local_library Night Flight from Dubai

by Joanna Grant

Published in Issue No. 231 ~ August, 2016


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.


account_box More About

Joanna 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.

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