The flight home was loads better than the flight out, except, of course, that I was getting farther away from David instead of closer. Waaa. There were no flight delays or cancellations, however, and I didn't have to spend the night in Dubai. That was a relief.
I was fully unprepared to actually fly home after 2+ weeks with Dave in Italy and Germany, so when the time came to go to the airport, I was caught off guard. I couldn't believe I was actually leaving to go back to Iraq for 6.5 months of separation. We will depend on MSN Messenger and email every day between now and my return to the U.S. sometime in July. Waaaaa, again...
Dubai International Airport. The ticket counter for Baghdad departures.
I flew from Pisa to Milan, spent a few hours shopping in the airport, and then flew to Dubai. That's about a 7-hour flight, I guess. I arrived in Dubai at about 0630 with no clue when my flight out to Baghdad would leave. I hopped a cab to the other terminal (paying twice as much this time as I did the last time), and waited until 0900 for the Baghdad ticket counter to open. At that point, I was operating on zero hours of sleep and was in no mood for shenanigans. The agent told me I wasn't in the system, which was no surprise seeing as how I had an open-ended ticket and couldn't get the Iraqi Airways contact I was given to pick up the telephone. She said I'd have to wait a 1/2 hour for an Iraqi Airways employee to arrive. An hour later, he arrived and cleared me for the flight. That gave me 1/2 an hour to get to the gate, which was about 50 steps away, and another 45 minutes or so to wait for the flight to begin boarding. Sometime around 1130, I was in the air on an old, decrepit, ugly, scary, rented jet plane full of other crazy people heading to the world's most dangerous city. I said a few little prayers to help ensure our safe arrival. I'm pretty sure I saw a loose fuselage panel near the wing as I boarded the aircraft that is so old it had an actual ash tray in the bathroom.
We made it alright, and I slept for an hour during the 2.5 hour flight, and the meal was even pretty good. No worries. As we flew at 58,000 feet over the desert, the 60-year-old former Navy SEAL ((Mr. (Vernon?) Dicey)) seated next to me told me about his trip to Africa for R&R and then told me we were entering Iraqi airspace. I looked down to see the Tigris and Euphrates rivers paralleling each other below, and a while later, I saw a bombed-out oil pipeline billowing black smoke. Surrounded by vast nothingness, it's no wonder these middle-of-nowhere infrastructure attacks are hard to thwart. The cool thing is, because of the danger of flying low over non-secured portions of the country, we had to descend from way up high, in a column pattern, directly over Baghdad International Airport. That meant we had lots of time to take pictures of Camp Victory (my base), Camp Slayer (neighboring base), and the airport itself on the long descent to the runway.
The most dangerous part of the flight was probably when we flew low over the ground on final approach. I think that's when willing insurgents can take pop shots at the airplane in hopes of bringing down a big prize. Thankfully, we were safe, and we debarked with ease. (In this picture, you see lush farmland with the runway way back in the distance.)
Customs is a piece of cake, and I got my prize Baghdad entry stamp in my fat passport as a treasured souvenir. Trust me, after a drive around the world (www.drivearoundtheworld.com) in 2003-2005, my passport is fat like a book!
I called my teammates from the airport, and they made the short drive over to pick me up. Thanks, teammies. I have to say it was sad how at-home I felt upon arriving aboard Camp Victory. Haha. It is comforting to be back at work and back with my Iraq family, but that doesn't mean I don't miss Dave. Ugh. Oh well, I once did 6 months on a Navy amphibious ship. I can handle 6.5 months here.
I have SO MANY SUPER COOL pics that I don't think I ought to post. Just enjoy the photos below!
Airplane shadow on the green fields. Didn't think Iraq was so green, did ya?
The final approach presents a nice view of some Iraqi structures.
Some of my fellow passengers.
BIAP, or Baghdad International Airport. I am in love with the 1970's green.
Airport signs in English and Arabic.