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How Maradona saved this Argentinian photographer and his British wife during the Gulf War

Rituraj Borkakoty/Dubai
Filed on August 14, 2020 | Last updated on August 14, 2020 at 12.18 pm
Jorge Ferrari and wife Rebecca in Argentina after their dramatic escape from Kuwait in 1990.

The Ferraris were 'comfortable and happy' in Kuwait until Saddam sparked the biggest military conflict since the World War II

When Jorge Ferrari left Cordoba, Argentina, in 1986 to start a new life in Kuwait, he had no idea that the global reverence for his countryman, Diego Maradona, would shield him and his future wife from Iraqi bullets four years later.

So how did Maradona become intertwined with the Ferrari story 30 years ago when Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded Kuwait?

Well, that's quite a story, but now let's begin with how Ferrari, a freelance photographer and a UAE resident, landed up in Kuwait four years before the invasion.

"I was a young photo journalist in Argentina when my Kuwait-based uncle, who was a professional photographer, offered me a chance to work with him in the Gulf country," Ferrari remembered.

"So I did a lot of photography after arriving in Kuwait in January, 1986. I was also a freelance photographer for Reuters. Eventually I met Rebecca who was from the UK and flying for the Kuwait Airways. We soon got married in May, 1989."

The Ferraris were 'comfortable and happy' in Kuwait until Saddam sparked the biggest military conflict since the World War II.

The night of August 2, 1990, when the Iraqi forces galloped into Kuwait was one that would change Ferrari's life.

"The invasion was a big shock. It was in the midnight when they started coming with their tanks. I was having a small party with my friends. Rebecca was flying into Kuwait that night. She arrived quite late. But we had no clue about the invasion until one of my friends called me next morning. He asked me to go out and take pictures," Ferrari smiled.

"But instead I went to the bank only to find a long queue. And the bank never opened!"

In the first few days after the invasion, the Iraqi soldiers didn't look like monsters.

How Maradona saved this Argentinian photographer and his British wife during the Gulf War (KT25268813.JPG)

Iraqi troops take rest outside Messilah Beach Hotel in the afternoon of the invasion, August 2, 1990. (Jorge Ferrari)  

"After I came back from the bank, I heard the sounds of Iraqi helicopters. They were flying over our locality. I rushed to the rooftop of my apartment and took pictures. Then I went out and took some pictures of the resistance - there was a slight resistance - including one burning Kuwaiti tank. I went back home to develop my pictures and then drove to the Reuters office.

"I was stopped several times by the Iraqi soldiers, but they were polite. I managed to reach the Reuters office and gave them the pictures. Those were the only pictures that came out of Kuwait that day. The Iraqi soldiers were polite, they were treating you with respect initially. But eventually they turned nasty and that's when we thought it was not safe anymore."

How Maradona saved this Argentinian photographer and his British wife during the Gulf War (KT25269813.JPG)

An Iraqi tank burns after being hit by defensive forces during the attack on the Emir's palace on the morning of the invasion, August 2, 1990. (Jorge Ferrari)  

How Maradona saved this Argentinian photographer and his British wife during the Gulf War (KT25270813.JPG)

An Iraqi military tank escort vehicle burns by the side of the Fahaheel highway, about two weeks after the invasion, after an attack by the Kuwait resistance. (Jorge Ferrari) 

How Maradona saved this Argentinian photographer and his British wife during the Gulf War (KT25271813.JPG)

Iraqi troops take positions along the corniche near the iconic Kuwait Towers, August 2, 1990. (Jorge Ferrari)

How Maradona saved this Argentinian photographer and his British wife during the Gulf War (KT25273813.JPG) 

Iraqi Republican Guard corps march towards the Emir's Palace on August 2, 1990. (Jorge Ferrari) 

The situation became grim for the Ferraris when the Iraqis started using human shields, especially the American and British expats in Kuwait, placing them in strategic locations to avoid an American military involvement.

"We were very worried because my wife was British. So we started talking to our friends about leaving."

But if dodging Iraqi soldiers to leave Kuwait was tough, then driving through the desert to reach the Saudi Arabia border was a challenge of epic proportions.

"We decided to leave because the situation was very bad. So with a few friends, we left Kuwait City. I was driving my Suzuki, it was not a big car and I had never driven it in the sands. Then I saw lot of other cars following us, they were all expats and trying to escape just like us. But as we got into the desert, there was a massive sandstorm and eventually I was stuck in the sands.

"Everybody else drove past us. It was then that two gun-toting Iraqi soldiers approached us. I was scared because of Rebecca and I thought 'this was it'.

"One of the soldiers pointed his gun at us and asked me in Arabic (I did speak a bit of Arabic those days): 'Why you have come into the desert, you should have taken the road'. And then he asked me where I was from. When I told him I was from Argentina, he was so happy that he started shouting, 'Oh, Maradona, Maradona!'

In what was a dramatic twist in the tale, the two soldiers then helped Ferrari get his Suzuki moving again.

But having lost their sense of direction, the Ferraris returned to Kuwait City. 

They were losing hope, but then a phone call from the Argentinian consul general would change their fortunes. 

"The Argentinian consul general came from Baghdad to Kuwait City to find out if we were alive as those friends that drove past us in the desert told the officers in the Saudi border that we had been shot at by the Iraqis. Their words reached Argentina and my family escalated the matter with the government back home and that's why the Argentinian consul landed in Kuwait City."

The official then had to produce a fake Argentinian passport for Rebecca to protect her from the Iraqis as they tried to cross the Jordan border.

"Without that official, we would not have got into Jordan. When we finally reached Argentina, there were incredible scenes, you know, because we were supposed to be dead! Then we went to Britain to spend time with Rebecca's family."

How Maradona saved this Argentinian photographer and his British wife during the Gulf War (KT25272813.JPG)

Jorge Ferrari's family at their Sharjah residence. Ferrari is a professional photographer in the UAE. He specializes in sports photography. He is the chief tournament photographer at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.  

How Maradona saved this Argentinian photographer and his British wife during the Gulf War (KT25294814.JPEG)

WITH THE MAN WHOSE NAME SAVED HIM AND HIS WIFE IN KUWAIT: Jorge Ferrari with the legendary Argentine footballer Diego Maradona at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Few months after their great escape, they found a new home in the UAE.

"You know my life has been an accident. Nothing has ever been planned. I met my wife because my close friends in Kuwait wanted me to go to one party and I did not want to go there and I went on my own to another party and that's where I met my wife.  

"Then after Kuwait, we came here because Rebecca's father was working for Etisalat in Ras Al Khaimah. So we stayed with him and then moved to Sharjah to start a new life here and soon we were blessed with three children in the UAE.  

"You know this place has been our home now for more than 30 years. The UAE for us, not just us but for thousands of people, have been a safe haven. And I can't thank this country enough!" 

rituraj@khaleejtimes.com

 


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