Getting to Dubai

It is 4:30 a.m. local time in Dubai, and I have just woken up from a “nap”. I am hopeful that I will basically be able to stay awake most of today until early evening local time in an effort to get my body clock adjusted quickly.

My travel to Dubai started at the cottage near Huntsville on Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. Approximately 21.5 hours later I walked through the door of my apartment for the next four months. My flight was scheduled to leave at 9:40 p.m., but I wanted to be at the airport at least three hours before the scheduled departure time. Since we were driving into Toronto, and traffic could have been an issue, my Mom and I gave ourselves an extra buffer of time. Since traffic was not really an issue at all, I ended up in the check-in line for the Emirates flight to Dubai about 5:30, which was 15 minutes before the counter actually opened to accept passengers.

As I approached the line, I noticed a young man with a University of Waterloo t-shirt already standing there. I asked him if he was heading to Dubai to be a tutor, and he said yes. We introduced ourselves, (his name is Johnathan) and waited for the line to start moving. In the meantime, a friend from the cottage (Mary Lois) walked by with her grand-daughter (Leila). Mary Lois’ daughter (Caroline) was scheduled to leave from Pearson, on her way to Riyadh with her two children (Nabil), just 30 minutes after my flight was leaving. This was a nice coincidence that was likely to make the wait at the airport much more pleasant.

Shortly after I saw Mary Lois and Leila the staff opened up the counters for check-in. I watched Johnathan rifle through many papers as he was checking in. Then suddenly his father sprinted away from the counter. I started to worry that there was some problem with the paper work that had been handled by the UW staff. All I had as far as papers were my passport, a printout of my visa, and a printout of the ticket. I thought I might have been missing something crucial. I saw Johnathan’s father sprint back with what appeared to be a laptop bag. As it turns out, he had left the bag with the rest of his family and the staff just wanted to SEE the carry-on bag. I was next in line, and in less than five minutes my bags were checked and I had my boarding pass. Things were going very smoothly so far.

I found Mary Lois with both her grandchildren now (Nabil had joined them). We went back to find Caroline and she moved through her check-in line pretty quickly herself. She got boarding passes for everyone, and within a few minutes we were heading to security. We all said goodbye to Mary Lois and moved through the short security line very quickly. By this time, it was getting close to 7:00 p.m. and Caroline and I were looking for somewhere to eat dinner. Ironically, the longest time I spent in line at the airport was waiting to sit down for dinner at the Casey’s inside. By the time we were finished dinner, I still had 45 minutes before boarding. The wait time passed quickly though since I chatted with Caroline while Leila and Nabil ran around the waiting area with several other children.  It is amazing to me how easily kids can make friends. I asked Caroline how to say hello and thank-you in Arabic. She taught me hello (marhaba), thank-you (shukran), no (laa), and yes (ill-you-waa), although the only English version of yes in Arabic I can find says yes is (na’am).

The boarding call came right on time, and I said good-bye to Caroline, Leila and Nabil, and got in line to board the airbus in which I would spend the next 13 hours. As I said, I was flying Air Emirates, and everyone I told beforehand had a very positive reaction to that fact. I was not as excited since I knew that I was flying economy, and not first class or business class which is what the airline is famous for. The plane was huge; it had two levels, and on the economy level each row had 3-4-3 seats. Airbus at PearsonThere appeared to be about 100 rows in the lower (economy) level. The actual seat definitely felt like a regular seat on any airline. It was not particularly roomy. I had a window seat and it turns out that one of the other faculty (Zoran) traveling to the UW Dubai campus had the aisle seat in the same row. A gentleman from Iran sat in the middle seat. He asked if Zoran and I wanted to sit beside each other and we both declined. Neither of us wanted to take the middle seat since we don’t really know each other yet and nobody wants the middle seat. As we settled in, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the captain say that the flight time would be 12 hours instead of the 13 hours that I expected.

The big advantages flying Emirates economy class has over other flights I have taken recently are the food, the service and the entertainment options. We were fed a full dinner with three entree choices. They even gave us a metal knife, a fork, and a spoon, to eat with. There were three choices for breakfast as well, along with a croissant. We had the opportunity to eat pizza, fruit, or chocolate bars at other times – although I did not ask for any of these items. The media centre in the seat was great. There were about 60 movies available along several television shows. There appeared to be a great selection of music and possibly some video games as well, but I did not explore any of these options. Before I knew the breadth of the choices, I started watching Scream 4. I actually watched the last 30 minutes of the movie and then ended up watching the beginning. It was not the worst movie I have ever seen, but had I realized all of the titles available, I probably would have selected something else. I followed up Scream 4 with Morgan Spurlock’s documentary – The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. By this time it was after midnight, and I tried to get some sleep. It was not easy to get comfortable and so I slept about an hour at a time until 5:00 a.m. I decided to try to watch another movie and started the Lincoln Lawyer. It took me three or four tries to get through the movie as I fell asleep on and off over the next three hours. As the captain promised, we landed about 12 hours after we had taken off from Toronto – 11491 km. away.

It took awhile before the passengers were able to disembark. The 60+ year old gentleman who sat beside me got my computer from the overhead compartment. We had chatted a little during the flight. His English was weak and my Persian is non-existent. I have always found it awkward interacting with strangers on a flight. The close quarters force you into a social situation that can feel like a trap after awhile. He kept offering me fruit during the flight. He told me that he has a couple of daughters in Toronto and one in Dubai. As we were waiting for people to start moving, he asked me for my phone number. I was a little stunned, and said I didn’t have a phone. We sat in silence for the next few minutes until finally people started leaving the plane. I asked one of the attendants if I could go up to the flight deck to see first class and business class seating. She took me upstairs and showed me the shower, which is part of a bathroom that is not much smaller than my apartment bathroom. The individualized suites in first class are very nice. The business class seats are like nice leather, La-Z-boy chairs with a little table beside you. They do recline fully. I must say that if I could afford it, it would have been much more comfortable in the upper deck for that long flight.

Getting off the plane, I headed right to a washroom, which was the beginning of a “standing in line” portion of the trip. I then moved to the visa pick up line. Thankfully I had spoken to my friend Caryl who has been to Dubai many times. She let me know that I had to do something with my visa at the Dubai end. I had assumed that the paper I had was good enough, so this information definitely saved me some time in the Dubai airport. The good news was that there was a “ladies only” line which appeared to be shorter than the other line. The bad news was that neither line was moving quickly since there was only one person stamping visas. I saw Johnathan in the other line where he appeared to be with a few of the other tutors who would be working on campus this fall. Once a second attendant arrived, both lines started moving much quicker. I did notice that most of the women in line had their heads covered. I had been a bit worried about what to wear on the plane, and chose to wear a long skirt and a short sleeved top. When I was in line in Toronto, I noticed most people were in very casual attire – which surprised me a little.

I got to the front of the visa line and recognized the Arabic word hello. After my eye scan I said shukran (thank-you) and he said something in Arabic back and told me to enjoy my stay in Dubai.

The next line was through customs, and I ran into another UW faculty member (Mazda) who had taught at the Dubai campus last year. We were in separate lines, and made it through at about the same time. There was no line up for the last security scan and I was on my way to pick up my luggage. That I spotted one of my bags as soon as I got to the carousel  and the second one was not far behind. Mazda and I made a quick trip to the duty-free and we were off to find the faculty and staff who were waiting for our arrival. There were four faculty and five students traveling on the same flight. I spotted someone in a UW golf shirt that I did not recognize and then the director of the UW campus (Peter) whom I had met at a couple of meetings in Waterloo. There was also one of the other faculty members who traveled on the plane (Raj) and another faculty member who has been in Dubai for the last couple of years (Ilham). I think they had been waiting for quite awhile. They knew our plane was early landing, but it had been almost an hour and a half since I actually left the aircraft. After about ten minutes, we spotted a couple of the students. They said that one of the other students had trouble with the visa, since it had not been stamped properly before she got in the customs line, and Johnathan was missing one of his bags. There was no sign of Zoran. After another 20 minutes or so, Peter suggested that Ilham take Raj, Madza and me to our hotel. I was grateful for that, since it had been a long day of traveling. I felt a bit badly for Zoran, but as it turns out we would have had to be taken to the hotel in separate vehicles anyway.

The hotel arrival went smoothly. I am living in a two-bedroom apartment on the 38th floor. This apartment is probably bigger than my apartment in Kitchener. This of course means I have plenty of room for visitors, if anyone is interested in a trip to Dubai. It has more bathrooms (a total of three), and it has a washer and dryer, and a DISH WASHER. There is lots of closet space, but not many hangars. There are not really any drawers to put away clothes. There is a cleaning service twice a week – which is fantastic. I have a view of the Gulf, and as I look out now I can see some people jogging and another group playing basketball. It is not quite 6:30 a.m. now. I suppose most of the the outdoor physical activity happens quite early in the morning.

My priority today is to get my bearings in and around the hotel, and to find groceries. My first day at work is Sunday, so I have a couple of days to get settled. I can’t say how much exploring I will get to do yet, but I hope to write again soon.

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