The rest of my time in Dubai was split into three acts: good, great, then diabolical.
The good bit was being all alone for most of the day (though I am really missing Team America still) and just flopping around on the beach at Anantara, then having a divine lunch at the Beach House.
The great bit was the desert safari.
Having just been away on a month-long African safari voyage, I was interested to see how this would differ.
No animals to look at was the most obvious one, it being a sparse desert. But tearing up and down sand dunes in a 50s open top something-or-other as the light faded was pretty marvellous.
And we did see a few gazelles posing gracefully in the distance.
I was in a vehicle with a youngish British couple (from Manchester) who were nice. And a woman with two children who were from Morocco (didn’t speak English).
I don’t like children, especially when I’m travelling, but really in any sort of public situation. They’re obnoxious and noisy and unpredictable and there’s no pay-off. You just have to tolerate the little buggers.
That’s unless I’m related to them, or happen to personally know and like them. And then I LOVE children.
Like this kid Johnny (tangent warning), who is the son of Rachel, who is the sister of my friend in New York, Natara. I went to Rachel’s wedding weekend a few years ago when Johnny was 6, and to this day, I prefer him to most adult humans.
Johnny and I left the wedding before everyone else (when the dancing started – which is another thing I don’t like) and hung out together in the hotel for hours and had really interesting conversations and then he fell asleep on me and I wanted to kidnap him.
ANYWAY. The children in the safari vehicle in Dubai were well-trained so I didn’t mind them. They were no Johnny. But they didn’t ruin anything.
As the sun went down, we pulled into this small makeshift desert camp, which was set up with food and big candles and a fire and rugs and sheesha. And camels, which you can ride.
I don’t approve of this at all. My father recently said, “yes but camels are nasty animals really. They are grumpy and they spit.”
I pointed out that if aliens from outer space who were infinitely more intelligent than humans raided planet earth, took one look at him and thought he would probably be fun to RIDE, so put reins on him and made him walk around for the rest of his days with alien tourists on his back, he’d be fucking grumpy too.
And even though my father is a lawyer, and very good at arguing, I think I won that conversation.
So I went up to one of the camels and stroked it lovingly and felt heartbroken, and then there was no wine to console me because booze wasn’t allowed at the camp, on account of Dubai being a Muslim country and decidedly not into booze.
I actually pondered that evening whether everyone local to the United Arab Emirates is religious. Is it 100%?
So I asked our guide on the way home. And he looked puzzled and said (Bieber-style), “what do you mean?” and I said, “well aren’t there ever people who just decide they don’t believe in god,” and he said, “no, never.”
I’ve got lots of Opinions on religion. But for the sake of simplicity, just know that I am an atheist.
So I found this very interesting.
Muslims in these parts learn about their brand of god the way we learn about physics and biology. Or history – which is a good example because the history that we learn in school is very bent towards us and about as reliable as The National Enquirer a lot of the time.
Which made me think, how funny it would be if the same aliens I mentioned before descended upon earth and were just like, “Gravity? DNA? Ha ha, all a pile of rubbish. Lolz.”
Maybe scientists would have a good comeback, but me? I just believed what I was taught. You know, because Einstein said so.
ANYWAY. Everyone in Dubai is religious, because Allah said so.
The diabolical part of my day kicked off around the time I got a really worrying and shit email, the details of which I won’t bore you with. (Lie, it’s because it makes me feel sick talking about, not because it’s boring).
I had a 2am flight ahead, no big deal, but a bit shit. So I had a mopey dinner at the Per Aquuam Desert Palm (sans wine), which is a truly beautiful hotel in the desert – and proves that you can be sad even in an expensive hotel.
I was feeling really, really sad actually, and in the very centre of my sadness (the quiet bit, the eye of the storm) a cat turned up as if from nowhere.
This was the first cat I’d seen in Dubai. They don’t have strays. They don’t often keep them as pets.
She was a beautiful sandy-coloured tabby with a gash in her ear, and she wandered up to me, and I implored her to join me, and she let me pick her up.
And then she just sat on my lap as I stroked her, and everyone else in the restaurant either glared at us or just looked at me as if I was batshit. They may have been right about that.
The randomness of it and the good timing made me think that if I was religious, I would definitely think that my god had sent this cat to me. That’s a bit self-indulgent, and it wasn’t divine intervention, of course, it was just really good luck.
I had to leave after that and pack my bags and head to the airport. It wasn’t easy to not pack the cat.
So there I am at the Emirates check-in desk and they look at my tatty passport and they look at me and then they look at the computer and say, “you don’t have an Australian visa… you can’t travel.”
And I looked at them blankly and blinked, like a pigeon, and said, “I’ve never had to get a visa before. England and Australia are friends. My family lives there. Look at how many Australian stamps are in my passport. Like, 12.” – or something like that.
And the woman blinked back at me, also in the manner of a pigeon, and said, “you don’t have an Australian visa… you can’t travel.”
So I asked if there was anything I could do to rectify the situation, and she flapped me in the direction of a different Emirates desk, with employees who gave even less of a shit than her (quite the achievement), and I tried to get one online, frantically, from my phone, but the internet was down, so then I cried.
It started off as mild weeping. Two blobs of tears a minute or something. But as time went on, and it looked more and more like I was definitely not going to get on this flight to see my father and my siblings who I haven’t seen in three years, it got worse.
The tears were flowing at a rapid rate by this point. Two blobs of tears every blink, which makes it hard to see – in case you don’t know – and then your shoulders start heaving up and down, and then you can’t talk properly because technically you are hyperventilating, which is inconvenient when you are genuinely trying to reason with someone or argue your case.
Eventually, I approached a male Emirates employee who was so uncomfortable with the crying that he helped me. Big time. He kept chanting, “lady, stop crying! You need to stop crying! We must make it stop!”
So he made a phone call and he got me a visa in zero seconds flat and then he rushed me through security, flashing his badge and ushering me past the queues.
And then we got to the gate and I realised I had left my laptop at the second Emirates crying post. FOR FUCK’S SAKE.
I admitted this to him sheepishly, expecting him, quite rightly, to say something along the lines of ”you twat” and walk off, but he didn’t.
He said “stay here” and then he raced back to the second Emirates crying post, and ran back, and bundled me onto the plane – the LAST PASSENGER – with my visa and my laptop, and I just wanted to expire from gratitude.
So I thought I’d had a bad few hours. As I shuffled into the window seat (yessssss) and apologised to my middle seat neighbour about the two blobs of tears per blink (hadn’t stopped yet), she got out a box from her bag and placed it gently on her lap.
“This box contains my father,” she said. “I’m taking him home to Australia to scatter his ashes.”
After this, we made friends, and everything slid into perspective, and we all got to Australia, 13 hours later, unharmed, all of us blinking into the light, like pigeons.