Terry Lounsbury had to keep reminding himself Tuesday that he was sitting at the kitchen table in his home in St. Catharines, Ont., and not in Baghdad "waiting for the fireworks to start."
In Cheektowaga, Daniel L. Kirisits felt the same way. Lounsbury and Kirisits are two area men who returned home after being caught in the Persian Gulf crisis and each is savoring freedom.
"There were a swarm of people Sunday trying to get exit visas after we got official word we could leave," Lounsbury said. "But a little money under the table and a bottle of gin did amazing things in speeding up the process."
His mother greeted him at Pearson International Airport in Toronto Monday afternoon.
Lounsbury, a 26-year-old factory installation supervisor, went to Baghdad July 18, planning to stay for four or five weeks to supervise installation of a $30 million factory. It turned out that he arrived "just in time for the most incredible experience of my life," he said.
Throughout his ordeal, he was able to maintain telephone contact with his wife at least once or twice a week. "You knew someone was listening in," he said.
Only Lounsbury and his boss, Julius Vajda of Pennatang, Ont., were staying in the apartment, and they had freedom to drive around Baghdad.
"Even close to the Turkish border, where we were really scouting to get some idea of how we could escape if we had to."
Lounsbury said there was plenty of food, if money was provided. "Hussein was emptying out the Kuwait warehouses and bringing the stuff to Baghdad," he explained. "You could buy cases of frozen shrimp, Gouda cheese . . . all the luxury items," he said.
Kirisits, 46, a drilling manager for a Kuwait oil company, spent the next four months after the Iraqi invasion Aug. 2 as a virtual prisoner in his suburban Kuwait villa, seeking occasional refuge in an attic crawl space behind an air-conditioning unit.
Kirisits told of executions and the bodies of Kuwaitis being dumped in front of their families' front doors.
Having had a front-row seat at the Middle East situation, Lounsbury has some definite opinions.
"Hussein is going to play this to the 11th hour," he said. "Meet with (U.S. Secretary of State James) Baker and then tell his people that the Americans gave him something to pull out of Kuwait. The Iraqi people will buy it because they don't even want to think there is going to be a war."
"I certainly hope that's what happens, but the man has an incredible ego and he's crazy enough to blow up the whole Middle East because if he has to go down, he wants to take everything . . . with him."
Lounsbury said the Iraqi people were hospitable.