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Stranded in America : Vacationing Woman Can’t Get Back to Her Husband in Kuwait

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Stacey Carpenter and her two small children arrived in Manhattan Beach from Kuwait for a vacation in early July, she expected to stay about a month.

But now the vacation has been transformed into an indefinite stay. And while other Americans trapped in Kuwait wonder--and worry--when they will get out, Carpenter worries about when she will get back in.

Carpenter, 33, is the American wife of a Kuwaiti chemical engineer, whom she married in 1980 when they were students at UC Santa Barbara. The Iraqi invasion of her adopted country has left her a woman without a home or access to funds.

“I’m not a widow, I’m not a divorcee, I’m nothing,” said Carpenter, who has not been able to contact her husband since the invasion but has heard through relatives that he is safe.

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Although she longs to return, Carpenter now fears it may be a year or two before she is able to go home to Kuwait, where she was a physiologist and researcher at the University of Kuwait medical school.

In the meantime, she is staying with her parents in Manhattan Beach and starting to build an American life for herself, her 6-year-old son, Saad, and 10-month-old daughter, Layla.

Carpenter’s greatest concern is the safety of her 32-year-old husband, Hani, whom she has been unable to reach since she telephoned him in July when Iraqi troops were massing on the Kuwaiti border.

She said she urged him then to join her in California. But Hani believed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was only flexing his muscles and there would be no invasion. He was confident that Carpenter and the children would return home in August. Although her husband’s American ties would not be immediately apparent to the Iraqi invaders, Carpenter now considers him a hostage and does not want her married name published for fear that it could endanger him.

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“I’m worried about him. It is definitely a potentially dangerous situation over there,” she said.

Carpenter has spoken to a sister-in-law in Saudi Arabia, who told her that Hani is safe, as are his parents and brothers.

But the separation is difficult. “I want my husband with me. We miss him,” Carpenter said.

And even for her son, it no longer seems like a vacation.

Saad will attend first grade at Pennekamp School, where Carpenter once went to school.

Saad--who attended Arabic schools in Kuwait and speaks English but cannot read or write it--said he is nervous about school. But, he added, “I miss my dad and a few friends a lot. I miss Kuwait.”

Carpenter is job-hunting, aiming at management work with a pharmaceutical or chemical company where she can use her scientific background. “I have to support my family,” she said. “I have no access to money. All my money is in Kuwait.”

Accepting that there will be no quick return, Carpenter is thinking of finding a place of her own. “My parents are helpful and generous,” she said, “but I’ve invaded their home. I’m an independent person who likes to do things my own way.”

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Her mother, Dixie, called her daughter’s predicament “a sad situation,” but added, “I’m glad she took the vacation when she did.”

After her marriage, when Carpenter became a Muslim, she and her husband lived in Kuwait for a year before going to Ohio to earn master’s degrees. In 1988, both received Ph.D. degrees from UC Santa Barbara. They have lived in Kuwait since then.

Carpenter said she fell in love with her adopted country, finding it a cosmopolitan place, quite open to foreigners, where modern conveniences can be found alongside traditional ways that make you “still feel in touch with things that might have happened in Biblical times.”

“The way of life is very balanced,” she said. “You have time for work, time for friends and family. Things are a bit slower paced. You enjoy life a little bit more.”

Now she is fixated on the ever-changing daily news from the Gulf, seeking a clue as to when she may be able to return to the country she has come to love.

“Last week, I thought the U.S. would move in and strike Iraq in an intense, short military action. Now it seems like everything will be stalemated,” she said.

And returning to Kuwait? That won’t happen, Carpenter said, until the nation is liberated and her husband can take part in the rebuilding of the country. “Then, I’ll return.”


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