Friday, July 23, 2010

Dubai kurukku sandhu....

Dubai main road, Dubai (close to Dubai busstop)...no, no, its not where I stayed when I visited Dubai but anytime anyone mentions Dubai, I chuckle (thanks to Vadivelu)!

When I was booking tickets with Emirates to India, I realized that a weekend stop in Dubai would cost me nothing. I was wondering if I could get away with a transit visa and since my stay was for less than 36 hours, I could. I was hoping that I don’t end up spending a day at the embassy getting a visa but I never expected that all it would take was sending a filled out application form, my residency status in Germany and a photograph (that I generally use in my resume, was too lazy to take passport size photos in some weird format that are sold only in triplicate….those I would probably never use since one can never smile in these fotos) by email to the emirates office. My visa was emailed back to me - a .pdf I had to print and take.

I had my visa, I was going to see Suja akka on my way to India, the flight landed early – everything was perfect….until I saw the queue at the immigration counter. But then I had an iPod and the excitement of being in a new country, so I stood and I stood and I stood….45 minutes later with only 10 people ahead of me in the queue, I was approached by a heavily bearded man in Kandura (the long white cloak they wear) who asked me for my passport. After examining it, he looked up (yes, he was much shorter than me) and pointed a finger at my eye. I was thinking “adapaavi, airportla vechu kanna kuthuvenu solre” and then when I decided to consider seriously what he was meaning he did the same thing again and pointed to a sign board. All I saw was ‘Visas’ and since I already had mine, I stood there blinking at him. Finally a man next to me said “eye scan” and I thought he was kidding until I saw this poking-my-eye-with-finger-man vigorously nodding his head (I was trying hard not to laugh in his face!)…never heard of or had an eye scan before.

So I go in search of this eye scan counter and to my dismay, there is another long queue there. I was for once glad that I was in a ‘conservative’ country because there was a separate women’s queue which was a little shorter than the men’s queue. Another 30 minutes and I finally had my irises scanned and my visa stamped! I learnt later that if you had your eyes scanned while leaving the UAE, then you can never enter the UAE again! So far, so good…

With this stamped visa, I go back to the immigration counter to realize that I am again standing in a long queue (unreasonably thinking - where are all these people coming from!?). I noticed with envy the ‘Marhaba’ counter that was almost empty and a few people being taken there. I thought it was for diplomats but then learnt that it was a paid-welcome-service (Marhaba means welcome in Arabic). I am sure this is a blessing for desis living in Dubai since visiting parents can get through immigration with a very reasonable fee (More Info here)

Anyway, coming back to my queue, I noticed a couple of women with kids and another pregnant woman being escorted to the front. I was seriously considering if I should fake some sort of illness by clutching my head and falling down with a faint to get ahead in the queue when I heard an uncle in a thick desi English accent telling the eye-finger-man “You must inform people in advance about the eye scan”…since the man hardly responded this uncle went back to polambifying to the aunty. He was loud enough for the whole queue to hear him and I felt bad for them…when I can get so frustrated about waiting what about those 50-yr olds (or more) who are probably outside India for the first time to visit their son/daughter. So I decided to do my good deed for the day and said to them “neenga munnadi ponga” and that immediately started a train of conversation where I confirmed that all my assumptions were true (and secretly scolded the son for not arranging Marhaba for his parents!)…atleast we kept each other company until reaching the end of the queue (finally!) and I was relieved to get to the baggage claim and finally outside after nearly 2.5 hours (from landing!)

….and then I immediately cheered up because Suja akka was waiting with her whole family outside ready to take me home :) ! To be continued……

PS: A word of advice to the Dubai airport authority – either tell people in advance that an eye scan is needed or put the eye scan counter in front of the immigration counter !
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