Ripples in the Sand

Dan Kadlec
Human Parts
Published in
11 min readApr 17

How escaping missiles and myths helped me explore my shortcomings

The Empty Quarter in the Arabian desert near Abu Dhabi. Photo by Dan Kadlec

When we landed in Dubai, I had little idea what to expect. That’s how I travel. I never do enough research. I’m not proud of it. It’s just a thing with me. Some years ago, I planned a family vacation to Puerto Rico. At the airport, an attendant looked at our tickets and said, no, we were going to Puerto Plata.

“I hope you have passports,” the attendant said, looking sympathetically at my wife, Kim, and our three young children — and sideways at me. “That’s in the Dominican Republic.”

Kim had packed those documents (“just in case”) and we were soon on our way. But I won’t deny it was a long flight to the Caribbean wondering if a round of welcome drinks might be going unclaimed somewhere in Puerto Rico while my family slept on the streets of Puerto Plata.

It turns out I had kept my “Puertos” straight while booking the trip some months earlier. We had rooms. It all worked out. If it hadn’t, maybe I would have become a more careful planner. But it did, and so here we were touching down in Dubai with me not knowing what to expect. Blessedly, a travel expert had arranged our initial accommodations. I might have got us a room in Mumbai.

“In Dubai, tent cities are for glamping in the desert.”

This was my first trip to the United Arab Emirates or any other part of the vast Arabian desert and, if I’m being honest, it was a little frightening. I’m an American. My country has history in the region, which the U.S. deems so volatile it won’t put an embassy in some neighboring nations.

It didn’t take long for me to understand why. A couple weeks into our stay, Yemeni rebels fired a pair of ballistic missiles at Abu Dhabi just 86 miles from our hotel. The missiles were intercepted and locals quickly moved on, much the way Americans move on from the latest school shooting as though nothing can be done. We’re all kind of nuts, right?

Not long after the missile launch on Abu Dhabi, Putin’s tanks rolled into Ukraine. The onset of war prompted masses of ordinary Russians to flee conscription and sanctions by moving to Dubai, which continues to welcome Russians — especially those traveling in super yachts with super bank accounts. At…

Dan Kadlec
Human Parts

Dan is writing a memoir about his early years as a small-town journalist, when he was running with cops by day and from them by night.