Oblivious in Dubai: Part 10

Plane delayed due to technical difficulties; not the most comforting of thoughts while preparing for a fifteen-hour transatlantic flight.

Sitting at the gate; an hour past the call for boarding; watching the plane sit on the runway with workers and hazard-lights surrounding it. The men outside peer into the engines and shine flashlights on obscure parts of the fuselage; thank God I stopped for whisky.

I strike conversation with an American woman and her baby. The baby wasn’t much of a talker.

As is customary with single-serving friends that you meet en-route; we discussed our lives and how we got there. We talked of where we were from; the journey that led us here; and of our families.

She smiled when I told her I was on my way home from Afghanistan.

Her brother was a member of the US military and had served tours in the Middle East. She told me a wonderful story about how he found a puppy in Iraq. His squad carried the puppy around with them on patrol; in their backpacks. He would sit quietly during firefights beside his adopted squad. After his deployment; her brother loaded his new best-friend in his backpack and took him to freedom in America.

We laughed and cried; and I talked to her child in a drunken-immature-uncle baby-like voice.

Emirates Airlines planes are the most lavish and beautiful in all the world; as much of the world as I’ve seen anyway. Sitting in coach; you even feel like you’re travelling in style. There are two types of flight experiences when flying transatlantic with Emirates Airlines – a full plane and an empty plane.

We’re either packed as sardines or have an entire row to ourselves.

When I first embarked on this journey; three months previous; we were packed like sardines. I was sitting in the middle of three rows; each row having five seats. A full plane from Toronto to Dubai. A man beside me lifted the armrests and laid down with his bare feet kicking me during his night-terrors. I pushed; shoved and slapped this mans leg every time – to no avail.

Going back home though, Dubai to New York and then onward; there was hardly a soul. Granted that while sitting at the gate waiting for the plane to be ready; it seemed like a lot of people. But, when we actually boarded I had not only an entire row to myself; but what seemed like almost an entire section of the plane.

I lifted all of the armrests up and turned my series of airplane seats into a grand, luxurious, turbulence-driven rest-receptacle (aka a makeshift bed). At one point, a flight attendant wakes me and asks if I need anything. In her hand she is holding a large wicker bowl full of Mars, Twix, Oh Henry!, salted peanuts and sandwiches.

“Yes, absolutely; how much?” I ask.

“No charge, sir. Anything you like.” she says.

I take some peanuts, a king-sized Mars bar, a sandwich and some Coca Cola. I also order two beer.

She brings me Coors Light. No charge.

A large chunk of this flight was a nap. I watched some in-flight movies and television – but my regular channel to check-up on was the map channel. It showed us where we were in the world; what we were flying over. It moved so slowly; but every time I’d switch back we had inched closer to the North American continent.

How fortunate I was to catch a red-eye.

In the hands of the pilots, I was. At this point they were glorified and specially skilled airborne taxi-drivers that I couldn’t converse with.

I bet a rickshaw would be fun.

Part Eleven


Oblivious in Dubai: Part 1

There I was.

Nineteen, tanned, clean-shaven; business casual.

Standing in the hallway of the top floor of a strange hotel, just after midnight in Dubai; pushing the elevator button relentlessly in an effort to speed up my not-so-swift retreat.

Flight to Kandahar in seven and a half short hours. There wouldn’t be another flight for a few days; I can’t miss it.

There she was.  All 80 enraged pounds of her.

The geriatric mama-san that was screaming at me, almost inaudibly, in angry Mandarin.

How the hell did I end up here?



Just finished my shower and gotten cleaned after the 30 or so hours of flights and layovers I’d just put behind me.

I was hungry.  Looking off of the balcony of my 6th floor suite; that familiar vision of a Burger King sign peeked between the buildings and across the parking lot.  Only eight hours or so until my flight; plenty of time to fill my belly.  Not like I was going to get much sleep anyway.

Jet-lagged but up for some exploration.

I finish my chicken sandwiches on the second floor of the nicest Burger King I’d ever seen. Head downstairs and outside to the patio for a smoke.

There she was.

Crossing the six lane road, roaring with midnight traffic; two beautiful, petite, and well dressed Asian ladies walking with two imposing looking Caucasian fellows.

Puff… Puff… pretty girls I thought; lucky fellows.

They get to the corner I’m standing on; the two fellows and one of the girls cross the road.

The other girl walks up to me.

Hey there,” she says as she touches my back, “you want massage?

This should have been clue number one.

Of course I ‘want massage’!  My hotel is just over there...”  I point.

No, no.  You come to my hotel.

So I put my arm around this strange petite woman and follow her across a parking lot, between some buildings, down an alley, and into a parking garage.

It’s probably also relevant to mention that when you fly across the ocean on most major airlines – the beer is free.  So I had that going for me.

Along the way we talked.  She told me she was from China.  I told her I was here for the night on business, catching a plane in the morning.

She says, “What country you go to?”

To which I replied, “Afghanistan” matter of factly.

Oh yes, Afghanistan very nice.

In hindsight, this should have been clue number two.

She also said a number of other things while we walked and talked, things like:

  • “Two hundred US, two hundred US.”
  • “You work you work, you come you come.”
  • “Come for massage, my hotel.”

This should have been clue number three.

She pushes the button for the elevator.  Hits the button for the top floor.

Elevator goes up; door opens.  I see three doors in a tiny, dimly lit hallway; two clotheslines strung across it.

She approaches the door on the right.

HER:  Knock, knock, knock

NOT HER:  Knock, knock

HER:  Knock

In hindsight, the secret knock should have been clue number four.

I’m led in to a room with five sliding doors; all of them open except one.

From behind the closed door:

  • Grunting
  • Bed squeaking rhythmically

Oh.  Fuck.  Now I get it.

I did what any 19 year old man would do in the same situation.  I let the geriatric mama-san lead me into one of the open doors.  Inside, there’s a single bed, clean sheets, a night stand, tissues and a garbage can.

She leaves.

Fuck.  Now I really get it.

So the “masseuse” comes in and I take out my wallet, I’ve got 20 US and a bit of local currency – nowhere close to the 200 in US green-backs that she’s expecting.

What followed was lots of screaming, hand waving, finger waving, finger pointing, more yelling and what I’m sure was a less-than-positive glare – all this from the senior citizen.

There had to be muscle there.  Had to be.  I was expecting to get throat-punched by someone who was trained in the ancient art of the throat-punch.

I ran out while buttoning my shirt screaming, “ohfuckohfucksorryimsorryfuckimsorryohfuckohfuck,” over and over again.  I barrelled past the mama-san, ran under the clotheslines and poked that elevator call button over and over and over again.


That's where it all happened.

That’s where it all started.

Part Two —>