Flak to the future

In Dubai on December 23, 2010 at 8:55 pm

If you spend enough time with chihuahuas in Dubai Airport’s check-in area, you can find out what mercenaries leave behind

Tomorrow I fly (I hope – this is Plan B after my BA flights both from Dubai to Heathrow and from Heathrow to Edinburgh were cancelled because of snow. Emirates to Glasgow, my Christmas is in your hands. Plan C involves a sled and some reindeer). I fly at dawn, and since it’s Christmas Eve, I don’t doubt it will be busy at the airport. And the flight could be delayed. But this time I’ll be spending my time at the airport on the checked-in side of the baggage handlers. Last week I waited in the check-in area for about four hours.

I had given a friend, Chris, a lift to the airport with his two chihuahuas. We probably looked like a gay couple (although not as well dressed) with two yapping dog baskets. Chris doesn’t take his dogs on holiday; they are going to live with his fiancée, who has moved to Geneva.

Once dogs are checked in (as excess baggage – two 10kg baskets cost more than a flight to Geneva) a porter with a scruffy, lank comb-over takes them stacked precariously on a trolley to a special van (“It’s called the dog van,” we were told. See what they’ve done there?) to the plane. There the dogs are put in a cargo area, in the dark. But the pilot is told there are dogs on board so he can keep the temperature up. The dogs aren’t put in the same basket in case the turbulence upsets them and they attack one another. Chris put a t-shirt in each basket so the dogs would be comforted by his smell, and after the dogs had been weighed, we sneaked their water bowls on. Chris had frozen these so the dogs would have something to drink as it thawed and didn’t spill.

But the flight was delayed, so we waited to check the dogs in. Till 3am. They might have got bored and/or scared. And would probably have gone barking mad, as they seem to like yapping.

Mostly when a flight is delayed, there is the duty free to wander around, and a bar, and cars to be won, and all sorts of distractions. Because mostly you have already checked in. If you have dogs and don’t want to leave them, you have to wait by the check-in counters. There is a shop with a small selection of magazines and books, and no playing cards, and plenty of pieces of luggage in case yours has fallen apart.

There is also a pile of odds and sods that people have discarded to get their baggage under the maximum allowance. And I rifled through this as we waited and the chihuahuas yapped at passing children.

There were some small, tatty suitcases, various items of clothing, three diaries (two from 2006, one from 2008) and an electrician’s multimeter. There was also a new-looking desert camouflage flak jacket. And some papers that probably belonged to the flak jacket’s owner. If his name was Max, he was an Italian born in Belgium, separated, and going to work for a company in Afghanistan. He had left various forms in different stages of being filled out, and lists of people, presumably from the same private military contractor detail (assuming he was one of the semi-mercenaries who you often see in Dubai’s airports, distinguishable by their combat trousers, large tan backpacks, and confusing look of naive world-weariness), along with their mobile numbers.

Max had also left a notebook, in which he had written, in Italian and English, either poetry or rap lyrics (it’s hard to tell when these things are just written down, and I wish I’d copied some of it, but there was a rhyme scheme there) that seemed to put his political leanings on the side of Israel in May’s Gaza flotilla attack. Those might not be the political sentiments you want to take to a conservatively Muslim Afghanistan.

But you would want to take your flak jacket, surely. What would you not throw out, what would you decide to keep, in favour of ditching the bullet-proof vest? Those things aren’t cheap, but more to the point, they are, well, bullet-proof. Or at least fast-moving-and-lethal-bits-of-metal-proof. I’d probably have tossed the John Grisham or my spare pair of desert boots instead.

Tomorrow, I’m sure there won’t be such interesting stuff lying around. But at least I’ll be able to browse cameras, win a Mercedes, and get a drink while I wait for my flight. And nobody will be barking at me.


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