There are so many. I’ve done the rounds, you see,
like so many other Americans with too much nothing
piled up at home, flying off to the ends of our worlds,
trying to buy our ways back to better. Do six months,
make enough for two years. Place your bets—will your wife
or husband love or leave you. Will the kids whose dreams
you’re buying ever forgive you for going away to do it.
We all go through Dubai, DXB. Past the flashy chrome and neon,
the spurting fountains and the ersatz gold souk and the Costa Coffees
one every six feet or so it seems to the business end. The terminal
where the workers go, and the Kuwaiti citizens who hire them, and us.
Here’s a soldier, out of uniform, but you can always tell, going back
to another war that nobody cares about anymore. Builders and programmers,
the guys who fix the drones, the superstars of our shaggy little world.
And the Kuwaitis headed home in their long robes, white on the men,
black on the women, jet black as the kohl lining their eyes. Just like last time
and the time before that and the time before that. But this time.
This time, this flight, something new. Such a large group of—Bangladeshi?—men.
Men. I say that but they’re all so small, so slim, most with smooth cheeks and
long lashes more like girls. They’re loud, pumped up, chattering back and forth
between themselves, fumbling with seat belts they’ve obviously never seen
or used before. They all wear plain white ball caps, the company name printed
out there on the fronts in big block letters. Thick black Magic Marker.
I know what I’m seeing, I’ve seen it all before, but never quite so up close.
They bring them here from all over, Jeremy our visa sponsor told us over coffee
and his Marlboro Reds, waving a languid hand towards the window. We see a band
of jumpsuited men, workers digging ditches, heads wrapped up against the smog and heat.
Twin plumes of smoke from Jeremy’s nostrils twist up to the clicking ceiling fan
pushing around the dusty air. All over the Gulf, they get them in here from
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or India or the Philippines. Keep their passports. Make ‘em work
to pay back their “fees” or until they drop dead first. God help you if you’re some
pretty Pinoy girl they get in to be a nanny or somebody’s domestic help. So corrupt.
Anyone fancy another cup?
We’re taxiing in, so late at night, the wear and stains of all our
previous legs starting to show, all our eyes dark-ringed now
in the harsh fluorescent lights. The boys are tiring now, and
you can feel the ripple—fear. What next. They’re right to, even
if they don’t know it yet. And then suddenly—one of the boys
who’d perhaps had too much wine for the very first time—vomits
all over the aisle and then starts to cry, sinking to his hands and knees,
sobbing like a hysterical child. I can’t bear to watch. But I can’t look away.
“Oh, that poor thing,” tears out of me before I know I’ve spoken aloud.
His friend ducks down to help and gets him on his feet. As we shuffle off
I imagine what’s to come for all these boys, all young enough to be my sons.
And a sinking comes down upon my soul, and all the weight
of all the nothing I can do to help that boy who cried, him or any
of the many others like him. All I can do is remember. To utter.
Tell what I’ve seen. And plead. With something someone anything.
Don’t let us be like this. Don’t let them be like that. Please not me.
Don’t let it be this way. Don’t let. Don’t be.
About the AuthorJoanna Grant is a Collegiate Associate Professor with the University of Maryland, teaching in a program offering college classes to American servicemembers on military installations overseas. These experiences of war and travel and displacement inform her work. To date, she has worked in Japan, Kuwait (twice), Afghanistan (twice), Djibouti, South Korea, and Qatar. Her critical study of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth century British and American travel narratives about the Middle East, Modernism's Middle East, appeared from Palgrave Macmillan in 2008. Her poems have appeared widely, in journals such as Prairie Schooner, Guernica, The Southern Humanities Review, and numerous other journals.