on my second flight from toronto, on the way to the united arab emirates, for my first trip to the arab world (or a small corner of it), i send an email to my love from a moving airplane. my first air email. lufthansa. zee germans have zee teknik.
i take a break from my computer, from too many hours watching too many not-so-good hollywood movies, and i look out my little airplane window.
we're flying over iraq. it's night. and completely clear. i can see lights of villages and towns. we're close to the border of kuwait now. and i am struck unexpectedly by where i am. it's an entirely strange feeling flying over this place. an uneasy feeling. and i realize that mine is the point of view of all those american pilots that bombed this country. it's the view i saw on tv's during the two gulf wars coloured green by night vision. in real life, the lights look warm and yellow, tiny dots on a train model landscape. so clear, so small. so immediate. unseen are the people. i just know they are there.
about a half an hour later i see darkness bordered by light. a coastline. we fly out over the gulf of arabia. many little islands of light appear - scattered over this darkness. oil tankers. dozens of them, more than i had ever imagined, dotting a calm sea. and the arithmetic of these two visions comes clear. iraq and kuwait. oil is very big business, i realize, remarking to myself on what is blindingly obvious. very very big business.
we land in dubai. scattered applause from the passengers.
i am met by a woman named Nayana. she is from Sri Lanka, and has lived in Dubai for five years. she likes it.
we clear customs (mumbled "as salaam's"), and try to find my drive to fujairah. this takes a while. two arab men meet me. i am not sure who they are or what they do. i am photographed with one - they like the idea of a canadian who was so recently in snow.
we leave the men and walk. nayana works two cell phones and a walkie talkie expertly. we walk outside the terminal. marble and granite underfoot. gleaming new cars: mercedes, lexus, toyota. lights. a warm night. but we find no driver.
we walk back in and go to the Europcar booth.
more time on the two cell phones and the walkie talkie. the driver is located. i ask where they are driving me, and they have the wrong hotel. i check my email to confirm the right one. everyone agrees a mistake has been made. i walk out again with another man to another locale, and climb into a waiting minivan.
rafi is the driver. a lovely man from pakistan. he has been in the Emirates for fifteen years. he has also been waiting for me for hours. there has been some confusion, it seems. i agree. we get ready to go and... we wait. apparently there are more passengers coming.
rafi tells me about the weather. more rain than he has ever seen. and cooler. then he asks if there is snow where i come from. yes, i say. and that we're having an unusually harsh winter. he knows. 3000 flights have been canceled from north america in the past two weeks. his business has declined. and again i think - this is a very interconnected world. and those tankers i flew over connect it. we both agree that the weather has changed. this is our new world.
a group of lithuanians arrive and squeeze into the toyota minivan. i sit next to an illuminated-from-within pixie named birute. she is here to win a best performance prize. she acts with the National Theatre in Lithuania, and has done her one-woman show the world over. the mood is good. we drive two hours through the desert night to Fujairah.