Tales from Kuwait: A school-teacher couple returns from the Middle East

The Equity
Posted 03.13.03

NORWAY BAY, QC | It took the controlled explosion of a bomb by Kuwaiti security forces to convince Greg and Joan Dunn to get out of the Middle East.

The bomb was detonated on Feb. 25, about 100 metres from the apartment where the couple was staying in Kuwait City .

"We were told it was a suspicious package," Greg says, from his third home in as many weeks - a winterized cottage in Norway Bay, on loan from friends of the couple.

"Once the 'package' was blown up outside of our apartment (using) a robot, we decided we should come home."

Joan had been feeling ill-at-ease in the weeks before the explosion and Greg felt the same way after witnessing the bomb.

"Everyone has a line in the sand," he says.

"Mine was crossed."

About 10 days before the bomb, the Canadian Embassy issued a recommendation that non-essential (non-military) Canadian citizens return home.

The Dunn's were on a plane back to Canada within the week.

"Our family wanted us out a month before (the explosion)," Greg says.

"We had some long phone calls about it."

Once back in their home country, the couple was faced with their next challenge: finding a place to live.

The couple didn't even have proper clothing when they got off their plane at the Ottawa International Airport.

"A buddy of mine had to meet us with our winter coats," Greg says.

"He picked them up at my parents' place (in Ottawa)."

He says Kuwaiti winters are a far cry from Canadian winters, summers too.

"It's 27 C weather this time of year," he says.

"And it's a dry heat, not like our muggy summers."

Almonte teachers

The Dunn's lived in Almonte for 27 years, teaching mostly at Almonte High School. Greg taught gym and Joan was a history teacher and guidance counsellor.

The 50-something couple, growing weary of the Mike Harris government, decided teaching in Kuwait might be more appealing than working under the Tories.

They went to teach at al-Bayan, an English-Arab high school with about 700 students, in Kuwait City.

"Over half of our group (of Canadian teachers at al-Bayan) were Ontario teachers," Greg says.

They sold their home before they left for Kuwait in the summer of 2000, and now that they're back unexpectedly, they've been relying on the courtesy of friends and family.

"We've been welcomed by a number of homes," Greg says.

The couple also owns a cottage in Norway Bay, but it's not winterized. Currently, they're staying at the Healey's cottage.

"We're still up here every summer," he says.

"That part of our life hasn't changed."

Greg has been bringing Joan up to Norway Bay for as long as they've been together - they've been married for 30 years - and Greg has been summering there for most of his life.

Future plans

Now homeless and jobless, the Dunn's aren't sitting idly by.

"We're planning to tear down our cottage in Norway Bay, building something permanent for four seasons," Greg says.

Though there's an uncertain future in the Persian Gulf right now, Greg plans to go back to his job after a war, if there is a war. Joan is still undecided.

"The idea is to go back after the war," Greg says.

"I plan to go back.

"Our school was very gracious. They said they'd still honour our contract."

"The question of war was interfering with the way I was living," she says.

Being in a country where there is violence against westerners, is also a factor.

"Everyone (in the Middle East) tries to minimize it," Joan says.

"They'd say, 'you could just as easily get hit by a car.' But we (westerners) were targets.

The Dunn's say their experience in Kuwait wasn't all doom-and-gloom, but just part of the reality of living there.

"We'd still go on bike rides and walks along the beach," Greg says.

"But we were always looking over our shoulders (in some neighbourhoods)."

Greg says that by the end of their first two-year contract in Kuwait, they really felt accepted by their community at the high school.

"We felt appreciated," he says.

"It was nice to have people say we were doing a good job."

There were even a few cultural markers for Canadian ex-patriots in the arid country.

"(Kuwait) has a well-renowned hockey team (of Canadians living in Kuwait)," Greg says.

"And they boast about having the largest (indoor) ice rink in the world."

He also says one of Canada's greatest heroes, Terry Fox, is well known in Kuwait.

Fox is so well known that it was Kuwaitis who approached Greg to participate in the annual run for cancer.

"I'm a phys ed teacher of 25 years and I didn't do a Terry Fox run until I went to Kuwait," Greg says.

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