Phoenix–> Washington D.C. –> Kuwait –> Bahrain –> Jubail, Saudi Arabia: 7 am (Mountain Time) to 7 pm GMT +3

The route I traveled- September 1-2, 2010

Phoenix to D.C.: September 1st, United Airlines

Only a little more than a third of my flight was full, which was good news for me as the extra seat of space allowed for a great in-and-out sleep for 4 hours. One of our flight attendants was forgivingly hilarious, making  jokes about everything from the “blas” we had to turn off, about knowing that we get bored of watching emergency landing videos but it’s on, to talking about leaving the Arizona heat, finally. I mention this because I am going to miss the friendly attitude commonly and stereotypically associated with Americans.

Washington D.C. : 3 hour layover

My craving for sushi (who knows when I will have some again) led me to drag myself from terminal C to terminal A and endure a 20 minute wait for shrimp tempura roll, salmon roll, and unagi roll all to myself. I also spent most of it talking on the phone with friends who are convinced that I am disappearing from the face of the earth. I had to run back to my gate just before boarding to see my flight to Bahrain with United Airlines of a crowd I have never seen in any of my flights to the Middle East before: mostly men in the American army, some dressed in their jumpsuits, others in regular clothes, some calling their loved ones and joking about the next several months. I was wondering where all the women went…it was quite a scene and I couldn’t take my eyes away from it all.

Washington D.C. to Bahrain, with a stop in Kuwait: 14 hours.

I was not looking forward to the next 14 hours with United Airlines because in general, I do  not like airlines of the American brand. I have way too many personal anecdotes to share (no food, uncomfortable chairs, making us pay for checked baggages, no pillows, no entertainment, paying for everything and headphones, etc. as a result of recent economic terms). I am definitely a airlines-from-the-Gulf snob.

However, this time I was surprised to see that I had a pillow, a blanket, even my own television (wow, United?) and food! Honestly, what a surprise. The guy at the check-in even let me pass with a half a pound overweight luggage (last time my luggage was overweight by half a pound, the woman at American Airlines wanted to charge me $95).

Most interesting was my neighbor, Mr. X, I will name him. He is about a foot taller than me, muscular with tattoos in his arms, shaved head, tight black t-shirt, and one light carry-on, and gold rings with the seal of institutions I wanted to uncover but knew I would look creepy. After two shots of vodka though he started talking to me and I found out that I was right- most of the people in this place were from the army and related military personnel. Mr. X told me that they were all getting off at Kuwait and taking flights into Iraq. He just came off of a thirty-day vacation and going to Iraq again for seven months. I kept blatantly asking questions, which he happily answered except when I asked his opinions about the current foreign policy, which he basically after many words said that he could not say and had no opinions (right…) and he has to follow whoever is the commander. He laughingly asked me if this was the first time I has such a crowd around me and I said yes, and he told me, don’t worry, you are in the safest hands, the plane is full of guns and snipers and weapons in the cargo. Great. United Airlines apparently has a contract with the federal government to transport military members. Maybe that’s why the service was so good the 11 hours to Kuwait.

Mr. X spent the rest of the time covered in his black hoodie, refusing to use the blanket, and watching no television, passing in and out. I meanwhile used all my pillows and blankets, watched Letters of Juliet (not that great), missed a meal because I was fast asleep seven hours later, and read the latest Time magazine about Kanye West and his year in the industry.

Kuwait to Bahrain: 35 minutes

This flight was like flying from Tucson to Phoenix, which I have done often amusingly. You literally get on, they serve you drinks very quickly, and fifteen minutes later you are told to buckle up because we are landing.  This time there were maybe a dozen of us going to Bahrain, all American, and most also looked like they were in the military. It was a very short flight and I lounged in my extended seat and waited to finally leave the plane. The water in the Gulf looked so beautiful, as always.

Bahrain to Dammam: A While

The drive from Bahrain to Dammam took us through the city’s new and upgraded city, into the world-famous man made bridge, the King Fahd Causeway, into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Bahrain is trying to copy its rich Gulf neighbors in its skyline, with the modern sky scrapers towering above the people illuminating its oil wealth. Like Dubai, each piece of the new buildings are epic and meant to me awed, with tall glasses, curved sides and interesting angles and of course, height. The Causeway, a 16 mile stretch linking the island and the Saudi Kingdom does indeed look like the architectural feat it is known for, with a large customs section in the middle to include five border check points which takes a while considering the traffic going in and out of the two countries. They do not look intimidating however, and most laid lazily around as the sun slowly started to set, awaiting their time to break their fast for the day. The two men who were supposed to check our car did not even bother and we entered Al Khobar pretty smoothly. From there it was only an hour to our home, the car speeding like a maniac as you are supposed to do in Saudi Arabia, making you think there are no traffic laws. And really, the blur of the laws are so evident while driving you would be astute to miss them. I guess you do get used to it after a while since you don’t even cringe that you just passed a red light.

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