Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 9, 2009
Those of you who follow the international weapons trade may recall that last month marked the semi-annual International Defense Exhibition and Conference, confusingly acronymed “IDEX”, in the Abu Dhabi. Despite our worldwide economic woes, this year’s IDEX was marked by several major weapons acquisitions, by the UAE and other regional powers, with $5 billion in total sales.
Why are you writing about a weapons fair? you may be wondering.
Truth be told, I have a very soft spot in my heart for IDEX, thanks to an old boyfriend who used to work in Abu Dhabi.
My first trip to visit him coincided – totally unbeknownst to me – with the beginning of that spring’s IDEX. I was 22, and a frequent although unstylish traveler. My modus operandi when traveling overseas for short stints was to avoid checking luggage; and to aim for comfort over fashion in my travel wardrobe.
So it was that I found myself in a short but slow-moving immigration line at the Abu Dhabi airport, wearing a wrinkly, stretched-out long-sleeved white shirt and a travel-friendly pair of black cargo pants, and toting an over-stuffed roll-on with my right hand while trying frantically to finish the novel I held in my right.
I’ve never been good with customs and immigration forms. I always fill things out on the wrong line, with the wrong information, or in the wrong language (the Syrians in particular hated it when I would fill forms out in Arabic; evidently foreigners were only meant to provide forms written in foreign languages). So it was only as I edged my slow way towards the front of the line that I looked up from my novel and realized that I was formless.
And worse, penless.
How I managed to travel from New York to Abu Dhabi with no writing implement is a mystery. I always have pens – in my handbag, in my gym bag, in my luggage; wedged into a book or a coat pocket; decorating my desk and a few kitchen drawers. But somehow I had left all pens in the US.
So I did what I usually avoid: I asked the obviously-American man in line ahead of me whether I could borrow his.
Of course, he said with a big smile. And then – much more cheerful about starting a conversation after two long flights than I would have been, even without the novel – You must be here for IDEX, too.
Thankfully, the “Welcome to IDEX” signs festooned around the airport had explained to me what IDEX was. And he clearly was here for IDEX: a professionally dressed, middle-aged man with professional luggage and an air of competency – someone you would want to trust with a multi-million dollar arms purchase.
I appreciated the courtesy behind his question – the suggestion that despite all appearances to the contrary, we might actually be at the same professional level. But I can’t imagine who would have wanted to buy weapons from a wrinkled, poorly packed, penless girl just out of college – or what his or her Defense Minister would have had to say afterwards!