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BAHRAIN | Friday, 23 November 2007 | Views [4501] | Comments [1]

The central area in the duty free area of Dubai airport.

The central area in the duty free area of Dubai airport.

I’d be the first to tell you that international travel was an eventuality for my life, but I certainly didn’t expect the turn of events that landed me on the afternoon of Wednesday 14 November 2007. Despite the customary aggravation in dealing with employer, I received “the call” confirming my assignment to a project on foreign soil. I was being outsourced as a Metastorm consultant to a project for Batelco, the ex-monopoly telecoms company of Bahrain.

Bahrain is an island nation in the Persian Gulf, just off the coast of Saudi Arabia, and north-west of Dubai. An Arab country on an island desert, but one of the wealthiest places in the world was to be my home for the next 2.5 months, sans 1 week for a previously-booked holiday to Durban in my home-country, South Africa.

Time was short, and I had a several things to arrange in preparation, but on the morning of Friday, November 16th (coincidentally my brother’s birthday) I was waived off by my family and colleagues for the first day of my adventurous new life. Little did I know of what an adventure was in stall for me!

Unlike Europeans at my age, but like most South Africans, I had travelled domestically and (maybe) to neighbouring countries, but certainly not overseas. And so, when packing all and sundry into my new luggage, I had very little experience to prepare myself for what lie ahead. The most concerning question I had was “I wonder if there’ll be alcohol on the plane?” And because I was heading to an Arab country, I defrosted and ate at least one serving of bacon a day for a week!

Flying domestically to Johannesburg, I checked in my luggage at the new-found international terminal and boarded an Emirates flight to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where I would connect to another flight heading into Bahrain’s capital, Manama. I would find my way to a pre-arranged apartment, and meet with the UK-based Metastorm consultant the next day.

Economy class on that Boeing 777 was fantastic. Movies, music and a real-time view of the flight’s progress were accessible via touch screen mounted on the seat before me. But a friendship that I struck with Alistair across the aisle from me didn’t make much time for all that. We chatted and laughed throughout most of the flight, and for my first time, I couldn’t ask for a more relaxed experience. This would come to be considered the emotional high of that weekend.

Landing in Dubai just after midnight, the humidity grabbed you immediately. More so, that it was combined with a mercury level of 25°C blew my mind. The passenger bus and all areas of the airport had air conditioning, a feature that you quickly notice when absent.

Alistair was travelling on to Doah where he would join up with his uncle, whereas I would be boarding 5 minutes earlier for my flight to Bahrain. “Oh shit! That sign reads ‘Boarding’” I shouted, and next thing I knew, Al and I were chasing down the really-long terminal in Dubai, hoping to get to the gates on the opposite side of the airport in time. We did, but just barely, and I already missed my companion while waiting for the doors to close on the plane to Bahrain.

First the captain announced delays to take-off, and then he made the following announcement: “In my experience,” he began, “people like bad news delivered plain and to the point…. On account of the fog, all flights have been cancelled, and in a few moments you’ll be escorted back into the airport.” “Oh fuck,” I thought… “All that running for nothing, but at least I get to have duty-free shopping in Dubai”. Little did I know…

Duty-Free Dubai

It’s now 3am. I just re-entered Dubai through immigration, and went to queue at the information desk, only to learn that information would only be forthcoming when they opened at 6am.

Just after 6am I’m told that Emirates will invariably transfer my ticket to the next flight, but that I’ll need to arrange this at the Transfers desk. “Ok,” I thought, “Back to browsing then…” And then I spot Al, and I soon hear that he’d suffered the same fate.

I’ll spare you the torture in patience and emotional fortitude that we all had to endure that day, but I will mention this much: Emirates staff at the Dubai airport are the least favourite people in most passengers minds from that day, and for a few days thereafter. I’ve never spent so much time shopping for nothing in my life, and I never want to endure the endless queuing (3 times at an average of 3 hours each as flight were continuously cancelled) for the desperate hope that the next boarding pass would be my ticked out of Dubai! Having been stranded for 18 hours, too tired to think straight, achingly sore from all the queuing, but too scarred that we’d miss our flight if we were to sleep, I certainly won’t trivialise fog again in my life!

Bahrain

Expedience isn’t a characteristic of my employer, and as a consequence I was at risk of being sent home instead of getting the temporary visa I was hoping to purchase at Manama Airport. Given the ordeal I just endured, I found positive’s in both outcomes, but has happy to enter Bahrain unfettered.

I bought a bottle of vodka (just in case) and proceeded to baggage collection. Admittedly, having lived the fiasco in Dubai, I didn’t fully expect the ordeal was quite over, and my instinct was correct: no baggage came through on the conveyor for anyone on my flight.

At this point I was so relieved to just be in Bahrain (and legal) that I didn’t really feel the urgency. So I left the other’s to reinstate their well-practiced queue, whereas I just sat back and counted my blessings. Yes, I lived a horrible first experience in international travel, and yes I wasn’t happy about any of it, but yes, too, was this a great learning experience, one which will be counted as major preparation for my future, one that shapes my choices but also proved my resilience in uncharted territory and showed me the power of sharing experiences to help each other through.

So I converted some US Dollars that I’d received in foreign exchange into Bahraini Dinar, and caught a taxi to the accommodation supposedly booked for my stay. Having arrived at night, the commute was short, but I already started to reinforce observations I’d been making throughout my experience so far: dual labelling in Arabic and English, left-hand driven automatics on the right of the road, no stopping if you’re turning right, and how newly-built everything seemed.

Manama, like all cities, has various levels of opulence. But, much like Cape Town, extremes are often in close proximity. The taxi driver delivered me to a “middle of the road” area, and I only found out what that meant when I settled into my room for the night. It was suitable, but I just wasn’t satisfied. The next day, on seeing where the Metastorm consultants were staying, I promptly changed accommodation (under the guise of efficiency, given similar pricing) to the Golden Tulip, lodgings much more suitable to my comfort.

My outstanding luggage claim was delegated to the concierge, while I enjoyed the day off (another opportunity offered to me) by catching up on sleep and purchasing a change of clothes. Therein I learned two new things: Stores in the region all close for a few hours at midday, and that store-bought clothes are expensive. But it was necessary, and hopefully I’ll recover the cost from Emirates. But once I made it back to the hotel, I quickly settled in to the buffet dinner.

Having done all I could to recify my lot, I began to look about me with new eyes -- absorbing my new surroundings, especially the architectural beauty.

I slept well that night, and the next day posed a new twist -- work -- but I plan to outline more of the cultural observations of the Arab nation in my next post.

Tags: On the Road

 

Comments

1

othor job ples sund me a vaza
persanal infoematio
my name is irfan i live in pakistan

  Muhammad irfan Oct 27, 2008 8:49 PM

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