Mar 5, 2018
Teresa Benetos was a nurse in Baghdad when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. She’s writing a memoir about her time as a hostage in Iraq.
Growing up in a traditional Irish Catholic household, it has taken many years for Teresa to realise that, as a woman, her story is of interest. After thirty years, she says, it is time to tell the story of ‘The Accidental Hostage.’
As a teenager, she battled with her father to be able to finish her Leaving Certificate at school and study to become a nurse. Against the background of an economic recession, Teresa was compelled to seek work in London, during the era of “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish.”
She left London and went to work in Belfast during the Troubles, the thirty-year armed conflict and political deadlock in Northern Ireland.
Then, in 1990, she took a job in a hospital in Baghdad. Before she returned to Iraq after some leave, she had her fortune told: She would be surrounded by uniforms and there was months of worry ahead for her parents.
On August the 2nd, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and decided that foreigners were not allowed to leave. Teresa was one of about 200 Irish nurses held hostage. So long as they continued to work in the hospital during Operation Desert Storm, they were relatively safe.
As well as the fear of their own position, they experienced the vicarious trauma of treating the civilians impacted by armed conflict, including the pre-invasion gassing of Kurds, with children being carried on foot from Mosul with horrific injuries. Following the trade sanctions imposed by the UN, people were running out of food; the hospital was running out of medicine and supplies.
This is a story both harrowing and inspiring, as well as bearing historical importance. Reflecting on family, career and recovery from trauma, the interview reveals Teresa's strength and resilience. It also provides tantalising hints into her skill as a writer.
The conundrum of the story is a familiar one: Family. We flee into the world and sometimes end up longing to return. What Teresa wanted most, trapped in Baghdad, was the family and the parents she’d so desperately wanted to leave.