Breakfast over Basra and Sunset over the Persian Gulf

14 hours from ATL to DXB

My flight from Atlanta to Dubai left around 9 PM at night and was scheduled for 14 hours in the air. I flew Delta and there was plenty of legroom and each seat had it’s own individualized entertainment system (yes even in coach) with 100s of movies, TV shows, games and even music CDs to choose from. Mostly current and new releases. My rowmates were personable. One was a 20-something African American working for a contractor in Northern Iraq loading and unloading cargo from planes. He said he was making really good money. From sight only it was a pretty diverse crowd on board – whites, blacks, asians, Arabs, even some Africans (from the accent). Maybe 60% American and 40% other.

We had to keep our windows closed to simulate night and after the 10:30 PM supper of spicy Middle Eastern chicken, couscous and eggplant confit (apparently a fancy way of saying mixed vegetables with eggplant), I decided to try and sleep. I did doze for awhile but woke up and watched an episode of The Office and part of The Golden Compass. Interesting movie, but for some reason that put me to sleep. I woke up for the midflight snack and then it was There Will Be Blood, and an episode of My Name is Earl. I continued to alternate entertainment, reading Edward Said’s Peace and its Discontents, and dozing.

I awoke from a solid nap to the sound of the breakfast cart going around (spinach pesto pizza, mixed fruit, and chickpea salad – the breakfast of champions). The lights were on and people had their windows open. Looking out mine revealed a dust-hazed desert with some roads crisscrossing it. Curious, I thumbed through the touch screen until I found the map of our flight path. To my surprise we were over Basra, Iraq.

(over Iraq)

As I munched on my odd breakfast of pizza and chickpeas, I stared at the yellow line of our route. It cut right across Iraq – over the northern Kurdish area, passing just east of Baghdad and then squarely over Basra, where the bloody struggle between government forces and insurgents had escalated recently.

I wondered what was happening 40,000 feet below my breakfast tray. According to my internal clock it was early morning but in reality it was almost evening local time. Had it been a day filled with skirmishes and loss of life? I wondered what the Arabs (and other Muslims and Middle Easterners) in the plane thought about flying over Iraq, a symbol to them of American imperialism? Funny how such a diverse group of people could all be distracted by the latest in western entertainment and noshing on airline food in peace and quiet while a war was being waged a few miles below us. We might as well have been thousands of miles away. Perhaps we were.

As the sun set over the Persian Gulf I wondered when we started flying commercial flights directly over Iraq and what it said about American policy (both political and economic) in the region. Some will say I’m over thinking things – that it just makes good business sense and probably saves jet fuel and so its good for the environment. But I felt uneasy about it. Maybe I wondered if it was really safe to be flying over Iraq? But in the end I just felt a little sick to my stomach knowing that people were probably dying (or at least had died) so I could watch movies, eat pizza for breakfast, and safely fly over this war torn and devastated country.

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