Personal Narratives

When Everything Goes Wrong…

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Travel Woes

I made two mistakes during my trip to Dubai. Well, in all honesty, I made several mistakes altogether, but for brevity’s sake…

My first mistake was forgetting how to tell time.

I woke up on Monday elated. I was on my way to Dubai to see Jo Koy live at the Coca Cola Arena in City Walk, and I was taking a solo trip for the first time in about a decade. It was going to be a quick one: land in Dubai at one in the afternoon, check in at the hotel, bop around town for a bit and go see the show that evening.

Walking into the airport, I checked the departures board, only to find that the flight I thought I was on was not listed. Confused but not defeated, I decided to go to the check-in counter anyway and see what was what.

The usual moves ensued, and after about fifteen minutes, I greeted a nice lady and presented her with my passport. With a few definitive clicks, her eyebrows furrowed.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, you are not on this flight.”

I then presented her with the email confirmation, showing my date and time for departure. She took one cursory glance and melted me down to nothing with: “This is 1:55am, not pm. We use the 24 hour clock.”

Internally, I eviscerated myself for having made such an obvious error. I’ve been using and reading the 24 hour clock since I moved out of the states. How could I have misread such a simple thing? With loads of apologies, I asked her what I should do; she pointed me in the direction of the ticketing counter for their airline.

I went through the same humiliation as before. I even gritted my teeth and endured the condescension as the man gently explained the time I would be flying out from Dubai to Muscat on the following day, emphasizing that 12:45 meant pm, not am…

And so, I was off through security and into the main terminal in search of a much-needed meal. While scarfing down a decent cheeseburger (My pride was hurt, so I earned it.), I immediately recalled: I’m leaving on a later flight; therefore, I will be arriving with only an hour to get to the arena; another therefore – I will not be able to check into the hotel until after the show; and a final therefore, I will have to bring my carry-on to the arena.

I patted myself on the back for only having brought a small back pack with a change of clothes, a toothbrush, a book, an iPad and headphones for my overnight trip. (And maybe a few other things, but they were small…)

After going through failed attempts at using an international package with my mobile phone provider and at using Skype with and without a VPN with the airport’s free wifi, I finally managed to get through to Dubai using an iPhone app. All good news: I could check my backpack at the designated place in the arena, and the hotel made a note to expect me sometime after 10pm.

After these minor trials, I took a deep breath, sighed and finally enjoyed my glass of red wine and my book. The bad part was over now, and I could look forward to a fun evening and a quick trip back home the next day.

Everything on the flight went fine, and it was just the same going through security in Dubai. I was in a cab and on my way to see Jo Koy at 7:15 sharp. It’s a gross understatement, but the show was amazing, superb, side-splitting. I mean, it’s Jo Koy!

That evening after the show was more or less innocuous: hotel check-in, in-room food service, texting hubby, bed.

Happy Accidents

I woke up the next morning determined not to make the same mistakes again. I double checked my flight out of Dubai back to Muscat: everything was running smoothly and on time. However, there was this nagging presence buzzing underneath the surface, so, just to be safe, I left for the airport the next morning with over three hours to sort out check-in before the flight would officially start boarding. Because of the previous day’s issues with the flight, I was feeling a bit edgy, so I thought getting to the airport and through security early would reassure me that I was in fact going to go home that day.

All went well getting to the airport: quick taxi ride, departure time definitely displayed on the board and a short line at the check-in counter. I met the lady at the counter with a warm smile which she warmly returned and commented that it was the first smile she’d received that day. I handed her my passport and my Omani residence card and stood warily, mentally crossing my fingers.

As I looked around the airport, sussing out my surroundings, I watched the angry faces of fellow travellers as they tried to sort out their tickets. I mentally patted myself on the back for remaining calm and kind, even though I was feeling anxious. What’s the saying, again? Pride goeth before what now?

I saw that same furrowed brow cross the check-in counter lady’s face…the same furrowed brow I saw yesterday. Internally, my insides started to clench, and I bit the inside of my cheek, readying myself for the impending blow.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, you are not on this flight.” AGAIN!

The lady patiently explained to me that (according to my approval yesterday at the airport in Muscat), my flight out of Dubai had been cancelled for the day. The flight was overbooked. And the next flight out of Dubai at four-thirty in the afternoon was also overbooked.

I calmly explained that, while talking through the rescheduling of my flight the day before, the guy helping me reiterated with my confirmation that I wanted to keep the same departure flight, despite missing my outgoing flight from Muscat. We confirmed this between us several times before he swiped my card. Somehow, in all that confirmation and reassurance, he still managed to book my flight for February 12th instead of January 21st. 

Not quite sure how that happened.

The lady was lovely. She told me that she would do her best to get me on the flight if someone happened to miss check-in. I simply had to sit down and wait for her to get back to me. So I found a bench, busted out Jane Austen and bided my time.

Eventually, she made it back to me, and I already knew what she would say: the flight I was meant to be on remained fully booked and the four-thirty flight was also still stuffed full. She calmly explained to me that the earliest flight I could get on would be at ten-thirty that night. This time, I didn’t cringe. I had spent the forty-five minutes I waited to hear this news mentally pumping myself up for an impromptu day of adventure in Dubai. I’d get something good to eat, I’d go to a bookstore (or seven) and I’d visit a botanical garden. It was going to be a good day.

I was blessed with time and the means/ability to wait for a later flight; I may as well enjoy it, right?

All went well: she booked me in for my flight and checked me in right then so that I could go right through to security when I came back to the airport. I caught a cab to go get some sushi (after getting caught in the middle of a particularly heated row between several cab drivers and two ladies trying to get to a destination they kept screaming into the open at anyone who looked at them). I got lost around the Burj Khalifa with the cab driver before we figured out that I needed to go to the Dubai Mall. And, as most people probably do, I got lost in the Dubai Mall trying to find the sushi restaurant and eventually gave up, settling for some amazing soup dumplings at a Shanghai-themed eatery.

And. I. Ate. I think I had about two to three servers bringing me several plates of dumplings and side dishes, all looking extremely confused at how I was still chewing (and at the rapidity with which I emptied each plate) every time they got to the table. I sat and chewed and sweated like no other. It was glorious.

After the meal, I decided that instead of walking to the botanical garden like I’d planned before the meal, I would much rather sit in a cold, dark place to cool down. (I was still under the influence of the food sweats.) So to the cinema I went.

I bought my ticket at a large, intimidating screen and got lost (again) on my way up several escalators trying to find the screening room, all of which led to various landings with smiling people selling food and cell phones at various kiosks. Eventually, I made it to the right place indicated on my ticket. And I was in for a shock.

I walked into what appeared to be some sort of daytime club for the elite. There was low lighting, low standing tables and plushy chairs and hot towels handed to me to refresh myself. The lady took my movie ticket, and asked me if I would like to sit down and wait for the rest of my party.

The rest of who now?

After telling her it was just me, she told me that I had three seats ticketed to me (all in very different areas of the theater), but again, I was thankful to be engaging with someone helpful, and she told me she’d be happy to let me transfer the money from the tickets I accidentally bought for two imaginary friends into a gift card. She sat me down, handed me my hot towel and walked away to take care of it, while I willed myself to stop sweating so much as I looked around at the other guests classily wiping their (non-damp) brows, sipping tea and admiring their piles of shopping bags from Fenti and Coach.

I shrugged my small hiking daypack off of my back and knew I was definitely out of place. Oh well.

Finally, I was led to the screening room (after ordering more food of course), and I was met with another impressive surprise. The tickets I bought were for a theater designed by someone who must have been thinking, “Let’s imagine a movie theater had a baby with first class and make it happen!”

There was a privacy screen, the seats reclined, there were pillows and blankets, I could plug in my phone to charge…it was nuts, but I leaned into it and enjoyed another happy accident.

After the movie, it was time for some walking, so off to the botanical garden I went. This particular one was rainforest themed with birds of paradise, insects, frogs and sleeping sloths everywhere. I took my time, enjoyed the views and sauntered at a leisurely pace. I even met a nice couple with their twin girls who basically adopted me for the visit. We ran into each other on each floor, talked about what we saw and marvelled together. And I made sure to say a nice goodbye when we eventually had to part…I was guessing going home with them would’ve been one step too far. So I bought my husband a birthday gift and headed out to the next place.

My final destination was off to see books because for me, it’s like breathing. The first person I met (while paying for the taxi) desperately asked me if she could jump in. Apparently, she’d been waiting for a taxi for quite some time and was afraid the one I was exiting would get scooped up quickly. I welcomed her in, had a quick chat with her while I waited for my card to clear and wished her well upon exiting.

I walked around the bookstore and found a few items to purchase, including another perfect birthday gift for the hubs (this day was just full of great surprises). On exiting, I asked the nice lady working the counter if there were any taxis that would be coming around in the area any time soon. She answered my question by giving me a very detailed explanation on how to use the bus system to go to various places en route to the airport. When she saw my confused, blank stare and polite smile, she concluded, “You don’t live here, do you?”

I laughed and said no. She asked me where I was from (She knew I was Filipino, so we talked about my mom and dad for a bit.), and she asked me what I was doing in Dubai. We talked very animatedly when I told her I came in to see Jo Koy the night before. Then we shook hands, she told me to wait near the bus stop for a taxi, and she asked me to come back to the store to visit her the next time I was in Dubai.

The Reason

As luck would have it, within five minutes of waiting for a taxi, one came by and dropped off a man in business suit. I politely waited to catch the taxi driver’s eye, and when I asked if he could take me to the airport, he smiled and waved me in. The ride to the airport was quick and painless, and I was through security within ten minutes of arriving because (you guessed it, another happy accident) the nice man who checked me into Dubai had automatically signed me up for the e-Gates system.

Since the day had been long, and since I still had about four hours until boarding time, I decided to try out the lounge the check-in lady from the morning had suggested I go to. I looked up the cost: it was only about 12 USD for lounge access which included unlimited buffet food, non- and alcoholic beverages and comfy chairs to sit in.

I got to the counter and asked for one pass. The woman stationed there then asked me if I had a MasterCard. When I told her yes and handed her my card, she took a look at it and said, “You don’t have to pay. This card gets you in for free.” After all the hullaballoo from my flight into and out of Dubai over the past 48 hours, it was really all coming up Alexis!

I walked right in and made my way to a comfy chair in the back of the room. I busted out my Jane Austen again and immersed myself in Catherine Morland’s adventures in Northanger Abbey.

At some point, I looked up from my book at the crowd of people in front of me, a usual go-to move for me in any public place. That was when I noticed something odd: a man who was sitting a few rows across from me was slumped over and actively biting himself up and down his arm.

In a split second, I had to make a decision. I could either ignore the man and carry on in my own little bubble, or I could watch him to make sure he wasn’t having a seizure or hurting in some way that might need medical attention.

I decided to watch him.

And, mid-bite, he locked eyes with me, stopped chewing on his arm and sat up. I took a deep breath and asked, “Are you okay?” To which he sighed heavily again, stood up and said, “Thank goodness. I really need someone to talk to!”

He animatedly walked over to me, and, as he lowered himself in the chair directly across from me, he asked if it was okay if we chatted for a while. I closed my book, smiled and shook his hand, and said it was just fine with me. We started off by talking about Jane Austen since he knew of her and wanted to know what was happening in the book. We talked a lot about Florida as it turned out he has a brother who lives just north of Miami (apparently in a place he thinks is utterly terrible). We talked about Salalah, Oman, where he used to live and work as a project manager and where me and the husband recently took a road trip. (He was shocked we drove there instead of flying.)

And then we got to the meatier stuff. He addressed the elephant in the room and explained why he was biting his arm earlier. Turns out he was in withdrawal and was on his way to a rehabilitation center in the Philippines. He was really struggling and talking helped him keep his mind off of things.

That’s when everything clicked into place, and I finally understood why everything had gone wrong for me. Everything went wrong, so that I could sit in that chair, look at that man and give him a few minutes of my time, a bit of hope and encouragement and a little connection.

We continued talking for a while, and I shook his hand before he had to leave to board his plane. I wished him all the best and told him to keep trying, no matter how many times it took. He smiled, thanked me for paying attention and told me he was going to get one of his cards to give to me. When he came back, he shook my hand again and thanked me, I wished him good luck again, he handed me his card and he was off as quickly as we met.

In the next week or so, I plan on writing to him to check up on how his recovery is going.

So, two things I learned from my crazy 48 hour trip to Dubai:
1. Sometimes it’s great when things go wrong.
2. I should not be in charge of purchasing tickets of any kind, at least not
for a while…

2 comments on “When Everything Goes Wrong…

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