Bright Lights, Big Baghdad

Trip Start Sep 22, 2006
Trip End Jan 2007

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Flag of Saudi Arabia  ,
Sunday, September 24, 2006

Damman King Fahad Airport, Saudi Arabia
September 23, 2006
9:15PM Local Time
11:15 AM Vancouver Time

A fairly uneventful flight to Saudi Arabia, and considering our flight path I can't tell you how grateful I am to be making that statement. I have to admit that when the pilot made his first welcome announcement on my KLM flight I did a bit of a double take when I heard the words "Our flight path will take us over Germany, Hungary and onwards towards Turkey, followed by Iraq, Kuwait, and our destination of Damman before continuing onto our final destination of Doha, Qatar. Please relax and I hope you have an enjoyable flight."

Enjoyable flight? It would probably have been much more enjoyable if you hadn't told me that we were flying over Iraq! Now, some people may have been under the same understanding as I was until I got on this flight - the understanding that passenger planes don't actually fly over war zones where this is current airbone warlike activity. I'll just clear up that popular misconception right now. I woke up about 1 hours before arriving in Damman to look at the on screen flight map and see that we were at that moment flying over Baghdad. A look out my window confirmed that the bright lights below were shining brightly from Baghdad. It was a strange feeling to be right above an area that is daily in the news at the moment and where so much controversy, conflict, and sadness has been present for the last few years. Looking down at the lights it could have been any city in the world, with no indication of what was actually happening on the ground. It was quite sobering to be peacefully flying overhead, the lights flickering below.

We then flew over Kuwait, and Kuwait City and all I could imagine were the images from the first Gulf War of the oil fires burning in the desert. This image wasn't far from my mind as in fact there were massive fires burning in random areas on the ground below. As it was nighttime and pitch black outside the fires were obvious even from the plane - I probably saw 2 dozen different fires, many which looked to be burning in some kind of perimeter shape. Maurizio, the Italian sitting next to me had spent 2 years working and living in the desert in Algeria and suspected that the fires were part of some massive factories or plants below. I figured that he would probably know better than I, but I'm still not sure of the exact reason behind the fires. Nonetheless it was a pretty haunting image in my mind as we neared Damman.

As passengers continuing on to Doha we were not going to be allowed to disembark from the aircraft in Saudi Arabia. However about 30 minutes before arrival the pilot came on the intercom requesting that all bottles and newspapers be readied for flight attendants to collect. It was required by Saudi law that there be no evidence of alcohol (including the empty bottles) or newspapers in the cabin of the aircraft by the time it flew into Saudi airspace. As well the pilot reminded us, it was strictly forbidden to bring any alcohol whatsoever into the country.
Maurizio leaned over and admitted that he had 2 bottles of vodka wrapped up in his carry on luggage. Hope they don't find it, he said. For his sake I hope that they didn't - although I'm sure that 2 years in Algeria would have toughened him up a bit (!) I don't imagine that Saudi Customs officials are the type that anyone would want to deal with, no matter how tough you are.
An hour on the tarmac here, watching Saudi Arabian Airlines planes be shuttled around (their logo on the tail featured two large daggers crossed underneath the Saudi Flag) then it was up again for the 40 minute flight to Doha.

Thoroughly exhausted I lined up at the immigration counter with a number of other foreigners - Europeans, Americans, Indians, Philipinos, Koreans. The line up for Qatari citizens, or citizens of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) was much shorter and consisted mostly of men in traditional dress called a "Thoub" - a long sleeved loose white cotton dress reaching the ground accompanied by the 3 piece headdress, consisting of a scarf or two and a black braided band to hold the scarf on.
There were also a number of women in a separate line dressed in contrast in their dress called an "Abayah" which is a long sleeved long black dress which they wear over their regular clothes. Depending on how conservative the woman was she either had only her head and hair covered by a black scarf or her entire face covered. Several women wore black gloves as well so you couldn't even see their hands. As I stood sweating in the 35 degree heat I couldn't imagine how stifling it would be under the veil.

I collected my bags (they arrived!!) and headed out to arrivals where hundreds of men hung over the barrier most holding signs with the names of their guests. I found my sign: Miss Andrea Dowd-Dever, DAGOC (which stands for the Doha Asian Games Organizing Committee). Phew, after 25 long hours of travelling I've got all my bags, and an air conditioned car to take me where I need to go. So far things are looking pretty good.
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