Mid-way through my flight from Houston to Dubai, I realized what little time I had invested in preparing for life in the UAE. All my time and energy had been spent on wrapping up details in Houston. To reassure myself, I mentally listed all the ways that Dubai would be pretty much like Houston: hot weather, frigid temperatures indoors thanks to full-blast AC, a sizeable oil industry, a “bigger is better” mentality, a cosmopolitan population, big shopping malls with plenty of chain stores, driving a car would be my primary form of transportation, and there would be lots of new construction. I would probably feel right at home… right?
Thoughts about what it would be like to live in Dubai never lasted long since I was traveling alone with my sons (2 and 3 yrs old). On the 15 hour flight, I had more pressing issues to deal with, such as testing my balance and coordination in the cramped bathrooms, making sure that six hands touched nothing. I had packed 2 backpacks worth of coloring books, cars, snacks and stickers to entertain them, but for most of the flight, the boys decided that the remote control on their armrest was the most fascinating “toy” of all. One repeatedly called the flight attendant which I only discovered when she came to ask what we needed, while the other delighted in turning the lights on and off. Once they became delirious and too tired to sleep, they asked me to change the movie every 10 minutes or explain how to play the video games, one after another after another. No flight would be complete without the compulsory water, juice or excrement spill all over someone’s clothes. Luckily, this time it was only water. To provide a bit of comic relief, a baby who was taking a stroll with his father down our aisle very quickly and unexpectedly grabbed the soggy shirt I had taken off my son. He hurled it with impressive speed and precision directly on to the head of our neighboring passenger! I felt sorry for this otherwise very patient and sweet man who was innocently trying to catch a bit of shut-eye, but in my sleep-deprived state I couldn’t stop myself from giggling at this unbelievable mishap. I definitely didn’t see that coming!
My eyes on fire and patience wearing thin, the boys finally fell asleep, 10 hours into the flight. No thoughts of living in Dubai crossed my mind, just a sense of relief as I drifted off to sleep for the next couple of hours.
Once we landed– reality set in. A sea of saris, abayas and dishdashas swirled around me as Arabic mingled with English instructed me on where to go. Struggling with the boys’ two backpacks, my own heavy backpack, a messenger bag, a car seat and two unwieldy toddlers, I slowly made my way to immigration. Large groups of Africans kept cutting in front of me while I clumsily wrestled with my bags and cajoled my children to untangle themselves from the rope dividers. As sweat dripped down my cheeks, a British man behind me gave me the oh-so-helpful advice that if I don’t hurry up – people will get in front of me in line. We finally made it to the immigration officer; they always make me nervous. I didn’t have the address of our hotel handy when she asked for it. I said I had it in my bag somewhere, “Should I look for it?” I asked. “No problem,” she responded. Hmm, I wasn’t sure if that meant yes or no. I asked again and received the same reply. She wasn’t making eye contact which made it even more difficult to discern the meaning of her response. I slowly inched away, trying to determine if she would object, but she didn’t. Off to baggage claim.
I offloaded 2 big boxes and 4 cumbersome suitcases and looked for someone to help me carry everything out. After a few trips around the luggage belt, I couldn’t find anyone. There were Emirates Airlines employees who were carrying carts for other passengers, so I persevered. First attempt – unsuccessful. I (naïvely) assumed he didn’t understand English. Second attempt – he agrees to help, so I walk in the direction of the mountain o’ baggage. When I turn back to look at the man, poof! He’s gone! Third attempt : this time I keep an hawk eye on the man. He also tries to make a run for it! I gave him a crazed look and pointed sternly at our bags and my children. He rolled his eyes and begrudgingly came along. I’m not sure why these “helpers” were avoiding me, but I felt like taping a big sign on my head that said, “I WILL pay you!” At customs, everything went through without a problem except the boxes. A woman scanned them and inquired about the contents. In my exhausted, fed-up state, I had no idea what was in the boxes and could only muster “kid things” as a response. She said, “Really? Kid things?” me: “Yes.” “Okay – go on through.” Slack security was not what I expected in the Middle East, but I was certainly grateful for it at that moment. A search of the box surely would have broken me, especially since I could already see my husband’s sweet smiling face on the other side of the swinging doors. I have never been so happy to see him. Hello Dubai and our new life here.