Thursday, 26 January 2012

An Unexpected Return to Wonderland...

When I imagined myself returning to Dubai, I imagined all kinds of things and how I would feel as I looked at the now-working Metro lines and the finished Burj Dubai...I mean Khalifa. What I never, ever imagined was seeing Dubai from the inside of a police van, through the bars of black caging.

I was flying to Cambodia with Etihad, via AD and Bangkok. There was supposed to be a 2 hour stop in each place. On my way to Manchester Airport my new company rang to say there was a long delay to the Bangkok leg, and it would be leaving 8 or 9 hours late. When I landed in AD the transfer desk gave everyone a hotel voucher and told us to go through immigration and get picked up for the hotel. I had no inkling that they would pull me. I do have a debt outstanding to a UAE bank, but had agreed a payment plan with a UK company. I have also been back to the UAE since I left in 2007, staying for 3 weeks in AD only last year. So it was a surprise when the immigration officer took more than one look at my passport and then told me there was a case against me.

I was taken to 2 different offices, where I sat around a lot, watching blokes in uniforms looking at computer screens. They said very little to me other than there was a case lodged by HSBC about a bounced cheque in 2009. I said this was impossible. Surely I would have been pulled last year, and there was this agreement I had in place as well. I was then lead to a goods lift and down to a grim deportation holding area in the bowels of the airport, where I say on a metal bench. There were cells down there, with a collection of subcontinental men lying on dirty mattresses. Water was available, but you seemed to have to share one chewed-up polystyrene cup with everyone else. After a couple of hours they told me I was going to Dubai via AD police station and wouldn't be allowed to fly to Bangkok. Nice. This was turning hellish, and after another emotional goodbye with my kids, I was close to screaming the bloody place down. They off-loaded my bags and drove me to AD police station in a caged van. They said they might keep me there for the night (in a cell), but then after another few hours of sitting around they took me to the main police station in Dubai, again in a caged van, with all my luggage squeezed between and onto the seats.

As I said, it wasn't how I expected to see Dubai again...through bars. We went along the Emirates Road so I only saw the Burj from a distance. I guess sight-seeing isn't on the agenda. Food was, though. They stopped at a service station to get bottles of Sprite and a Burger King drive-through meal. At the police station I was locked in a holding cell and after an hour or so a representative from the bank arrived to talk to me...well, I actually talked to the regional collections manager...and I was pretty much coerced into agreeing a new deal to pay back a reduced portion of what I owe in a short timeframe, despite already having an agreement in place. What choice did I have? I needed to get away and back on my way to my new job. So I was released after a 12-hour detention. The bank man was slightly apologetic but didn't explain how this police case had come about and why it hadn't shown up last time. All very strange.

I have been told it could have been worse, but some wonderfully helpful people kindly pulled a few strings and got the bank man to see me quickly. I walked out of the police station with all my luggage and no local currency, needing to get back to AD somehow. My company found me a room in the Crowne Plaza for the night (luckily, there were barely any rooms going), so I got a taxi (via Dubai airport to change some money) and I got the Etihad bus to AD airport early next morning and got the hell outta Dodge. I really don't know if I want to ever set foot in the Middle East again. And I certainly won't give HSBC any of my business again!

Still, I am now in Cambodia. I arrived pretty much 48 hours after leaving home. The accommodation is fine, the commute is a 100-yard walk, and the people seem really nice. I won't be too glowing about it...been there before and fell flat on my face. I'm quietly optimistic that this Year of the Dragon, and the project I'm going to work on is supposed to represent the Dragon and Health and Prosperity. Fingers crossed...

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