Suddenly he was without a country.

And without his credit cards.

Hisham Ibrahim Waqayan, a thin man with gold-rimmed glasses, was vacationing in Miami with his wife and three children when he learned that Iraqi forces had invaded his country. It was early on a Thursday morning. He arose in his room at the Marriott and switched on the TV. "I saw the map of Kuwait," he said. "I couldn't believe it -- I thought it was a dream or something. I woke my wife up and she couldn't believe it either."

This week the 36-year-old economist, in Washington as part of the Kuwaiti delegation to the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, recalled those early hours of exile and the subsequent scramble to organize a new life. Of course, being an educated man from an oil-rich country, one experiences a somewhat different sort of exile than that of millions of impoverished people around the world in this war-torn century.

"When the invasion took place, nobody would accept our credit cards -- American Express, Diners Club, whatever," Waqayan said by way of explaining his financial plight. "Not all the Kuwaiti people have an account outside Kuwait -- maybe 10 percent. Many rich people kept their money inside the country, so that when they fled to London, even though they might have had $100 million, they have nothing."

Waqayan, who also moved to London, where the financial ministry of the Kuwaiti government-in-exile has established itself, said that his countrymen have "adjusted very well there. Now you see Kuwaitis taking taxis and buses and the underground. They do not eat in a fancy restaurant like they used to. They stick together so well."

As for himself, Waqayan said he had no bank account outside Kuwait and has managed by borrowing funds from his brother, who was already in London. They decided to send their families to Cairo, where they keep a four-bedroom pied-a`-terre for the convenience of whatever relative wants to use it. And also, he said, "Kuwaiti embassies all over the world, they give Kuwaiti citizens an allowance each day. It's not a lot."

He declined to say how much, but it can't be a bad deal. Not bad at all. On the other hand, two other brothers and their families remain stuck inside Kuwait, while Iraqi soldiers slowly dismantle the country. His mother is there too. His father died several years ago.

"I'm not sorry for him, actually," said Waqayan. "I feel it's good that he died before he saw this -- especially an invasion from a neighboring country like Iraq."

Escape and Worry

The Kuwaitis stand around in a plush little room that's been transformed into a temporary office in the mammoth Sheraton Washington Hotel -- prosperous-looking men in dark suits, almost indistinguishable from the thousands of other prosperous-looking men in dark suits crowding the hotel's corridors and meeting rooms. There are about a dozen in the Kuwaiti delegation, all of whom flew in from London last week for this event. They are led by the minister of finance himself, Sheikh Ali Khalifa Sabah, who first agrees to an interview, then cancels it.

Almost all of them, they say, have relatives still inside Kuwait. Communications are cut, and they are worried. Most of the men in Washington this week were outside the country on vacations or business when the Iraqis invaded, but not all. Zahi Awadi, who works for the Kuwait Foreign Trading and Contracting Investment Co., was in Kuwait City at his parents' -- a four-bedroom house of brick built in what he calls "the American style" -- when a friend woke him up with a 2 a.m. phone call to say, "We have been invaded."

"My initial reaction was that it was a border incident," said Awadi, comfortably plump at age 31. "Then I called my uncle and he said, 'Just stay at home.' Then I could hear bullets being fired nearby." There followed a tense four days before he, his uncle, who is a high-ranking bank officer, and other family members drove a caravan of five cars across the desert and arrived safely in Saudi Arabia.

The wait before his escape was particularly frightening because another uncle, Abdul-Rahman Awadi, is the Kuwaiti minister of state for cabinet affairs and, on Aug. 4, broadcast from Cairo a statement that enraged the Iraqis: "We are not ready to talk to a man who occupies our land! He has to withdraw first." The young Awadi was afraid that soldiers would be on the lookout for anyone with his last name, but the apparently inexperienced troops who stopped him from time to time never noticed.

The trip across the desert was tough, three hours across the sand, 85 miles with the temperature about 115 degrees. Awadi didn't dare turn on the air conditioning in the 1981 Audi he was driving for fear it would strain the engine. His own car, an '82 Buick Electra, he had stored just the day before at his uncle's chalet on a distant beach, so he couldn't use that.

"I did have a GMC Suburban, but we left it behind because we were afraid the Iraqi soldiers would take it because it's big and new," said Awadi. "They went to all the dealerships -- Mercedes, Cadillac, all of them -- and took the cars. My uncle {the banker} said just don't take the luxury cars, because the soldiers would confiscate them. So all the cars we drove were the older models."

Once over the border, the family went on to Bahrain, checked into the Diplomat Hotel -- free of charge, as guests of the Kuwaiti Embassy -- and began reorganizing for a life in exile. "Now," he said, "they're scattered all over -- some in Geneva, some in Cairo, some in London, some here in the States."

Awadi himself now lives in McLean in a three-bedroom apartment he bought when he was a student at George Mason University majoring in business. Unmarried, he likes the Washington area and had been, on the day of the invasion, about to leave to pick up his parents in Germany, where they were vacationing, to bring them here for another month of vacation. For the occasion, he had transferred $20,000 to First American Bank here -- money that's now coming in handy.

"I consider myself one of the lucky ones," he said, gazing out the window at the late afternoon sun gently splashing the red brick and white shutters of the hotel's old Wardman Tower. "I have the apartment, and my only expenses now are my condo fees."

Making Do

It's hell living in an apartment in London, according to Mohammed Haider Ghuloum, manager of the technical affairs office for the Central Bank of Kuwait. "But it's not as hard as being back inside Kuwait," he said, adjusting his gold-rimmed glasses. "It's better for your personal safety. There are lots of good Indian and Chinese restaurants. They also have some good hamburger joints. But the pizza -- ugh! -- they don't know how to make pizza!"

Ghuloum, a middle-aged graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, had been vacationing with his wife and three children in California when a friend called to tell him about the invasion. Immediately he direct-dialed his brother in Kuwait City. "I woke them up and they didn't know about it," he recalled. He phoned other friends in Kuwait who told him they saw tanks in the streets. Then the lines went dead.

Now his family is safely hidden with Kuwaiti friends in California while he works out of London. Two brothers, a sister and their families, along with his mother, remain inside Kuwait. It's difficult keeping up with developments there -- sorting the news from the rumors -- and he's worried because "the Iraqi soldiers weren't disciplined. They didn't even have food or supplies."

"They blew up the whole telephone system with a tank," said Waqayan. "They couldn't get the switch off."

Ghuloum laughed. "Yeah, they're not sophisticated," he said. "For days people were getting television reception from satellite dishes on their roofs and the soldiers didn't know what was going on -- not at first. Then they disabled the dishes."

He paused and looked out for a while at the Wardman Tower.

"Saddam Hussein can't run Kuwait," he said. "It's too sophisticated for him. They dismantle things and take them up north {to Iraq} -- traffic lights, everything."

"Even the chairs and benches in schools, they sent them up," said Waqayan. "They ate the animals in the zoo."

"They didn't know what they were for," said Ghuloum.

"And they kicked the patients out of the hospitals -- many died," said Waqayan.

"I guess they wanted to bring us down to their level somehow," said Ghuloum. "They threw the incubators out, and 25 babies died. We had a baby in an incubator for two weeks last year, so it reminds you of your own situation. It was like the Khmer Rouge, practically."

He looked out the window again.

"Washington," he said, "is a great city to be in at a time of crisis like this. It's a beautiful city."