guilt and awe

morning awe
i float to work. from the heated cocoon of my car, i pass silent through a world of ghosts: all of lemmon, all of the dry windy dakotas, has been taken by white fog--not an early morning mist, not a precursor or substitute for rain: winter fog, frozen. it is an unearthly white, an edge to existence on all sides, a fading into nothingness, to blank air. the ground mirrors the sky: frozen white, covered in feet of snow, praries stretching white into invisibility, lumpy buttes in the distance blanketed blank. every thing i see, white: trees coated in ice, cars frosty or buried, the people you meet with snow in their skin, their eyes, their hair. only the black of the road holds some reality, and even that disappears in fog ahead. at times i am only driving on the darkest of the snow, hoping it is real, hoping it's the road.

through this wintry unreality i float, unreal myself at 65 miles an hour, warm and comfortable, carried further unearthly by the hare krisnas coming from my speakers, mysteries inner and outer dovetailing in morning mind.

i am at ease with mystery: i do not know if one hundred feet ahead stands a deer or a stopped car ready to spin me off the road, off the mortal coil. i do not know if beyond that mist there are still green hills, or mountains, houses or fields. i don't know if the name the hare krisnas chant is That Mystery's true name, or if It has one, or if It Is at all. for all i can know, i am alone in the world. it is faith and experience that paint beyond the edge of the fog, only a construction of the mind, even on clearer days. that's OK. i am not all-knowing. i don't even want to be: it's nice to have room for wonder, for awe. this morning, a simple drive to Hettinger has awakened both in me. may they never sleep.

how can i eat this?
for five dollars and twelve cents i buy eight whole wheat buns, a chunk of sharp cheddar cheese, a jar of roasted garlic pasta sauce, and a can of soda at the Hettinger Jack and Jill. it's more than enough for lunch: it's enough for two, at least. for five dollars. the glass jar of pasta sauce was a full dollar. it seems wrong somehow: how can all this food be got at such a pittance? how can this grocery store be so full of tasty foods getting old and discounted while our organization in Africa struggles to feed the kids corn mash and beans every day? and how can i go on eating this five dollar feast, loving them?

an answer
to say the world isn't fair is not enough: we have to accept it. good people die. bad people get power, get prestige, get rich. petty things keep us from loving each other, keep star-crossed lovers from crossing lines into true love. one day the sun will become a red giant and swallow this earth whole, like nothing. to say the world isn't fair is not enough: we have to accept it, have to understand which fights are winnable, and which are simple denial of facts. i will never live without taking life--even the Jain mouth-masked not to breathe in insects, brushing the ground before she walks, eating only the fallen fruit from the trees, she will tread insects, be the host to scores living and dying on her scalp, lessen the chance the seeds in the fruit she eats will themselves bear life. the sperm that fertilized the egg that became her did so at the exclusion of millions of other worthy sperm. call that original sin. our human desire for all-pervasive justice is at odds with the world, in which arguably the idea of justice doesn't exist outside our minds (and even inside them we can't agree on what it is). so am i going to eat in morose guilt, sure i don't deserve what i have? no. i'm going to do what i can to be sure everyone gets what they deserve, including me and all the people, plants and minerals that went into making this meal for me--first things, they deserve a little gratitude. if what i want is people everywhere to enjoy healthy abundant foods, it's a contradiction if that wish makes me not enjoy mine. what this meal does is remind me that i am fortunate, by chance as much as effort, and i need to spread that good fortune.

that's one answer to how i can go on eating this five dollar feast, loving my kids in Africa. because i know how things are, how i want them to be, and i'm doing what i can.


driving to hettinger

i see a piece of snow on the road break randomly, seconds before my tires hit it, further breaking it. what made that piece break?

from this blossoms in my mind a temporal extension of a description i once heard second-hand of a ugandan woman who'd died, of how her spirit fingers withdrew as out of the gloves of her real fingers, how she saw her spirit body gradually pulling out of her material one like mortal clothes, as she exited via the top of her head.

i start to imagine time being like that, withdrawing like spirit fingers from our place in space, that we'd still see space be affected, but in out of sync time, as though our footprints fell in snow before our foot did, or not until after it'd lifted again. i imagine a sci fi story i would write about someone who was pulled out like that, and how it would begin with a description of the 1950s flanger sound effect, made by rotating speakers pulling the same sound slightly out of and back into sync with itself, and how time would be like that for the main character of the story.

the rest of the day happened right on time.


diversity, silence and surprise in smalltown Dakota

working in silence
i am a painter. i owe my dad two thousand dollars for living expenses while in Uganda, and fortunately he recently bought an apartment complex that needs remodeling, so there was work waiting as soon as i'd gotten back. now every day i drive the 25 miles to hettinger, north dakota, and spend my morning and afternoon taking off electrical faceplates, masking doorframes, covering carpets and spraying paint. most of the time, i bring my computer, and though i spend the day alone, i am kept electric company by music, audio books or news broadcasts downloaded in the morning before leaving.

today i was about halfway to hettinger, in the houseless stretch of road where south dakota changes to north, when i realized i'd forgotten my computer. no music. at first, something like panic gripped me: oh god, what was i going to do all day? work in silence?

and then a voice deeper in me, the one that sat through a month of silent meditation, that rode bicycle alone across africa, that doesn't even always like all that music, said yes. what you are going to do is work all day in silence. is that so bad? is silence somehow scary? can you manage to be unmediated, unentertained, undistracted for nine hours in one day? yes.

so that's what i did: i unscrewed, i taped, i masked, i painted, i worked. in silence. well, not really in silence: i would sometimes realize i was singing, had been singing for some time, and probably sounded like a total loony to the elderly person on the other side of the wall, since i was singing my mental impression of the song, not the real thing. then i kept singing.

but most of the time, it was just quiet. just me and me, and the work. that's okay too. some people are uncomfortable with silence when they're with someone else. others are uncomfortable with silence when they're alone: they need the radio, the TV, the computer to be on, an I-pod at least. i'm not: i like me. there are more than enough things to think about for a day or a week or even a month. i didn't go anywhere for lunch, didn't chat with anyone that afternoon. i read a book while i was eating, then kept working, in silence again.

is that strange? i don't mind if you think so. according to how they act, i think most people would, when it gets down to it: they'd rather have the radio on, rather have a bit of distraction from what might become a lot of time with oneself. me too, sometimes. not today.

a very surprising thing
is that people are genuinely interested to hear about Uganda. when i came back from Japan, i usually had between one to three sentences before eyes became glassy, answers became monosyllable, and i could tell i'd completely lost my listener's interest. sometimes the opening words "In Japan..." were all it took.

so i was ready for my culture's cultural disinterest, came with a thick skin and a sort of truculent inner appreciation for what i'd done and seen, regardless of what anyone was going to think. i was ready for the glassy-eyes.

needlessly. one of the most surprising things about coming back has been the genuine interest people have shown in where i've been and what i've done. i can talk in threes and fours of sentences without losing interest, sometimes getting asked follow-up questions, and if anything am holding back more than i need to, out of the habit i picked up coming from Japan. in those days i came to understand the richly tapestried world i'd come to know and love was pretty uninteresting to most people in the States, and hard as it was to accept i learned to say little or nothing about it because i was apparently just boring my listener.

maybe it's working to my advantage: my cousin training his daughter in violin via the 'Suzuki method' said one of its tenets is to always stop practicing before she's had enough, so that her interest is always held. so maybe my closed-mouthedness about international experiences (blogs aside, that is!) is keeping people interested. or maybe writing about them the whole time i was there gave me a lot of good stories to tell. maybe i've learned to put things in a way that's interesting to someone with a much different set of experiences. or maybe Africa itself, the kind of work i was doing there, just holds more interest for people. i think that's it.

in any case, it's been lovely. i never liked hiding what to me was such an important part of my life, and though Japan continues to need hiding, Uganda does not. having ears for what i'm dying to tell, and a bit of understanding for the parts of life here that are harder to get back into, has made coming home that much easier.

smalltown dakota diversity
is not one of culture or race, it's one of personality. personality is the ultimate diversity you often sweep over in experiencing things from the surface level of a foreigner, is the deep learning you do from each person's own take on life, their own culture and the inner world they've created from it, how that world is expressed in what they say and do. if you want black people, asian people, mediterranean and sub-saharan people, the Dakotas don't have much going on. but if you're interested in different kinds of people, in different ways folks have found to live life, i am finding there's a lot to see in the small town Dakotas.


what else it's like being back

what has coming back to america been like for me? in a way, it's been like travel.

that is, i've been traveling for so long that the state of mind i got into traveling has stayed with me as i come back to this place which ought to be the end of my travels. i was pretty settled the year and some i was in Uganda. then i traveled for five weeks on my bike, enough time to thoroughly inhabit the traveler's state of mind, and only being back in Uganda for a week, i kept it (it was easier to say goodbye that way, than meditate on how i was losing a home, etc.). the four days i spent on planes and in Dubai was thoroughly travel. so when i got into Denver after all that, i still more or less felt like i was traveling.

that is, i felt i was in a special place for a short time, that things were to be done for the sake of doing them as there was little time to wait, that good conversations were to be had and not waited for, that i was seeing and doing things for the first time, familiar as some of them were. there are worse states of mind to be in.

and it just continued: through driving up to my dad's house in South Dakota, through the week i spent here with my sister and her husband, driving around to visit family, and even after they left, i've feel i'm traveling still. maybe traveling deep, moving somewhere different in life and not geography. i don't feel out of place, not like i'm not at home or that this place isn't familiar--i've spent enough time in Lemmon, though never in the house we are living in now, to take it as familiar. but somehow the special focus and hinging on moments that i have when traveling has stayed with me after coming back. maybe it's because i've been excited to be here for such a long time that it's like i've reached a destination i've been traveling towards for years (i have). or maybe i just learned something or things in those years of traveling that was valuable, and decided to apply them even after i've stopped awhile. i don't know. yes. probably all of those. but coming back, being back, has been like travel.

speaking of which, i am even a backpacker in my own house: the airlines lost my luggage, and i was left with only my carry-on, a backpack full of books and other impractical things too heavy to put in my already overweight luggage. they didn't find the rest of my things (i.e. clothes, toiletries, souvenirs, etc.) until well after i'd left Denver with my sister and her husband for South Dakota, so i was wearing the same clothes i had been since Uganda, lugging around the same little backpack as i made the final miles home. i still haven't gotten my luggage, just dug up some old boxes and bought what i couldn't find. maybe that's why it's all felt like travel... i'm still living from my backpack.

not all of it
can make it into words. some of it is probably inappropriate for anyone's thought than my own. let me sum up what it's like to be back:


things i am grateful for:

hot water in the tap
cold juice in the fridge
convenience stores
nonstop electricity
uber availability of cheese
being with family
nonugandan food
my luggage being found
dumb movies on bigscreen TVs
grandma dybe's caramel rolls

things i'm not sure how im going to deal with:

how much sugar there is in everything
how much meat there is in everything
how much trash i create trying to eat something
long drives in motorized vehicles
dumb movies on bigscreen TVs
my change from international to national
cute american girls
washing machines and dryers


what it's like coming back to the states

mental breakdown.
a disgust with all things first world, with the ignorant wealth of our country and its people, including oneself. an overwhelming sense of guilt for all of our unearned privilege, and a reluctant resumption of that privilege coupled with hypocritical regret for not having done something more, stayed longer, learned from the time spent in africa.

these are the sentiments you are supposed to experience when you come back from africa. reverse culture shock: economic shock. the change from poverty to wealth, i was told, is harder than the other way around, than adjusting to the difficulties and trials of life in africa. you return only to feel the people you left behind are somehow more real, more deserving of the good things we have than we are, we who so thoughtlessly have them each day and night.

that's what you feel when you come back from africa. reverse culture shock. do i? no.

coming back has been different for me. how? i'm not really sure. i've been back nearly two weeks now, and it's been stewing in the back of my mind the whole time, but i haven't yet put it into words. let me try. what has coming back from africa been like for me?

coming in from the cold
in part it's been like winters in south dakota, winters where no one wants to be outdoors, out of heating, but at times you must. and at those times no matter how much you bundle up, you are going to get cold. and you are going to curse the cold and wish you were back inside and generally be fairly uncomfortable for a time. and then, at some point, you'll have been cold for so long that it becomes the normal state of being, and while it's still deplorable, it's not really on the front burner of your mind, and you go on doing the rest of whatever it is you need to do outside, still remembering somewhere how nice it will be to go indoors.

and then you do, and that's what coming back from africa has been like for me. not a culture shock--this is where i grew up, after all, and being from somewhere is a little like riding a bicycle, though if you spend long enough away it's bound to be a little unfamiliar. you don't forget your home. what you do forget--or what you maybe never noticed--is how nice it is to be home, like you notice it coming indoors after a half hour or more outside in the snow and wind: how nice it is to take off your coat, your shoes, shiver a little bit as the cold air shakes out of your hair and you get warm again, comfortable.

coming back to america has been a little like that for me.

a kid in candystore.
what have i been like coming back from africa? i've been a little like a kid in a candystore.

i didn't get this feeling much in Japan, where they had the usual first world diversity of goods for sale, and those goods had the bonus of being new and interesting and in many cases tastier, cuter, stranger and higher tech than what i knew of in the states. i never really felt like i was going without there, or had the craving for something like a bowl of mac and cheese (which i would avoid eating in the states).

but in africa, oh baby, there ain't much in the way of comfort foods, in the way of aisles of candy bars and potato chips and cake mixes and juices and boxes of cereal. supplies are limited and hard to get, especially if you don't have much cash. and living there i gradually started craving the dumbest things i never liked in the states, like duncan hines brownies made straight from the box with just a couple eggs and some water, like peanut m&ms. when somebody'd get a care package from home, or buy something rare and expensive like cheese, we'd celebrate, we would partake of it with care and joy.

to exasperate matters, i spent the last two months of my time in Africa on bicycle, peddling through some pretty unfamiliar and remote areas, sleeping where i could and eating what i could find wherever i was. a trip like that, if it lasts awhile like mine did, will make you start longing for familiarity, for comfort. and comfort, for me at least, has quite a bit to do with food.

so coming back to america i have been like a kid in a candystore. every little podunk town i go to has boxes and boxes of cake mix, all kinds of vegetables from different countries neatly canned and refrigerated in lines, every gas station has candy bars and fountain pop and boxes or sometimes trays even of fresh donuts and long johns... all of it easily accessible, everything tasting like i remember it tasted from six years ago when i used to eat it sometimes. mushrooms? we got mushrooms, baby, as many as you want to eat, right down the street. wow.

when i came back from japan two years ago, i remember having a specific craving for pizza hut pizza. this time, i had no specific cravings. my craving was generalized: my craver was saying something like "all of that. yes, that's good, and that too, and that, and that." and so every day i have treated myself to a new thing, have rediscovered some tasty little item of the United States' deathly unhealthy and in-the-long-run-not-very-tasty-or-healthy-but-so-nice-right-now french fry basket of every day food. hamburgers. pizza. carrot cake with frosting. butterfinger candy bars. sour cream and onion potato chips. wheat bread. pickles. barbecue ribs. popcorn. grape juice. i've been out of the country long enough that all of this stuff tastes a little like that forgotten first time, has a slightly exotic air about it, coupled with a lovely remembered familiarity.

i've been working the last week or so, preparing apartments for painting, and eating out of the grocery store for lunch. i walk in and become like a round-eyed kid with so much fun stuff to try: my choice of twenty-five different kinds of soda, a whole row of different flavors of cheese and yogurt to choose from, and none of it more than a couple bucks at a time, which in the dollar-perspective is so much cheaper than any of the few of those things that were available as imports in uganda seemed from the local shilling-perspective.

so today for lunch i already had some wheat buns, a block of sharp cheddar and some pasta sauce in the fridge, but i went and deliberately bought a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips and a Butterfinger. mmm, junk food. i can't help myself. it's like i've been waiting so long for it, that i want to try every little thing in the whole store, in every restaurant, in each of the aisles except the motor oil aisle of the gas station.

i am a kid in a candy store.



walking away from the left luggage counter at dubai airport, i reflected that not much makes me happier than freedom: freedom from luggage, freedom from worry, freedom from physical constraints, freedom from hunger, freedom to think and speak as i please.

think about it. what feels better than being freed? today i am walking through the giant empty Emirates Terminal of Dubai International Airport swinging a single bag with a book and a bottle of water in it, headed out for a final day exploring Dubai. i feel like i've been loaded down with luggage forever: lugging my bike and panniers around the last month and a half, trying to deal with all my worldly belongings and fit the really good ones into suitcases when back in Uganda, over-stuffing my carry-on luggage to fit everything i could, and then having to carry them around everywhere in Dubai. i have a long tubular roll of woven mats and posters, a big backpack full of books that would've made my checked luggage too heavy (though it was 12kg/25lbs overweight anyhow). add to that a well-worn plastic bag with some food, a water bottle, book, laptop, etc., and you have a certified pain in the ass. i carried that pain around me the last two nights in Dubai, into and out of x-ray machines, security checks, elevators and bathrooms and endless uncomfortably-plastic-chaired lounges.

so today when i checked everything except what i really wanted into the left luggage counter, and walked away free-shouldered and ready to see Dubai, i was happy. i was happy because i was free, physically free. other kinds of freedom make me just as happy: the freedom you feel when you step on a bike and suddenly move farther, faster, easier than you did before, like the freedom of floating in water, a freedom from your own body. the freedom of giving away all your keys, like i did two days ago, of being totally unattached, just passing through, as i am today in Dubai. the freedom of having money, of not needing to worry about little details like how much the food i'm going to eat today costs, or whether i can afford a hotel room tonight (this is not currently one of my freedoms). et cetera. freedom is lovely.

i guess this sentiment makes me a good american. our national propoganda is all about freedom, to the extent that kids in the states used to ask me what it was like in those other countries i had visited "where they don't have freedom." come on. anyone can take a bath after a long day and feel gloriously free from dirt. anyone can sing somewhere alone and love the freedom of bounded speech turning unembarassedly to song. anyone can become conscious of what a freedom existing at all is, and be happy of it. as Sartre wrote, at the very bottom everyone has the freedom to say 'no,' whatever the consequences. and as i think Nietszche and the preacher in Camus' The Plague thought, everyone too has the freedom to say 'yes,' to accept what we find in this world, and make it our own.

i don't mean to impugn the United States and its ideal of freedom. there are freedoms there that people in other places don't have: freedom from worry about crime, from worry about hunger, from worry about lack of access to health care, from invasion or acts of terrorism by enemies within or outside the country. those of you who live in the States are probably thinking 'what? we don't have any of those those freedoms either!,' and the media would have you think that as well, much as at the same time it is supporting a propaganda of freedom that refuses to define itself, beyond the Bill of Rights. but compared to other places, the degree of these freedoms we have is tremendous. you will never have ultimate freedom: you are always constrained to your mind and its patterns[1], your body and its needs, your environment and its constraints. in this sense, no person on earth is free, and no government could ever grant it that freedom. but we can always get more free, like me today leaving my bags behind, and always get more conscious of the freedom we do have, like that sweet consciousness of health you have after recovering from a serious injury or illness (you lost it again, didn't you? why?). if you take time to notice it, being alive at all is a real freedom.

so i don't really buy the US, or any country, as the Land of the Free. it offers some freedoms other places don't have, and takes away others[2] but fundamentally it's YOU to make yourself free by them, and they are just decorations on deeper consciousnesses of freedom only we can give ourselves, the ones that will really really free you, 'emancipate yourself from mental slavery' as bob marley sang. the land of the free is not a place, not a political territory. it is a state of mind. and today, i am happy having it, happy conscious of the freedoms i have, feeling their balance against weights of constraint like illness (i'm battling a cold), penury (i've slept on the airport floor two nights for lack of money), missing my family in Uganda, impatience to see my family in the States, etc. i know today i am so much more free than constrained. whether that's the product of my environment, my teachers, or my own effort, it is lovely, and i am grateful for it. there are surely joys coming from duties and responsibilities taken on and done well, but today i am conscious of the joy coming from my freedoms. hope you are conscious of you own freedom to do the same.

[1] i had a friend who used to scorn the Christian notion of heaven as a place he wouldn't want to go, saying 'but i'd still be ME, wouldn't i? i'd still have all these thoughts and worries and be Dustin Stover with my own memories, just in heaven? f&*( that! i don't want to be this person again' --in short, that the real freedom of heaven would need to be a total getting-beyond of ourselves, or the glory of it would be limited by our own limitations.

forgive me for delving into a totally unrelated topic, but heaven might have gotten beyond that by: a) taking our souls and not our personal details as i'm told Hindus believe it happens, or b) being so glorious the very experience of it changes us, lures us away from all part of ourselves that keep us from experiencing it fully, naturally, out of sheer love and want to experience it as fully as we can.

or maybe there's nothing when we die.

[2] like the freedom to drink in public in Japan, or the freedom to almost-free health care in Uganda


three nights in Dubai airport

the nights were not as nice as the days. i arrived the first night thirty minutes after midnight, and by the time i'd taken the shuttle to the terminal and made sure my bulky bags were being checked through to the final destination, it was around 2am. i'd been sleeping on the plane, and all i wanted to do was keep sleeping. unfortunately, the best thing i could find, wandering around this giant, glittering, deserted and air conditioned airport at 2am, were some plastic chairs with unadjustable plastic footrests. after trying them unsuccessfully, and more wandering, i found an arrival lounge that at least was deserted and quiet, and after another unsuccessful attempt at the chairs, i laid down on the tile floor in the corner, wrapped in my not-quite-stolen Emirates blanket[1], and slept as best i could in the air conditioning and the overbright florescent light. fortunately, anticipating such sleeping arrangements, i'd brought a pair of sleeping shades found when packing in Uganda, and a pair of barkcloth shorts someone had given me that doubled as a pillow.

so i slept alright, turning every half hour or so to relieve pressing hip bones, totally unable to judge the time in the ever-bright empty room. some sixth traveller sense awakened me a few seconds before two men in the long white robes and turbaned headgear of traditional muslims entered the lounge and started walking towards me. busted.

they asked me who i was, what i was doing here (i thought that, at least, was obvious), why i hadn't gotten a hotel room somewhere, and told me it was time to go. a glance at the clock said 7:30, so it was time anyway, and i passed through immigrations and security and out into dubai. it struck me as ironic that i, the quintessential white man, had been questioned by security officials that would themselves have aroused suspicion in my country--and none of us up to no good.

the second night, having made a few halfhearted attempts at finding lodging, and being confirmed in their expense (think of it this way: one night in dubai would have been more than all 40 nights of my bicycle trip put together), i left the Burj Khalifa and its neighbor Dubai Mall after a sunset music-light-and-fountain show, and took the metro back to the airport. i wasn't really sure on the legality of me entering as though i was going to wait for my plane, and then leaving again the next day, but i knew i couldn't go back to the lounge i'd slept in last night. i figured the best place would be a departure lounge, where i'd be taken for one more napping connecting passenger.

so that's what i did: i worked my way back in through information, immigration and security, joined the throngs of other passengers actually leaving that night, and found a quiet spot to bed down for the night, this time hidden by a few rows of chairs and some chinese friends. this time i committed all the way, and unrolled my mukeeka, a Ugandan woven mat, and slept on it with my sleep-goggles on and my bags between me and the wall. the mat made the floor a touch softer, but i woke from time to time to see the lounge variously empty, full of passengers about to depart, or spottily seated with people in various states of sleep-seeking. when i rose for good in the morning it was to the sun out the windows, all my chinese friends replaced with folks headed for Australia, the guy on the seat above me watching some kind of translated manga on his laptop. i yawned, stretched, rolled up my mukeeka and headed out for another day in Dubai. i got some weird looks from the security personnel, who remembered me from yesterday, but had no troubles.

the next night i was legit in checking in, as i had a flight at 3am the following morning. having been so comfortable the night before (well, not actually COMFORTABLE, but slumberable), i went back to the same place, and after surfing on the free wi-fi til i got sleepy, had a nice little nap in the same spot. i was too anxious about missing my flight to sleep deep, though, and in a few hours wandered bleary-eyed to my gate for an early check-in, a second wait at an inside gate, and finally onto the plane. after watching the city lights of Dubai, including the Palm housing complex in the ocean, pass by underneath, i did my best to get some sleep sitting up in the chair, wondering if this was the last time i was going to have to sleep in all kinds of strange places because i'm traveling on the cheap. i was serious when i wrote i no longer really want to do it. nevertheless, i wouldn't be surprised if it happens again. i was even getting kind of used to it.

[1] i was going to steal it. sitting on the nice comfy plane into Dubai, having eaten the best airplane food of my life, i couldn't help reflecting how cold and poopy the floor was going to be for sleeping once i arrived. so i folded up the blanket and stuffed it neatly in my bag. then, around the time we were coming in to land and the flight attendants were collecting the blankets, i realized that was pretty much stealing, and that i didn't want to do it. so i pulled it out and gave it to the attendant. then i had the second reflection that since i was taking another Emirates flight in two days, i could just return it then, and rather than stealing, it would be something like unpermitted borrowing. too late now: all the blankets were gone. still, i thought i'd make one more try on the up and up (it never hurts). as we were filing out, and the attendants were goodbying us, i asked one if i could take a blanket, since i was probably going to be sleeping on the floor. i guess i was a bit inpolitic, because she said no, of course, it isn't allowed. then when i'd taken a couple of steps forward she leaned over and whispered in my ear "you can just put one in your bag and leave with it." well, that was all the permission i needed, so at the next available moment, seeing a blanket lying on the seats, i did so. stolen? maybe. did i return it? yes, on the next flight. and in the meantime, it really helped me out on those chilly airport floors. did i do something wrong? i'm not sure. it sure seemed right. i'll let Mr. Kant debate the details.