What a bloody palaver that was.
Excuse the language, but BUGGER ME!
I went to do my medical today, which is the compulsory blood test and chest x-ray everyone coming to work and live here has to take. They test for HIV and TB, and if you have either, you get summarily and unceremoniously deported. Being a worrier, I wonder if there's the slightest chance that I could have got HIV from somewhere. Even the minisuclest (is that a word) odds of something occuring will not matter if it's something really bad. I worry about asteroids and wandering black holes and stuff as well. Bibble.
But anyway, the test. It was carried out at the Maktoum hospital (this name is everywhere - do they own the place or something) which is in Deira, which is over the creek. I was told to go early - before 7.30am ideally, so as to avoid queueing for several centuries. I was also advised to park at work, i.e. just this side of the creek, and catch a taxi to take me there and back. My advisors told me that this would only take an hour or so. What does that WRONG noise from Family Fortunes sound likeagain? EH-URRRR!
I drove to work, got the cab, so far so good. The traffic in Deira was a mess. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes crept along the roads, blocking up junctions and roundabouts. The drivers amused themselves with some kind of free-form jazz played on car horns, which provided a constant staccatto of noise in the air all around. Asian and Arab men gesticulated at each other, and I shook my head.
We had been stuck on one roundabout for nearly 10 minutes, when the driver cheerily announced that the hospital was just round the corner, so I got out and walked. It was 7.35am. I entered the hospital gates and thanked Allah that I was a privileged Westerner with private health cover. The Maktoum hospital is grim, let's just leave it at that. I quickly found the Admin office (this is gonna be a cinch, I remember thinking) and entered through the Female entrance. They sent me packing, even though I offered to show my (now-reducing) breasts as evidence, and I entered the Male waiting area. 5 minutes later I had handed over my documents, paid my money and was in possession of my Government health card and a slip of paper which would get me the requisite tests. But it had to be typed up in the Typing Office first.
Then it started going tits-up. It took me an age to find the Typing Office, where I had to get something or other typed. It was in a pre-fab hut hidden round the back of some other building. I was told 15 minutes by the man who was sat there doing not very much, other than drinking coffee and picking fluff out of his navel. To give him his dues, it was only 8 minutes, and then I got another piece of paper. Go back to the Admin office, was the order, so I trudged back round there and paid some more money and got the proper typed-up slip for the tests. Now go to the testing room. Er...where's that? Over there somewhere (nonchalant wave in some general direction).
After another 10 minutes of fruitless searching I found the X-ray department, but I had to go for the blood test first, so they told me to follow the green line backwards to the blood test laboratory which was over near the side entrance. Well, it could have been the main entrance. I really don't know. I entered the Male section this time and was greeted with a large room full of chairs, set out like church pews, and four hatches at the far end. Above the hatches was an electronic display board, showing a group of three-digit numbers that flashed and changed at random intervals. Sort of like Argos in a mental home. Looking as stupid as possible, I wandered towards the windows and a kindly young chap with a mischevious face told me which window to go to. I handed over my papers and was directed to sit down.
My papers then moved from the first window across to the last one, in some kind of process that had me wondering what was for tea tonight. Then a large group of subcontinental labourer types entered the room and sat together in a tight, protective huddle at the other side of the room. A man with them dumped all their papers at the LAST window, and then all their numbered tickets started appearing as if by magic. I think this annoyed the mischevious young man and his mates. He went to the windows and spoke in rapid-fire Arabic. I reckon "How come they got to push in?" was the gist of it.
Time was dragging on. I resigned myself to waiting a long time. So much for the early start. Then, out of the blue, my name was called and I got my numbered ticket. 327. I sat down again, and 5 mintues later the board changed about a dozen times, bleeping manically each time, then settled on a group of numbers ending in 327. I moved to a smaller waiting area with about 10 chairs in it, sitting amongst Indian and Pakistani men of different shapes and sizes who watched me impassively. The moment they got the chance, they moved away from me. Hey, I showered last week, mate!
Then my number was shouted brusquely from the next room, and I entered a veritable factory of blood testing. There were 8 or 10 chairs with doctors and nurses sat next to them, waiting to take our blood, and I sat down at the nearest free one. As the doctor stuck the cold steel into my vein he made some small talk about where I was from, yadda yadda. I barely felt the needle, I've become so used to the whole process, I could probably do it myself.
Then, with a plaster holding a lump of cotton wool over the hole in my elbow, I walked back to the X-ray department, where there were more windows and seats, but not as many. I handed more documents over, and was soon doing a contortionist act against the chest X-ray screen. Not too bad, I thought, but I checked my watch and it was just after 9.15am. What a kerfuffle. All these administrative tasks could be done in one place, yet they choose to separate them into the smallest components and make something that should be simple really quite complex. Is it to give people jobs? It must cost a fortune!
Anyway, I headed out of the hospital and started the search for a taxi to take me back over the creek. This was the worst bit of the whole experience. Being a man of short patience, I didn't do what I should have done and waited for a taxi to drop someone off at the hospital, I wandered out towards the main roads, thinking my chances were better there. As it was, I saw loads of taxis, but they were all occupied. I saw maybe 3 unoccupied cars, but they zoomed past, ignoring my increasingly desperate waving and shouting. I ended up walking to the creek itself, well the road alongside anyway (near where we parked a while back after brunch at the Hyatt). I don't know how far I walked, but it was over a mile, I'm sure of it. Eventually a taxi dropped someone off at a large office building and I leapt into it, relieved, hot, sweaty and completely stressed out, as is my wont. I just couldn't believe that a place as busy as Deira would prove so difficult to find a taxi in. Lesson for today: stay put.
I expected the drive back over the creek to be horrendous, but it wasn't. It took less than 20 minutes, and I got back to the office at around 10.30am. I was glad to get that over with. This is one of the last steps towards getting my full visa. If everything is OK, I will have it within 10 days to 2 weeks. Fingers crossed. It has been a frustrating first 4 months in the sense that I haven't been able to establish myself fully with my own car and proper banking facilities, and a liquor licence, etc. It looks like we're finally getting there. INSHA'ALLAH!