September 4, 2010
Most people get excited at the thought of arriving at the city of Dubai. Most people, that is except both of us. We had been in Dubai for only 30 minutes but it seemed like we had been there for years. The hot dusty wind blew across our faces as we sat at the Al Ghubaiba bus station. A casual observer would have thought we were in love with the scenery but the truth was we were no less in love with the scenery than we were in love with monkeys.
Dayo and I were medical students and had been on elective study to Al Ain, Abu Dhabi for one month. So far, everything had gone smoothly and perfectly like clockwork. After completing our elective rotations, we had planned to spend the remainder of our visiting days at Dubai. After all, man cannot come back from UAE with only hospital photos to show. The plan was to stay with a friend whom Dayo had contacted much earlier – take a bus from Al Ain to Dubai, drop at the bus station and get a cab to his residence. It was a simple plan. Except on this particular night, our friend was out of town and his phone was switched off.
The streets were getting deserted and it was apparent that we were going to be the only ones left at the bus station. I brought out an apple from my bag and began munching. Dayo went to get water from a vending machine. We dared not order food from a restaurant; hotel bills had not been part of our budget and we didn’t know if we would be using one that night.
Our financial situation might have been better were it not for two events. First, even though we had booked one room at the university, we were informed on arrival that payment was per bed, not per room. The implication was that we each had to pay twice the amount we had budgeted for accommodation. The second issue was that at the time, I, a cashless advocate, had travelled with my debit card with the hope of withdrawing extra money whenever I needed. To my surprise however, the bank’s debit card could not transact within UAE. So I was left with my GTBank debit card, which at that time had no funds. We were expecting fund transfers the following day but by then it might have been too late to prevent a catastrophe. I could already picture NTA 9 O’clock News with bold headlines: Nigerian Medical Students Stranded in Dubai!!! I shivered at the thought.
My phone rang, interrupting my flow of perilous thoughts. It was my Dad. He had called to check if I was okay and enjoying my stay. “I’m doing fine.” I replied and ended the conversation seconds later. There was no point in telling him of our situation; it wasn’t like there was anything he would have done.
Dayo dialed our friend for the umpteenth time; his number was predictably unreachable. I blamed myself inwardly for allowing us to embark on the journey without confirming our destination. At least we would have been comfortable within the walls of the campus hostel, eating to our delight and surfing the web instead of sitting out at the bus station like illegal immigrants. At this point, I wished we had booked an earlier departure date. All thoughts of sightseeing in Dubai had gone with the dusty wind. I no longer wished to see the Dubai Mall or the Burj Al-Arab. I just wanted to go home.
“Maybe we should call Soliu.” Dayo suggested after a long pause. We must have resembled newly erected black statues sitting at the station the way we did.
Soliu was a Nigerian student we had briefly met on campus. About two weeks after we had arrived at Abu Dhabi, Sayeed, one of the students who happened to be present on campus told us of another Nigerian who was studying at that university. Though surprised, I didn’t really care about meeting another Nigerian – there were plenty where I came from. At Sayeed’s insistence however, we had reluctantly agreed to meet him. It turned out Soliu was an interesting person and whatever reservations I had about meeting another Nigerian were immediately shelved away. During one of our many meetings, he had taken us to see the Jebel Hafeet, the highest point in the UAE, which turned out to be one of the highlights of our stay.
Shortly before we were to leave Abu Dhabi for Dubai, Soliu left for Sharjah, another emirate, to see some friends. We exchanged numbers and promised to keep in touch once we reached the Dubai Emirate. Back then, even as we exchanged contacts, I did not think we were going to make good on our promise to keep in touch. But right then at the bus station, it looked like we were going to have to keep that promise after all.
“But he said that he’ll be in Sharjah Emirate till the end of the week.” I said with an air of defeat. To me it felt like being in Ibadan and asking someone in Lagos for urgent assistance. Absurd!
“Let’s still inform him.” Dayo persisted. I handed the phone back to him and he dialed Soliu’s number. In seconds, they were already engaged in a conversation. “We’re at the bus station in Dubai,” I heard Dayo say excitedly. “We’ve been trying his line for over an hour… Okay… Okay… Hyatt Regency? Alright.” And the conversation was over.
“What did he say” I asked with the expectation of a stranded US Citizen at the consulate.
“He said he’ll come into Dubai tonight that we should wait for him at the Hyatt Regency.”
I couldn’t believe what I heard. How was he going to accomplish that? There was no time to answer such questions. We immediately geared up and flagged down what appeared to be the last of cabs for the night. The cab dropped us off at the Hyatt Regency bus stop and we paid our fare. The next fifteen minutes were spent waiting in the air-conditioned cubicle that housed waiting passengers. I couldn’t believe our luck. One minute, we were homeless, waiting to make NTA Headlines and the next minute, we were about to get shelter.
Soliu showed up fifteen minutes later and took us to a friend’s apartment. I had never felt so relieved in my life.
“Are you guys okay? Have you had dinner?” Soliu asked as we walked towards the apartment. I shook my head vigorously, remembering how at Al AIn, we had missed our bus and had to ask the hostel cafeteria to pack some food for us after we had sat at the bus stop for almost two hours.
On getting to the apartment, we dropped our luggage in one corner of the apartment and settled down while Soliu went to get us something to eat. Shortly after, he and his friend arrived with a package of Nigerian dish – pounded yam (or was it eba) and egusi stew with some glorious chicken to accompany the meal. The burger and chips we had bought at Burger King had nothing on this one. As the soup made contact with my taste buds, I realized that the Lord had indeed turned our captivity and I wasn’t dreaming. We had survived the ordeal!
We stayed at the apartment for two more days, during which Dayo and I did some last minute shopping with the money that was sent via bank transfer. All plans of seeing the Burj Al Arab, Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall had been completely erased from our to-do list. They had been replaced with thoughts of going home.
On the 6th of September, at 10pm, Dayo and I stepped out of the apartment, luggage in hand and proceeded on our journey to the Dubai International Airport. Soliu’s friend offered to drive us down in his SUV, a gesture we could not refuse. As we approached the airport, I heaved a sigh of relief, releasing all the built-up tension of the past two days.
Inside the airport departure hall, a pretty Emirati customs officer checked our luggage. I reminded myself of the Sharia Law and returned my focus to the luggage. As we waited for our luggage to be checked-in, my mind drifted back to two weeks earlier when I was so reluctant to meet Soliu, when I had been skeptical of exchanging phone numbers and when I had made that feeble promise to keep in touch. I shuddered to think of how different the outcome would have been had we not exchanged contact details. Apparently, God had seen this from a long way off and had positioned his Angel (Soliu) to be around for that brief period even when it seemed like we didn’t need him. That day, I was reminded of God’s faithfulness in very little things. I said a silent thank you to God.
Three hours later, at 2.30am, we joined other passengers to begin boarding our Qatar Airways flight on the first leg of our return journey to Nigeria. As we trudged towards the waiting aircraft, I had this funny feeling in my stomach – it was the excitement of going home. I had never missed home that much.
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I am a Medical Doctor, Brand Strategist and the Author of Musings of an Analytical Mind. I love to challenge conventional thinking and am a firm believer in the coexistence of aesthetics and quality. Follow me on Twitter – @ifeodedere