was becoming difficult, not dangerous or anything, just it became annoying, and Egyptians were all over the place, so by then we said, “Okay,” and by then the Minister of Education and Guidance, who was in charge of television, who was a good friend of mine, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah, had become by then the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and he’s still the Minister of Foreign Affairs today, 30 years later, 40 years later , still, it’s incredible, and therefore they put some pro-Egyptian person as the Minister of Guidance and Education and that guy had as his first job to get rid of me and put an Egyptian, or at least a pro-Egyptian person.
So we left, and immediately an old professor of mine from college, a man by the name of Bernard, his family name was Bernard, said, “Well as soon as you are ready we would like you to take over the job of head of the research laboratory at Pye in Cambridge, but meanwhile, we have another job for you, which has to do with installing a pirate TV station in the North Sea,” so while they were organizing the paperwork for me to go to England, because I needed a work permit, something you know all about, and a residence permit or whatever it is, I installed a TV station in the North Sea, but that’s another chapter, that’s another story.
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.
André solves the strange case of the nightly Omani pole-vaulter. 12 minutes
André: So, in the early 60s I was a chief engineer of the television of Kuwait. The other states in the Persian Gulf, also known as the Iranian Gulf, also known as the Arab Gulf, were interested in starting television. The reason being that in the south of Iran, in Khorramshahr, the Iranians had a big TV station which was pumping programs down south in the Persian Gulf, and for some reason the Persian Gulf, which was very humid obviously and ran in the north south direction, more or less worked like a tunnel, and therefore the program from Khorramshahr, which would have only been seen let's say about a hundred miles away, were seen all the way down to Dubai in Sharjah, which was a hell of a long way.
So all these guys, all these little rulers in Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain, were afraid that eventually the Iranians would try and put a claim on some of those territories, and therefore they wanted to have their own TV stations, and Kuwait was running its own TV station. So as in my capacity as a chief engineer of the TV station in Kuwait I was invited to several little countries, including Qatar and Oman, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Qatar is a peninsula. It's written Q-A-T-A-R but it's pronounced “gatter” in Arabic. And one day I was invited there for a couple of days to go and see whether the station would be installed. I run there into our I was rather invited... In order to go to one of those countries you needed what was known as a “non-objection certificate”. Most of these countries were still, if not officially, at least unofficially run by the Brits. And in order to go in one of those places you need a visa which was called a non objection certificate. So obviously as the chief engineer of the Kuwait television I was immediately issued a such a visa and I went to Qatar
Lawrence: Non-objection means they don't object to you.
André: They don't object to me going there, which is really a visa. And I went to Qatar and there waiting for me was an old Englishman and his wife, waiting for me at the airport with the full intention of putting the grab on me so that I would not somehow get waylaid and go and talk to some local merchants who could try and organise things for me. So there's this Brit was obviously working for the British government, at least underhand, invited me to his home and introduced me to all sorts of people. And we went and look at the scenery and see where we could put a TV station.
Essentially Qatar is a flat piece of land about three feet above the water level and any station would have been installed anywhere, it didn't really matter as long as you had it all down. So was there killing a couple of days or three days. And I was invited to that man's home and instead of going to the hotel he said, “Why don't you stay with us.” So I stayed with him and I... This is a short interlude. And anyway he was essentially functioning on gin and tonic, and so was his wife. They were totally pickled most of the day. It was a very warm weather and very humid and very difficult to live in. And I would not have liked to be the official or unofficial British representative there because there was nothing else going on. Qatar was a very small town and in about 10 minutes you had driven up and down the system at the time early 60s.
So I remember staying at his home for a couple of days and he lend me a book at a time called All You Young Ladies. And it was at the time I thought that some of the passages... It happened in the Middle East and some of the passages obviously applied to the Persian Gulf and the trucial coast. The trucial coast is called the trucial coast because there was a truce amongst all the bandits living around there that the truce had been applied by the Brits. So the trucial coast means that it was the place where the Brits had been able to apply a truce. Qatar was a little further north, but it's the same type of culture. So he lent me that book which I remember reading parts of call All You Young Ladies. And there was a rather funny passage in it which I remember reading, forty years later, and it had to do with the fact that a local merchant had been annoyed at the fact that other Pakistanis and Indian Merchants were trying to take the business away from him. So he had attacked them with a stick and had beaten them on the head.
And eventually the local merchant is taken to court and by “court” I mean he has to appear in front of the local ruler who of course is surrounded by all the people in the in the Majlis and he's there sitting in front of everybody. And so that the ruler is from the country in question in the book and so is the man who has beaten up everybody with a stick. And all the other merchants who have been beaten up are in fact Pakistanis and Indians and assorted non Arabs who have obviously no expectation of surviving in that country if anything happens. And the ruler listens to the arguments of the people who were beaten up and he says well all of you have got bandages on the back of your head so obviously you could not have seen who did it to you. So you don't know what you're talking about. And a man who has beaten them up say is therefore released because it can't be proven that he is the one. And he says, “Oh ruler, oh magnificent. Oh you have received the praise of Allah. Obviously you have been enlightened by Allah for your justice and your good understanding that it is not me who did it and I'm now being released. Pleased oh sire may I have my stick back.” I remember reading that and laughing my head off in those days. And 40 years later I finally found on the second hand market on Abe books a copy of All You Young Ladies and I am busily reading it again.
So anyway I was in Qatar and that's all there is about Qatar. Then I went to another place called, a little later, in fact it's much later than that, it's about ten years later, I am invited to go to Oman. Oman is the eastern-most portion of the Persian Gulf. The Persian Gulf looks like a capital L. And at the very end of the right-most part of the L is a thing called the Strait of Hormuz, which is a very narrow passage which controls in fact access to the whole Persian Gulf. And this Strait of Hormuz has on one side Iran on the north side and on the South Side a country called Oman, which is an old British colony or possession or protectorate or something. And the only reason we the US can go in and out of the Persian Gulf is because one side of the Strait of Hormuz is still controlled by a pro-British or pro-American people including I mean those people of Oman. If Iran managed to control both sides, obviously they would interdict our passage and we could no longer bring our fleet there and it would stop us from being able to defend Iraq or attack Iran or you know all these places.
So the Strait of Hormuz is very important, therefore Oman is very important, therefore the Sheikh of Oman, the ruler of Oman is very important. In the 70s I was asked to go and make a survey and see whether we could protect the palace of the ruler of Oman, who was obviously the kind of guy who the bad guys were trying to get rid of. I mean the bad guys being the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Egyptians, the communist, the Iranians, anybody who had anything to say in the region wanted to get rid of their sheikh, the ruler of a man. So I got another non-objection certificate, I flew to Oman, was received rather well and was asked to make a survey of the palace. So the palace...
What was interesting is that the ruler of Oman at the time, this is in the early 70s, had two gold colored BMWs. Both were the fastest cars available possible and both exactly identical. And when he would come out of the palace, in order to go downtown, he would always have those two cars driving and you never knew whether he was in the first car or the second car. So that if any attack was to be perpetrated against him the bad guys had only a 50/50 chance of killing him, since they could only blow one car at a time.
So I got there and did a survey of the palace. The palace was quite large and he had the royal stables and the whole palace was surrounded by a fairly high wall, maybe ten feet in height, that surrounded the whole palace, and they had the royal stables in the palace. And I went in and out and measured everything, etc. and what he wanted was to have a perimeter defense which would protect him. What he was afraid of was not so much that people would bomb this palace because no airplane was allowed to fly without his permission, but that some bad guy would actually try and pole vault over the wall, come into his garden, and come and throw a bomb on him or a grenade or something. That was the general thing that they were afraid of, that's what the Brits were afraid of.
So the thing was to protect the surrounding wall of the palace. I mean we're talking about a serious palace, I mean very small in height but with a lot lot of ground and a huge wall all around. So we made a survey and I tried to install at least one set just in one place to see whether anybody could pole vault at night, and what happened is that during the night this thing would be triggered, and by the next morning we would find that the the defense system had been triggered somehow. So either someone had pole vaulted over the wall, or something else had happened. So this put our whole system in in jeopardy, and eventually what I found was that the ruler of Oman was keeping the royal peacocks, and these peacocks were enormous birds. I mean this was serious, you know serious birds, and they would fly over the wall and since their cross section was about the size of a man, whenever they would fly over the wall there would of course trigger the detection system. So when we said, “Well one of the things you could do, your highness, is get rid of your royal peacocks.” He said, “You must be joking,” or something equivalent in Arabic, a threw us out of course. So that was the end of trying to protect the ruler of Oman against pole vaulting by bad guys. So much for the royal peacocks.
Lawrence: How did the detection system work?
André: It was essentially a radar.
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 minutesBack to Home Page