Sunday, November 04, 2007

Into the fire!

The flight to Baghdad was uneventful. Almost.

I managed to get emergency aisle agan, but landed up with the middle seat so couldn’t press my nose up against the window like I wanted to. Still, the window was almost totally opaque thanks to constant sun and sandblasting. Flying over Jordan I could see not a small number of farms, irrigated fields embossed upon the desert. Not really a desert like the tawny Sahara or the awesome Martian-red desert south of Kandahar; this desert is a blotchy patchwork of scabrous colors and, from what I could guess I was seeing, scrawny vegetation.

At one point I could see two widely spaced parallel lines carved into the desert and stretching away into the distance. The border between Jordan and Iraq. Fence and minefield.

The passengers either side of me turned out to be Jordanian agricultural engineers, engaged by the Iraqi government to train local farmers in agricultural techniques. Descendants of wandering pastoralists teaching the succesors of an ancient civilization based on irrigation how to farm again. Such is the wonder of the world.

We came in high over Baghdad, which I expected. Next would be a sharp direct dive like in Afghanistan, or so I thought. Here the plane circled twice to reduce height quickly and then weaved its approach sharply, not because of high winds but, in all likelihood, as a avoiding maneouver just in case someone should fire at it. Moments like these and you know you are out of the world of apparent security and certainty.

And then everything went back to normal again. The stewardess’ welcome was the standard one “Welcome to Baghdad, where the temperature is 34°C… if anyone needs assistance in disembarking, please let the plane staff know…. Thank you for flying .. Hope you enjoy your stay…”. The bright tones of her Australian accent made me feel like I had just landed in Brisbane, not Baghdad. The only thing missing was the joyous sound of clapping!

13h local time, November 3, 2007. I am in Iraq.

The airport – bright, clean, active. Baggage arrived quickly, passport and customs clearance were straightforward. The terminal building is a great curving arc – from the outside it resembles the terminal in Miami. I said as much to my pick-up – a Floridian originally from Puerto Rico. I won’t print his answer …

My cabinThe camp of the company I’m working with lies inside the airport perimeter, north of the air strip. I’m assigned one of the VIP cabins, to myself at least for the moment. Not bad at all. Two single beds, two wardrobes, table, TV with cable, bathroom with shower. Unpacked in 10 minutes, showered in 5 and off to explore the camp in 15.

In my next log I’ll tell you what I discover.

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