Look out there

I rarely speak to my neighbors on planes, because I don’t want to add to my feeling of being trapped. But, my neighbor on my flight from Abu Dhabi to Schipol spoke to me first. He asked if I spoke Dutch, and once my American-accented answer came out, he became more intrigued than your average plane neighbor.

“You aren’t very well liked in this part of the world, are you?”

He was returning from a nine-day holiday to Oman with his wife and daughter, and although we talked for about an hour, I never got his name.

“There aren’t a lot of you in this part of the world, except all of your friends who are sleeping down there”. We were flying over Iraq, and he asked if I knew what the current troop level was on the ground, in a polite, loaded way.

My inbound flight two months ago took us over Turkey, then turned south to fly directly over Iraq and Kuwait. Then, and this time outbound and headed north, I thought, “Wow, I’m five miles away from Iraq” In the middle of contemplating this again, my new Dutch friend accidentally stopped my thoughts.

“What is that?” he said, pointing out the window.

By the way, it is a tense moment being 40,000 feet up and having someone look out the window and point with degrees of confusion and concern. We both craned our necks, looked out over the wing, down to Iraq. Iraq is still burning. As best we can tell, they were oil well fires. Hundreds of them, large and small, seen for miles. Most of them didn’t seem controlled. Seeing it at night from our vantage point is now literally burned into my brain.

It is hard to distinguish which is more potent at this particular moment, having this memory of Iraq, or writing about this memory over a Starbucks jockey yelling “140 degree chai with cream” and “cinnamon dolce latte with soy”. I am. Sitting. In. A Starbucks. In Los. Angeles. Not completely unlike Al Ain, where the only place to go is a mall, and the only good coffee is in a Starbucks inside that mall. But still. A week ago, I wasn’t thinking I would actually seek solace in a Starbucks inside my home country. Much less that the likes of Starbucks and Gap and McDonalds are synonymous with American ways, and perhaps part of the reason why Iraq is currently burning.

It will probably take me two months to recall the events in the UAE, so I’ll work backwards in time and start to unpack the events between the events of the zoo, Dubai, the malls and Oman. They are not as pretty as the events I posted while there, since I had no idea how far the UAE internet censors would come out to grab material they didn’t like. Here’s to freedom on the internet, and the return of some basic rights, 140 degree lattes be damned.