Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Date In Iraq

By Mark W. Danielson
Monday, I had the pleasure of riding from La Guardia to Newark during rush hour traffic. While that may sound like an oxymoron, it truly was a pleasure, thanks to my Iraqi driver. He has resided in the United States for twenty-three years, and before that, lived in Russia and Sweden. Among the many topics we discussed, the most enlightening concerned dates—as in the fruit.

Not so very long ago, Iraq raised 350 varieties of dates. Compare that to the four or so you find in the United States and it gives you some idea. My driver said they fed their cattle the type of dates they sell here, which is believable, considering our date trees came from Iraq. But while Iraq may have raised the tastiest dates on earth, the dates are only part of the story. You see, the shade from these date trees provided idea conditions for other fruits to grow; fruits found nowhere else on earth, such as a hybrid orange/lemon/lime that was used for juice and seasoning, and ultra-sweet, finger-sized grapes. These revelations didn’t surprise me, though. Contrary to what many may think, Iraq’s land is quite fertile. Combine good soil with plentiful water from the Tigris River and filtered sunlight from the date trees and you have miracles from the earth. Also remember that these modern marvels evolved over thousands of years of cultivating.

Whenever I fly over Iraq, I’m always amazed at how “normal” everything appears. Its lush fields and clear air give no clues to the troubles that lie below. I fly within forty miles of Baghdad on my route from Paris to Dubai and have yet to see more than a few military aircraft and an occasional burning oil field. But my view from thirty-five thousand feet hides one of Iraq’s greatest losses—the destruction of its ancient date trees. When these trees were burned from conflict, so went the other succulent fruits.

I pray that this war will soon end and that one day these wonderful date trees will thrive once more. And when this happens, I hope Iraq will share their luscious bounty with the rest of the world.


Beth Terrell said...

Thank you, Mark. Your posts make me feel like a world traveler, even though I've never crossed an ocean.

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating post! But isn't it scary to fly in Iraqi air space,even at 35,000 feet?

Mark W. Danielson said...

What is interesting about international flying is the degree of absolute air traffic control. Since the US alliance controls the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no threat at high altitudes, and since you are talking to a US air traffic controller in that area, there are no language issues, which makes it quite easy. We routinely fly over Iran, Russia, China, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, and other sensitive countries, thanks to the almighty dollar. You see, every country charges an over-flight fee, so in that respect, they welcome our business. The only real threat would come from having to make an emergency landing in one of these places, and at that point, I’d have to consider myself a prisoner until the politicians could sort things out. Thankfully, having three engines, it would take a very tremulous situation before I would consider diverting to any one of these airports. For a proper perspective, consider the amount of water that lies between the United States and Asia, which we fly non-stop without incident and you’ll understand the reliability of these aircraft. The modern world of flying is as safe as it’s ever been, even over places such as Iraq.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I'm with Pat. I think you're brave to fly over the middle East and Asian countries at any altitude. :)