As most of you know, I have just spent three weeks in Dubai packing up my life and saying my goodbyes. To say it was stressful would be an understatement and I thought it only fair to fill you in as well as give some handy hints to those of you who will go through the leaving process at some point!
Dubai is a unique country in so many ways but then so is the company I have been working for. Those two factors combined resulted in chaos from the get go. Because I had been out of the country for more than six months my residency visa had been automatically cancelled. On school’s advice I had to simply get a doctor’s certificate attested at both the Foreign Office and UAE Embassy in London. Seemed simple enough but that process alone took over three weeks, numerous phone calls and emails to complete. I checked and double checked with the Government Relations Officer at school that was all I had to do (because yes, I am a worrier and yes I was on high alert as I would be travelling alone!).
I cannot express how nervous I was to be travelling alone and facing two weeks away from my support system – dad flew out to help in the final week – and the irony is, the night before I flew, we sat at the dinner table and I asked, in all seriousness, what I would do if the medical certificate wasn’t enough and they wouldn’t let me into the country. They all laughed at me and said it would be fine and to put my trust in what school had said and dad’s final words were, “If it does go wrong, don’t call us because we won’t be able to do anything from here!” Then we joked about me becoming the female Tom Hanks in my own version of The Terminal and I went to bed feeling nervous but reassured it would go well.
I’d booked a meet and assist with Emirates so I didn’t have to face the long airport walk or struggle with my luggage as the arthritis in my right hand is still excruciating. Saying goodbye to Dad (mum wasn’t allowed to come to the airport!) was very hard, I even made my wheelchair pusher cry because I was so upset! The service however, was wonderful and I managed to have a giggle about the fact I was in a beeping buggy and took a photo and video for the amusement of my friends and family. The flight was actually okay, I’d managed to use breathing and relaxation techniques I’d been shown in my reiki sessions and before I knew it we were landing early at 12.05am. Brilliant – I was wheeled past the long queues to passport control, handed over my passport and the medical certificate and then, it all went pear-shaped.
Basically, I wasn’t spoken to, my wheelchair assistant was ordered to wheel me off to immigration and shooed us away. My passports and doctors certificates were handed over to the men at the desk and I was told in no uncertain terms that I would not be allowed entry because I needed a stamp from the Dubai health authority. Shit. I tried to explain that I had done everything school had advised but once again, I was ignored and wheeled outside to wait. This may sound okay to most of you but now picture this, I was wheeled out, pushed into a corner, facing the wall like a naughty child – I was mortified! I asked if I could get out of the chair to go and speak to them or sit in a normal chair (yes, I was also strapped into the wheelchair in case I decided to make a run for it Little Britain style!) but I was told that if I left the chair, the assistance would cease and I would be left alone. Now I didn’t want this to happen because I needed help with my cases etc so, I stayed, facing the wall, silently crying for about an hour…I can just about laugh about it now but at the time it was not fun. I had no phone credit but did have dirhams; I asked if someone could go and by me some credit so I could contact people – no. Could I use a phone in the office – no. Great.
So after some more panicked tears and anger at the fact school had let me down so badly, survival mode kicked in. Airport must equal free airport wi-fi – bingo. However, my battery was almost dead but, top tip number one, always pack chargers in your hand luggage! This was also my ticket out of corner detention! I was wheeled to a plug socket, charged up and sent SOS texts to a few people saying if I wasn’t home by the time they left for work, to get help! I also let home know what was going on…I think they felt a bit guilty and also very helpless, well, apart from my hilarious (!) brother who thought he’d lighten the situation by letting me know what was going on in the Eurovision Song Contest…read the situation Jack, sometimes it’s just not helpful!
By this point I’d been told I would be taken to departures to book a flight back to the UK whilst they sent the certificate to the health authority. Really?!! That was it, I lost the plot, like, big time tears enough to not make any sense when I was trying to talk. Didn’t they know how much it had taken for me to even board a flight? Didn’t they know I hadn’t been paid for six months and literally didn’t have the money to book a flight? How dare they! It was also now nearly three hours after I’d landed, all my strong painkillers were in my suitcase so I was exhausted and in so much pain I can’t describe – probably made worse because of how emotional and stressful this situation was. I am a very independent person and can fend for myself yet I had never felt so helpless. However, I think they took pity on me because after another half an hour, the man reappeared with a random entry stamp in my passport and told me I could enter. I started to ask questions and then thought, shut up Hannah, take the bloody passport and run – well, wheel away quickly! The only obstacle then was they couldn’t find my luggage as it had been so long since we landed but eventually it was found and I was in a taxi heading to Silicon Oasis.
It took me four days to recover from that ordeal. Four days I hadn’t accounted for because I had so much to get done. I felt very sad that the schools Government Relations Officer only offered an apology when he met with me and dad in the last week, and even then he said it had ‘funnily enough’ happened to someone else only a month before. Wonderful. Another great example of how rubbish communication can be in Dubai.
I’d applied online for my good conduct certificate which needed to be collected from a police station. Dubai don’t do CRB checks so this certificate is needed to account for the years spent out of the UK if you’re returning to teach. Another amazing friend took me to the station after school one day to collect it, she needed hers too, and with a click of a button it was emailed – sorted. Only mine was received though and poor Charlie is now still fighting to get it sorted. Believe me when I say, we take for granted how easy things are in England compared to Dubai.
School provided a tick list of things to do to exit the country along with numerous signatures to collect at school to say we were good to go. I had handed in my passports and Emirates ID only to then discover I needed my ID to cancel my internet, bank etc. This is not mentioned anywhere in the documentation. So, if you are going through the leaving process DO NOT HAND IN YOUR EMIRATES ID BEFORE CHECKING WHAT YOU NEED IT FOR. Once you give it in, it’s cancelled and you don’t get it back, then you’ll be up the creek without a paddle. Once this was all done I was sent some school transport to take me to the ‘pineapple’ building to sign off and hand in visa to be cancelled. I laughed out loud when they sent me a whole school bus to take me – so Dubai but I also think they knew I was fed up of empty promises of help!
Closing your bank account. Oh dear lord. I feel I now have a very close relationship with Citibank. If you bank with them, close your account ASAP because they can’t do their jobs properly. In order to get your final settlement from school you have to provide a letter from your bank simply stating you’ve closed the account. So, with plenty of time I zeroed my account – that was hard enough as I had 14 dirhams and 99 phils to clear….it took hours because everything in Dubai ends in .00 or .5! Anyway, it was closed so I rang to apply for the letter. LONG story short, and I’m glad dad was there to witness this, it took ten days and technically it still isn’t resolved. They needed different departments to write the email, print the email, sign the email, scan the email, send the email. I can’t count the hours I spent on hold and eventually I tried to get school a verbal confirmation that it was closed and when they saw how useless Citibank were being, they took my word for it and gave me my settlement cheque. The next day the email arrived. I had to make a password to open the PDF and when I did I was met with an email saying it was a test and the second email saying nothing useful relating to the closure of my account and with no signature – SERIOUSLY??!!!!!!! It was just so infuriating.
Over the three weeks I spent five hours waiting for people to do apartment checks and turn up for meetings at school that never happened. I was told endless times how people were expecting me to look much worse and that bald suited me while all the time I was screaming inside that this process was literally shoving me hundreds of steps backwards. Screaming that my illness is hidden, that bald isn’t a choice, I don’t want it to suit me, I miss my hair. Screaming that the Dubai heat was making my pins and needles feel like my head was on fire and that I wanted to rip my skin off. Nothing about some of the processes that school put me through was okay. It reminded me a bit of jury service, when you work for someone, you are needed but once you’re done, they don’t need you or necessarily have a duty of care towards you. I want to clarify here that the majority of people I saw made genuine offers of help and did help and I will be forever grateful to them.
These three weeks have shown me how strong I can be if I need to. I didn’t have a choice, I had to get things done, I had to see people – no, I wanted to see people because I was on a tight time frame. Just because I went out and did things doesn’t mean I didn’t pay for it. I couldn’t pace myself like I have been doing at home and I am paying for it now. I had some amazing meals out and celebrations, all booked at decent times so I didn’t have late nights. Everyone was so understanding but people see your persona on social media and assume, ha, Hannah is out and about in Dubai, she must have been pulling our leg back home. Not the case one bit. I slept in late and had afternoon sleeps and doubled up on pain killers. I smiled when I wanted to cry and did things when I wanted to be in bed but I don’t have any regrets. I needed to go through that process in order to finish that chapter properly.
Having the chance to see parents and pupils was emotional and amazing. Dubai was too hot to wear anything on my head as it was too itchy and uncomfortable. I was terrified about braving the bald at school but it was actually quite freeing. The children asked questions which was fine and a few asked to touch my head which was also fine. What isn’t fine is when people touch, rub or play your bald head…not okay. The three weeks confirmed to me how many friends I have made over the years and how many decent, hard-working, unappreciated people I have had the opportunity to work with and get to know. Walking back into school opened my eyes to the stressful job I was doing before and how it had been the major contributor to me becoming as ill as I am. People don’t walk at school, they power walk, mainly with smiles on their faces that you know are covering the endless to do lists, pressures from emails both from management and parents, the endless planning, assessing, report writing etc and I felt relief. Relief that I wasn’t going back into that environment. We are teachers, not robots. We are humans not superheroes. I want to work in a school again that recognises that. But I’m not sure how I feel about it, my last experience working there has dented my confidence and really made me doubt whether I want to teach again. My body has been changed by this experience and I don’t ever want to go back to that situation.
Having said all of the above, I have not one single regret about my Dubai adventure. I have made so many life long friends, so many memories and I will always love Dubai. I have loved being immersed in another culture, loved working in an international school and being able to travel more than I ever could have imagined. I thank Dubai for introducing me to Bath and Body works and The Cheesecake Factory, for letting me have cinema experiences like no other and being able to watch the most magical fountains whenever I wanted to. For letting me experience a desert safari one day and be in Ski Dubai meeting penguins the next. For waking up to the call to prayer and experiencing Ramadan first hand. For changing me, giving me the confidence to challenge myself and broaden my horizons. It’s made me a stronger person and a part of me will always call Dubai home.
And before I end this blog I want to mention the amazing person that is my Dad. At the age of 30 I never thought I need to rely on my family as much as I’m having to at the moment. Dad took a week of his holidays to come and help me in the final week. I have never been so happy to see him after the ordeal of my first two weeks and he never left my side once he landed. He wrapped, packed, organised, calmed and sorted me out. I have always known what a brilliant man he is and I know he wouldn’t have wanted it to be any other way but he just needs to know how thankful I am for everything he did in that week, he even spent his 60th birthday with a group of my friends and never complained once! So, thanks dad, I love you more now than I did before – if that’s even possible!
When we started in Dubai people spoke about your friends becoming Dubai family and I thought it was a bit daft but you know what, they are. You need a support system in Dubai and luckily I found the strongest one. Thank you to all the people, both friends and colleagues that made my Dubai experience so very special, I will never forget you and all you have done for me.
So, Dubai for now….