Saturday, May 19, 2007

Home is where the heart sort of flutters and jumps about

Back in Dubai. Finally. Thank the maker.

My last day in Doha consisted of waiting around a lot and seeing the reality of how Qatar's curious and archaic administration systems work. My residence visa was stamped into my passport in the morning, but then there was the issue of gaining an exit permit, which invariably involves chasing the local sponsor (someone enigmatically named The DOCTOR) around town, trying to get him to sign a piece of paper giving you dispensation to leave the country. If you're lucky, you might catch him before he leaves town for the weekend, in between doing whatever it is he does, which is often in another country. What happens in the case of an emergency is something I daren't ponder upon for too long.

In between these events, I had to sort out the hotel bill, and the boss in Doha came along with me when I checked out and tried to settle said bill using his credit card. The bill, being for a stay of almost 4 weeks, was an impressive one. It was over 30,000 Riyals. My boss had a credit card with a huge limit - more than twice that amount, but on swiping, the dreaded instruction "REFER TO BANK" flashed up on the machine. So, the boss rang the bank, getting through to a human being quite quickly, for once. Then the fun started. Firstly, they told him his limit wasn't as much as he believed it to be (even though it was still enough), then they told him that the maximum single transaction was 10,000 Riyals, and any transactions over this amount had to be authorised following a request in writing. It was all for reasons of security, said the bank, even though they had verified the ID of the person trying to pay the bill.

The Doha boss was aghast. After an hour of phone calls to and from the bank's call centre, in addition to phone calls from the hotel manangement to the bank, the bank agreed to allow the transaction through if a faxed request was sent through. So the fax was sent. I had a feeling about what was going to happen next, and I was right. The bank were called again to confirm that the fax had been received, and the bank said that everyone had gone home for the day, and the transaction would have to wait until Sunday. Luckily, the hotel management were sympathetic and understanding, and allowed the boss and me to leave on this basis.

This whole episode really stretched the Doha boss. He is a laid back character usually, but I could see the anger building up inside him as the ordeal wore on. The final straw for him was getting another phone call from the bank as we headed back to the office, saying that he had given an incorrect credit card number. It turned out they had misread a hand writen digit. On hanging up, the boss shouted an obscenity, which took me by surprise.

So, I got back to the office, and the company Mr. Fixit took me straight back out, chasing the DOCTOR for his prized autograph. On the way, Mr. Fixit told me that it was a good job he had a close relationship with the DOCTOR's driver, or things would be much harder. I just shook my head.

With the signature secured, I thought I was on my way, and phoned the WIFE to tell her. She cheered loudly at the news, and Mr. Fixit heard the cheer, his face breaking into a broad grin. Then he told me we had to go and take the signed exit permit to the visa office near the airport to get it stamped and entered into the system. Oh, come on! What else was there to do to get out of this place? Luckily there was only a short queue, and the process was quick, and I made it to the airport in time for my flight home.

The pilot lied again. They always do. He said it was fine weather for the flight, but most of it was pretty bumpy, which was more annoying than terrifying. Finally, finally, FINALLY, the lights of Dubai appeared under us and we performed a sharp turn before landing nice and smoothly at DXB. We were kept on the plane for 15 minutes or so, but then I managed to breeze through immigration and out of the airport, and got home less than an hour after we landed.

The drive along SZR was strange. I was glad to see the familiar sights; the colourful Fairmont hotel, the tower of white pin-prick lights of the growing Burj Dubai, and the iconic form of the Burj Al Arab. This city is so much more vibrant than Doha. So much more alive. Oh, I know, I know. I've changed my mind AGAIN. What am I to do? I am confused. Some things about Dubai drive me mad, but having spent 4 long, lonely, boring weeks in Doha, and seeing the way the place works, I realise that I might have been hasty in dismissing the option of remaining here out of hand. The cost of living situation is still a major issue, of course, and the family will almost definitely have to go back (unless someone has a 3-bed villa for 90k going spare), but I could stay here and earn a good wage and at least not be so bored that I turn to eating and drinking excessively. And in terms of problems with moving, it would be the easiest option of all the ones I've considered.

And now the weekend is almost over again, and it's back to work in the Dubai office tomorrow to face whatever music might lie in wake for me. I don't know if it's going to be a Funeral March or a Victory Serenade. We shall see.


Grumpy Goat said...

What you need is a multi-exit permit. Valid for a year, it's an A5-size document that's been through a laminating machine. Simply flash this at the Man In Uniform every time you wish to leave Doha.

Yours for QAR500, habibi.

inmotion said...

I love reading this blog :)

littejimmy said...

You're very kind, inmotion. Thanks.

Grumpy, I'd heard about that. The very existence of such a system just proves that the ridiculous archaic exit permit system is completely pointless.

i*maginate said...

I love your blog too. Sad to learn you're leaving, though.