Thursday, 9 April 2009

Dungeons of Dubai

The running club gets together for a meal out every couple of months and this was the first opportunity I’d had since Bob got back from Dubai to ask about his trip. He’s been several times before both with his daughter and alone. It has always sounded like a posh resort and a good place for reliable sun; Dubai is on the Persian Gulf. Bob’s daughter, Ann, works for British Airways and gets him good deals on the travel package. He mentioned several months ago that he was going, but he thought this would probably be his last trip there; I gathered he was ready for a change of routine.

I’d never heard of the place until I came across here but apparently it is a relatively popular holiday destination from Britain. Although the United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country, they seem prepared to set aside some of their religious scruples to attract the tourist money. One can drink alcohol or wear western bathing suits at the resorts. They draw the line, however, at drunken couples having sex on their beaches, as one very stupid British couple learned. Last I heard they were facing a jail term, but perhaps they got off with a promise never to return. I gather Bob plans never to return, but not for the same reason...

He told me that after a 7 hour flight he arrived about 11 at night. The immigration desk, having swiped his passport through their machine, gave him a note to take to another desk and by and by he found himself taken to a jail cell by a policeman at the airport – a policeman pointing a gun at him. The several other men in the cell with him were Indian, he thought, but he couldn’t speak with them. He could barely speak with the policeman whose English was limited but when he asked why he was told that he had paid for a car with a bad check, hidden the car and left the country. He, or another British man with the same name and the same birth date.

What they couldn’t understand was that the thief had had residence in Dubai back in January and there was no visa in Bob’s passport, nor any evidence that any pages were missing from it. They didn’t take anything from him before putting him in the cell, and he began sending text messages to his children. Ann set about making contact with BA staff there in Dubai. After a couple of harrowing hours they released Bob, but said he had to return to the police station the next day to sort the problem, else he’d not be able to leave the country. He finally got to his hotel room in the wee hours of the morning, but said he didn’t sleep a wink.

He had his hotel organize a car for him and it came with an Indian driver. Bob said all the workers in Dubai are Indian, as the Arabs there don’t stoop to manual labour. This driver was a godsend as it turned out: he spoke a bit of Arabic and a lot of very good English. They spent 6 hours shuffling from one office to another, carrying papers between the various authorities’ offices. Bob said he fairly clung to the Indian driver, to the annoyance of the police, who wanted to send the Indian off on errands and wanted Bob to sit still with them; but as they spoke little English he felt helpless without an interpreter. He said it was a bit strange seeing the police all dressed in flowing Arabian robes.

In the end, they finally gave him a piece of paper covered in Arabic print to present at the airport check in counter when he left. If you know Bob, you’ll know he did not enjoy the rest of his holiday. He’s not a flexible, easy going, go-with-the-flow kind of guy. Words one associates with Bob are: systematic, organized, on time, in control, tidy, rigidly disciplined (just like me, huh?!). Bob always plans and prepares for everything; he likes things to go as arranged and gets pretty darn tense if they don’t. He said he barely slept, couldn’t eat much, never relaxed the whole time he was there. He wanted to be back in Britain but worried that wouldn’t happen when the time came to leave. I think I cope with the unexpected a bit better than he – or Bill for that matter (we’ve all traveled together a few times), but I’m certain I’d have felt exactly the same in his position.

Come the last day, his daughter had arranged for someone from BA to be on hand in case he had problems getting through. Bob said he explained the whole thing to the young Arab man at the check in counter, showing him the Arabic paper before handing over his passport to be swiped. He said the man was very pleasant and I gather they both held their breath when the passport was swiped, but nothing came up. The authorities had apparently managed to change the system in the interim, and I have to admit to being impressed by that. Bob knew his daughter had got him an upgrade for his return flight but nearer the gate he was met by the young man from the airline who told him they’d given him a further upgrade to club class.

Bob described the way the seats slid down into a bed position where, wrapped in the care of British Airways, he managed a few hours of sleep. He said it took him a couple of weeks at home to settle down from that. When I first heard about it from others in the running club, they said Bob was not laughing about this experience. By the time he told me he could smile in the telling and realized he had a good story to tell. He said it helped to realize that British police would likely have done much the same things as the Arabs had done and he did know that his is a reasonably common name.

Apparently there are a fair few Brits who have taken residence in Dubai, but with the recession their finances have crumpled. They have defaulted on mortgages and literally walked away, got on a plane and returned to Britain. As their funds are all here in Britain, authorities in Dubai are helpless to retrieve any of their assets. Just as well for the Brits in question, irresponsible though they are; Bob and I supposed there may still be such a thing as debtors’ prison in Dubai.

I reminded Bob that he’d already said this was to be his last trip to Dubai and this has just put a seal of certainty on that plan. In fact, he said it would be a while before he would consider going anywhere they didn’t speak English. Anybody want a tidy, very organized guest?


Rick Stone said...

Guess your friend Bob won't be coming to the good ole US of A anytime soon then if he does not want to go anywhere they don't speak English. ;-> As the saying goes we of the USA and UK are the same, only separated by a common language. Currently the language here is still American but is slowly becoming Spanish.

Shelley said...

Estoy seguro de mi amigo sería muy contento de visitar los Estados Unidos.