Everybody has a story: Genevieve Morrow Ganner, 27

As told to Chloe Walker, published in frankie 27 (January/February 2009)

My father works for an airline, so when I was growing up we moved every three or four years. Through bad timing, we moved to Dhahran in northern Saudi Arabia a month before the Gulf War started. I was 10 years old.

Air raids happened all the time, usually during the night. We had to tape our windows to stop them from shattering. You could see all of it at night, which was interesting, but scary at the same time. The land combat looked like a really crap fireworks show – the Iraqis would fire scud missiles and the Americans and the English would fire something at them to explode their bombs in the air before they could touch the ground. It was like a two-way fireworks show, knocking each other out of the sky.

My compound was never hit, but we were hit pretty close and that freaked us out a lot. A nearby compound got hit quite badly. They didn’t aim for residential areas so it was more unusual. But it did happen. Not often, but enough to keep the tension around.

When there was an air raid, a loud siren would signal us to get out of bed and go stay under the stairs. You could stay there for hours until there was an all-clear siren. You were supposed to wear a gas mask, but unless you heard anything you wouldn’t bother sitting there with it on for two hours because you couldn’t make much conversation. So we’d drink our illegally-brewed alcohol.

It was really big down there under the stairs. I wonder if it was all purposefully built so that everyone could have their own brewery. We brewed everything from wine to vodka and Jeddah gin. Everybody on the compound made different things, so that with everyone’s distilleries combined you had a perfect bar. They had to get someone to fish all the potatoes out of the vodka tin, so that was my job. I was allowed to taste test everything. My favourite was Mum’s kumquat liqueur.

Mum went back to Australia for three months to put my two brothers in boarding school, so my father and I were living there on our own for a while. It was our first father-daughter bonding experience ever. My dad doesn’t know how to cook so we lived off army rations – power bars, canned rice, bacon, chocolate and things in cans like beef stroganoff. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a chicken curry on rice since I left Saudi. I can’t think of anything worse to eat.

I have some souvenirs. We’ve got a missile shell that we use as an umbrella stand. I’ve got an Iraqi war helmet that somebody gave me. He said he pulled it off a dead person, but I was 10 so he could have just been winding me up.

I don’t remember ever being frightened, even during air raids. My dad had a completely stressful time, working for the airline making sure it was safe for planes flying in and out. I could tell that he was stressed and dealing with it all. But us kids carried on as usual. We still went to school every day and rode BMX bikes around on the compound.

A lot of the other kids would go to the airforce base and write messages on the missiles. If their parents were in the defence force, it was encouraged. It was a cool thing to do, to write “Fuck you Saddam!” on a missile. I went and checked it out, but I never did it. Even when I was 10 I was a bit of a hippy. “I don’t want war! I’m not going to write rude messages on a missile! What if it kills a civilian?”

I’d lived in the Middle East since I was little so I was never anti-Muslim, just anti-war. If I’ve walked away from living over there with anything, it’s tolerance. I’m really glad that I grew up in that way. I don’t take for granted that my parents gave me this weird childhood.

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