Five crazy days in Dubai

Posted by News Express | 20 September 2022 | 644 times

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•The writer at a camel ranch in Dubai Desert on Sept. 6, 2022.

 

By ISAAC UMUNNA

My trip to Dubai came somewhat out of the blues. On August 18, 2022, a prominent Nigerian whom I never knew is a consultant to Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) sent me a WhatsApp message, asking if I had a valid passport. I replied in the affirmative. “Please scan the data page and send to me via WhatsApp,” he said. I did within hours.

The DET Consultant explained that the trip would be fully sponsored – meaning that DET would take care of airfare, hotel accommodation, feeding and local runs – but that there would be no pocket money or Basic Travelling Allowance (BTA). “No problem, Sir,” I replied.

Since I am based in Lagos and we would take off from Abuja, I knew that I would have to spend much money, especially on airfare to and from Abuja, but I really wanted to go to Dubai to experience first-hand its famed tourism wonders.

Over the next few days the DET Consultant updated me on travel arrangements. Three days to the take-off date, he sent me my Dubai e-visa, followed the next day by my return ticket.

We were to fly Ethiopian Airlines on Sunday afternoon, September 4, 2022, stopping over at Addis Ababa Airport before connecting our flight to Dubai, the economic hub of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). That morning I left for Abuja with the first flight of United Nigeria Airlines, arriving at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport around 8:00 a.m. – in good enough time to complete airport formalities and have sufficient rest before check-in and boarding.

There at the airport I met those going with me from Nigeria for the first time. We were four in all – my humble self representing News Express online daily newspaper, Ajayi Titus Omeiza of Vanguard and Ali Adoyi Abah of Daily Post and Afripost, and our team leader, Wabiye Idonoboyeobu.

We departed around 1:30 p.m., arriving Addis Ababa about five hours later. The first thing I noticed was that the airport was bigger and far busier than our flagship airports in Nigeria. “And we are supposed to be the giant of Africa,” I thought to myself.

We arrived Addis Ababa around 8:15 p.m. local time and departed for Dubai around 10:50 p.m. After being airborne for some four hours 20 minutes, we landed at Dubai Airport around 4:10 a.m. local time. (Note: Addis Ababa is about two hours’ ahead of Nigeria while Dubai is about three hours ahead of the ‘giant of Africa’).

Immediately we walked into the Arrival Hall of Dubai Airport my mind flashed back to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Netherlands. As Special Assistant on Media to then Minister of Information and Communications, late Prof. Dora Akunyili, I was part of the Nigerian delegation to the World Telecommunication Development Conference 2010 organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) at the Expo Guadalajara Convention Center, Mexico, from October 4-22 that year. Flying KLM Dutch Airlines, we had stopped over at Schiphol Airport, from where we connected a flight to Mexico City, and then took a local flight to Guadalajara. At Schiphol, I felt sorry for Nigeria when I saw the size of the airport and how functional it was. “These are people putting public money to good use and not looting the public treasury,” I had thought to myself.

The same sense of regret was my lot at both Mexico City and Guadalajara. One of my shocking observations was that I could not find a single pot hole on the streets of Guadalajara. As a Jehovah’s Witness who takes Christian meetings seriously, I was determined to attend meetings while in Guadalajara. It was such that when the hotel staff told me that the nearest Kingdom Hall was very far away in one village, I went ahead to hire a cab to trace it. As we drove from street to street, asking questions in our search for the Kingdom Hall, I could not see a single pothole anywhere. It was unbelievable!

Back to my Dubai trip of September 4-9, 2022. As I noted earlier, the airport reminded me of Schiphol. However, Dubai Airport appeared bigger. Besides, while we walked to Immigration at Schiphol, at Dubai we had to do a long walk, then board metroline to reach Immigration, where we were cleared before proceeding to collect our luggage.

At the airport, staff of Orient Tours deployed by DET were waiting for us with wide smiles. We were promptly driven to our home for the next four days: the avant garde 25 Hours Hotel, where we met another surprise: John, the porter who attended to us, received us with a flawless delivery of one of PSquare’s hit songs, singing, “Reason with me / If I no get-am today, I go get-am tomorrow …” From there he delved into the hits songs of Davido, Kizz Daniel and other contemporary Nigerian music stars. As we headed for the lift for him to lead me to my room on the fourth floor, John asked if I knew Burna Boy. Imagine Oyinbo asking Naija man if he knew Naija’s current biggest musical export and Grammy Award winner! I could not help but burst into laughter!   

At 25 Hours Hotel, we were joined by 11 other journalists from six other African countries.

After we settled in, we went for breakfast. From then we were at the mercy of our team lead Wabiye, who seems to know Dubai like the back of his palms.

Our assignment was clear: Dubai, like other parts of the world, had locked down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but is now open agains to receive the world. We were to come and see the Dubai of 2022 and spread the message. To do that, we would not only report what we saw but also the activities of the Dubai Girls – Nollywood stars Omoni Oboli Chioma Akpotha, Ufuoma McDermott and Uche Jombo – who were in town to give winners of the 2022 edition of the annual ‘Stay More Pay Less’ Dubai Promo the treat of a lifetime.

Our first port of call was Dubai Mall – to which Wabiye and Orient Tours staff took us that Monday afternoon. If you have not been to Dubai, the best way to describe the mall is that it is a far bigger version of the Shoprite you’re familiar with in Nigeria. But Dubai Mall is not only far bigger – it also boasts many more attractions, among them the Infinity des Lumieres dedicated to showcasing, in film format, outer space and the efforts to conquer it.  

Late Tuesday morning we were off to the Jumeirah Emirates Towers hotel to interview the Dubai Girls. The atmosphere was electrifying, as the delectable ladies danced into the interview venue, rocking to Nigerian rave of the moment Asake’s massive hit, Bandana. The quartet spoke glowingly of the tourist wonders of Dubai and urged people anywhere in the world looking for an ideal place to relax to try out Dubai.

After the session, we returned to our hotel for a short rest before leaving for the Desert Safari – the scary and adrenaline-pumping car ride in the rugged Dubai desert. We also visited camel ranches in the desert, from where we moved to another part of the desert for dinner and local dance treat under the moonlight. We were there till the three beautifully-dressed camels resting outside the camp started going home with their shepherd. “The camels are going home and it is time for us to go home, too,” the MC announced after asking us to look up, in the direction of the camels. We rose to our feet and waded through the desert sand to our cars for the onward journey back to our hotel.

On Wednesday we had breakfast the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural (SMCCU) after the pretty lady that attended to us made a presentation on the history and culture of Dubai and the UAE.

From there we walked across the road to explore the old Dubai. There, we were stunned to find a mud house of a sort serving as Hilton Hotel – yes, the world-famous famous Hilton Hotel! We also explored the local market before we boarded open boats (water taxis) known locally as Abra to cross to the other side of the river where the modern market known locally as souq is located. We were given 30 minutes to explore the market but it was hardly enough for us to feast our eyes on the plenty gold, silver, diamond, fabrics and spice on display.

Thursday was to be the last day of our stay in Dubai and it was packed full. We left in the morning for Rove Hotel – a member of the LA MER chain – where we had breakfast and enjoyed the scenic beach till afternoon, when we moved to another LA MER facility where we met and interacted with this year’s ‘Stay More Pay Less’ Dubai Promo winners from several parts of Africa.

Our next stop was The View observatory platform. At the fourth floor or the mall where we were received, our guide explained that “the tour starts here”. He gave a brief history of the facility and disclosed that the lift would take us 54,000 metres skywards. “Can I wait for you here?” I asked. “Yes, of course; the tour will end here,” the man replied. I found a chair and sat down as he left with Wabiye and other members of our team – all younger than me, anyway.

When they came back after a long while, they talked excitedly about their experience and how they saw almost the entire Dubai. “We even saw a city built on water. It is a full city with roads and we saw cars driving on the roads,” Ali Adoyi told me, opening his phone to show me photos. “It’s like you are afraid of heights,” someone said, looking in my direction. “Yes, I replied”, adding: “Almost every busy executive of my age is managing his blood pressure. It would be suicidal of a grandfather like me to look down from 54,000 metres. I would prefer to go to the city on water instead of seeing it from such a height.”

It was now the early part of the night and we were taken straight to the Emirates Financial Towers for dinner at the wave-making African restaurant, KIZA, owned by a Nigerian entrepreneur, Joe Osawaye. It was a welcome relief to taste pepper again after four days in Dubai and to eba and the like the African way – with bare hands!

Wabiye had warned us in advance that it would be a hectic day as there would not be time for an atom of sleep before we would be our way back to Africa. And that was what happened! By 1:00 a.m. on Friday we were gathered at the hotel lobby for the onward movement to the airport so as to meet the departure time of 4:25 a.m.

Weary-eyed, we were soon at the Ethiopian Airlines counter for check-in formalities preparatory to our return via Addiss Ababa. It was the climax of our stress in Dubai. Even so, it was nothing compared to the daily stress we go through here in Nigeria, a naturally blessed but badly managed country where suffering is an everyday experience.


Source: News Express

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