Their toilets are trenches dug along the corner of the embassy yard. Their diet largely is tuna fish and rice, broken only recently by a few vegetables from a newly planted garden. For entertainment, they once organized a date-picking contest.
For more than three months, roughly 25 Americans holed up in the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait have been struggling against steadily deteriorating conditions. President Bush has invoked their plight in his denunciations of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and the United Nations Security Council has called for the Iraqis to allow the U.S. and British embassies -- the only foreign embassies still holding out -- at least to be resupplied.
But little is known about the diplomats' existence, even less about how much longer they may be prepared to hold out. Yesterday Edward W. Gnehm Jr., the ambassador-designate to Kuwait, provided a glimpse of daily life for the diplomats during a luncheon in Washington.
"It's not pleasant," Gnehm told the group, according to those present.
Shortly after the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, the embassy staff, headed by Ambassador W. Nathaniel Howell, bought a large cache of foodstuffs from local warehouses. Much of what they bought was tuna fish and rice, and Gnehm said that for most of the past month, that is all the diplomats have eaten.
At one point the group, which maintains communications with the State Department, sent a message to a department task force with a special request. The diplomats asked the task force to contact the tuna fish canner to find out if the company had a recipe book for new ways to prepare the delicacy. "Ask them also," the message said, "to send those recipies that they discarded. We might want them all."
The group also got instructions from Washington on how to build a crude smokehouse to smoke the fish in an effort to break the monotony of the daily diet. Furniture from the embassy has been used for fuel.
The embassy staff also planted a garden and, Gnehm said, had its first small harvest within the past week. Beans and tomatoes provided a welcome supplement to the fish and rice.
Administration officials have not ruled out a mission to resupply the embassy.
The group now living in the embassy compound includes a doctor and a Baptist preacher who is holding community services on the grounds. Although the group includes some Americans who were working in Kuwait for private companies at the time of the invasion and sought refuge in the compound, all are now on the U.S. government payroll. That action may have been taken to provide diplomatic protection under international law to everyone in the embassy.
Several date trees dot the embassy compound, and the group watched with great anticipation as the dates ripened. Gnehm said the embassy residents divided themselves into teams when the dates were ready for picking and set up a competition over who could climb the trees the fastest.
Sanitation and personal hygiene are major problems. For a time, the only water available came from the swimming pool inside the compound, and everyone received a daily ration of a couple of buckets for washing, drinking and cleaning clothes. Since then, the group has dug a well, and while the water is brackish, Gnehm said it is adequate for washing clothes and bodies. The water in the pool is used exclusively for drinking but must be boiled first.