WASHINGTON -- Just about every day since the Iraqi invasion of their homeland, members of the staff of Citizens for a Free Kuwait gathered to discuss the news of their occupied country.
Usually, those gatherings brought on bitter tears of grief and anger. But yesterday, they shed tears of joy.
Since dawn they had been awake listening to news reports that Iraqi soldiers were being driven from Kuwait City and rejoicing at the news that Saddam Hussein had promised to leave Kuwait by sunset. It was the first real happiness they have felt since Aug. 2.
"We are overjoyed," said Sana Al-Humoud. "We all came in this morning and cried and hugged each other.
"Our homeland has been saved."
From the moment that telephone lines opened at the fourth-floor offices of the Kuwaiti exile group, staff members were besieged by calls from Kuwaitis seeking information about the retreating Iraqi forces and word from relatives and friends still in the war-torn nation.
The group was organized with money from the Kuwaiti government and private companies to educate Americans about the small, oil-rich country and to coordinate services for Kuwaiti refugees.
The last few months have been torture for Mrs. Al-Humoud. A week before Iraq invaded her homeland, she had left for a vacation in France with her three children -- ages 10, 7 and 4.
"All I had was one suitcase and our passports," she said. "When I heard about the invasion, I thought it was just some minor border skirmishes and that it would pass in a few days.
"But then I heard that my home had been invaded and it could last God knows how long."
So Mrs. Al-Humoud, who had earned a doctorate degree in the United States, decided to come to the Washington area so she could be near the Kuwaiti Embassy and help with efforts to liberate her country.
"I thought if I couldn't fight in Kuwait, I'd fight in another way," she said.
But in November, she got word that her mother had died and for several months her enthusiasm for the fight diminished.
"She was a diabetic and needed insulin," said Mrs. Al-Humoud. "But after the invasion she couldn't get insulin and she couldn't get to a hospital.
"My mother refused to leave Kuwait. She said if she were going to die, she wanted to die in Kuwait," Mrs. Al-Humoud added. "But we didn't think she would die. We thought she was just talking as an old woman. It's painful."
She said her children, who attend an Islamic school near her home in Falls Church, Va., have gotten into several fights with other children -- particularly Iraqi children. And they are anxious to return to their home in Kuwait.
Buthayna Fayrouz, 32, is also eager to return home. The Kuwaiti woman was studying for her doctoral degree in English literature at Georgetown University when her homeland was invaded. The news reports of Iraqis raping Kuwaiti women, killing Kuwaiti men and pillaging businesses was so distressing that she dropped out of school. And a month later she began working as a volunteer at CFK.
"The last few months we have had sad days and hopeful days," said Ms. Fayrouz.
"The sad days come when we hear reports about atrocities against our people or when we have been unable to find out about our relatives."
She added that the days of hope have been few. The one she remembers most was Jan. 14, the day before the beginning of the Persian Gulf war.
She had gotten a letter from home, and although the message it carried was grim, she was comforted to know that her parents were safe.
"They said they didn't want to leave Kuwait. They were really scared and they knew the consequences, but they wanted to stay and fight for freedom," she said. "They told me that once the war started I may never see them again."
But Ms. Fayrouz is optimistic that her relatives are alive and well. Now she and other Kuwaitis are looking forward to helping rebuild Kuwait.
Mr. Abbas, a Kuwaiti economist who also volunteers at CFK, also hopes to help with the rebuilding of his homeland. He plans to return to Kuwait as soon as he feels assured that the country is secure.
Mr. Abbas, who refused to give his full name for safety of his family in Kuwait, was forced to flee from the country with his wife and two small daughters a month after the invasion. They left behind a large home and a comfortable life for a country where they had no relatives, no place to live and no job to earn an income.
But here, they had peace of mind.