It's been two weeks since I packed up my remains and boarded an Emirates Airlines flight straight to do-buy. Although fourteen days have passed since my escape from Toronto, my heart and mind have remained stuck somewhere along the 10,000+ km route that I took to end up right here in the newest Khaleeji city-to-be: doha.
As a person with a disability, air travel is always a stressful, dehumanizing, and painful affair. This time was no different. From the first approach to the counter, I can see the perplexion on the faces of employees waiting to check me in. After assuring them that I am mentally fit to travel alone, the jousting for accessibility begins. I was informed that I had to take a seat wedged somewhere between two rows, an impossibility for someone of my size, especially seeing I am a "carry on" passenger. (the term used for people who cannot walk to their seat) My requests for a seat change were received with a cold shrug from one of the managers responsible for herding people onto the flight. After a stern and slightly louder protest from myself, a more senior official with the airlines was able to 'miraculously' change my seat to a front row.
Boarding the flight is always the most agonizing part. I have to be lifted for my chair onto a flimsy and extremely narrow "aisle chair" that is then difficultly pushed to my seat, where I have to be lifted again. I was really lucky in that the two young men that carried me were caring and concerned for my safety. Usually, there is a thin line between the way I'm carried and they way luggage is thrown into the belly of the plane.
As I was being dragged through the aisles, Mersedeh, the head flight attendant on Emirates Air to Dobuy on February 2nd, turned to me and spoke. I thought that she would say something to alleviate my fears and concerns. Instead she reminded me of some airline regulation that would ban me from taking the flight if I needed help during the flight. She was referring to how I would use the washroom during the twelve hour direct flight out of Canada. "Thanks!" I blurted out in her face. She rolled her eyes at me, and walked away, shaking her head to fellow crew members.
Throughout the flight, I was nestled in between an overweight Palestinian man from Gaza, whim I felt a natural affinity to, and an aisle ripe with kids and food carts smashing into my head everytime I fell asleep. My entertainment portal failed to work throughout the flight, and I was left to my active internal life to keep me entertained in the skies.
I was thirsty and desperate to pee when I arrived in the newly built lavish, yet eerily empty, terminal in dobuy. I was happy to see that three of my closest friends were waiting for me in the arrival halls, and after I spotted them from within the baggage reception area, I knew that liberation was near.
With a wheelchair, there is always some Taxi drama, and it is important to note here, that despite all the larger than life developments in dubai, there are only two accessible taxis in the entire United Arab Emirates, one of which was broken down that night, and the other was out on some run deep in the concrete jungles of plastic city.
We managed to squeeze into some non accessible van, and were reminded by an Emarati cop that Iraqis are treated like gold in the UAE. The outburst by the officer was a response to our disappointment in service. The officer must have forgotten that prior to Emarati support for the destruction of Iraq, dobuy was nothing more than a boring little dot on the map of the Earth.
From the cab, I was immediately inundiated with the political economy of the UAE. Desperate, oppressed faces of Asian workers dotted the streets of luxury. However, news of capitalist collapse in the Emirate warmed my heart to see that justice sometimes comes in weird and unexpected ways.
Ahmed, Hamdy, and Omar assured me that "Dubai will never fail," although with differing enthusiasm. I am thankful for their hospitality and their presence across the Gulf is always a strong reassurance that I am not alone.
At Hamdy's, I got to meet my two dear friends Basma and Mays. They are two beautiful strong Iraqi women forging their ways on their own conditions. As well, Sarmad and Naseer took me through the night with engaging conversations about Iraq, its destruction, and its future, or lack thereof.
The next day, I went to a photo shoot with Mays and Basma, who both work in the fields of promotion and beauty respectively. It was a promotional shoot for a new government authority mandated with addressing issues of inequity, inaccessibility, and social exclusion. Finally! I will keep you updated on the status of their development, or lack thereof.
Eventually, I met up with Hamdy, Sarmad, and Ahmed again at the seaside surroundings of the Jumairah Beach Residences (JBR). South African steakhouses, Starbucks, and fake Mexican food decorated the streets hugging the shores of the Gulf. Interestingly, there was great street art that was also featured on the coastal strip. But all in all, aesthetic beauty was doused with a great sense of oppression and colonial culture.
My jet lag forced me to sleep through most of our time at Trader Vic's, an after work hangout for the hordes of underqualified and overpaid British trash that Dubai loves to accomodate so much. I made my way to the airport, where the trials and tribulations of anti-access air travel whisked me off to Doha, where I post my blog from today.
A few kilometres outside of Doha, the relentless onslaught of sand dunes and rocky roads offer a sense of humility to a city that is growing faster and faster as each day passes by. We ventured out to the coastal area one day after I arrived to spend the night at Hussein's coastal getaway. A few tents, a huge fireplace, and an unlimited supply of hospitality were too difficult to turn away despite the intense sense of jetlag looming over my huge head.
Moayad brought his keyboards with him, and his musical talent kept us magically awake till the early hours of the morning. My "Diesel Medley" (a collection of dirty Iraqi songs) was a huge hit that night, and I was blessed to be surrounded with so many loved ones and great friends. Another great hit was the Mendy, a local term for food cooked underground, buried deep in the sand. Mustafa, my neighbor and dear friend, was a tremendous host and his hard work paid off in the most delicious of ways.
The beautiful beachy sunrise of next morning, however, shed light on the horrific experience of hearing young Iraqis talk about the destruction of their country. First, it began with a tirade of reactionary hate against Muntadhar Al Zaidi, the brave young journalists, who hurled his shoes at war criminal George Bush. "He is an embarassment!" or "Bush saved Iraq!" were just some of the disgusting comments hurled at me. I couldn't believe the audacity of these kids to support the killing of millions while they lived plush priviledged pathetic lives here in Doha.
However, it would be unfair, for me to point to these jokers without making reference to a wider context of apathy and self colonization that defines the Arab youth in the gulf, and i suspect, throughout the Arab world. People here are amazed with the efficiency of Wal Mart checkouts and are inspired by the way American police oppress young Arab delinquents there. Arab youth here, equipped with unintelligent business degrees from the West can't wait to sell their souls and the Arab world to Bechtel or the highest bidder. Arab youth join with their Afrikaan and British friends in dehumanizing migrant workers. Arab youth shudder at identifying with poorer Yemeni, Palestinian, or Sudanese youth. Instead, they seek comfort in the confines of a posh gym or a pretty bar. Arab youth are neither Arab nor youth anymore. They are dirty old white men.
So much in Toronto keeps me busy, especially missing Saron, my next post will revisit some unfinished business there and reflect on things that might be unfolding in a city that my friend Hani calls so fittingly: a sewer.