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  • Writer's pictureLiz Totton

Zippers, Buttons or Plain? Part ١


Let me set this up for you. In order to become a legal resident of the U.A.E., there are many very sensible steps you have to take—nothing remarkable in any way whatsoever. You have to have to do a whole lot of paperwork and pay your standard fees. Fortunately, Rob’s work did the paperwork for us because it had to be in Arabic; Score—one less thing to do! Once that’s been processed then you have to get fingers printed, photographed and then off to get your medical check.

And then you get your medical… That sounds easy enough doesn’t it?! I thought so too. So much of everything you see here looks so new, modern and sleek, it’s very easy to think it will be smooth sailing, until you get there.

Car smelled a bit like this.

Car smelled a bit like this.

A young guy, named Ahmed, from Rob’s office was assigned to drive me there. He was nice enough though he barely spoke to me other than to tell me what to do, which was his job. I don’t fault him for not being chatty, though I do find it very uncomfortable to be in a vehicle with someone and not to talk. I find it hard to be anywhere with somebody and not talk, but that’s another story altogether. Ahmed was polite enough to refrain from smoking while I was in the car, but that did not stop the odor of the presumably 10 packs he smoked earlier to linger. I asked if he minded where I sat, and he said no. When I went to get in the car, I opted for the front seat. He moved a few cans of some kind of tobacco, a few packs of cigarettes and at least 5 other smoking related accessories off his front seat. Was it safe to assume this guy had a problem? I think so, but then I have never smoked. What do I know?! For once, I did not mind a driver who thought stop signs and lights optional. We could not get there fast enough. I already reeked of fresh and days’ old secondary smoke, stinky air fresheners (a whole variety), and this trip only just began.  He whizzed around the city just like everyone else does: barely stopping at stop signs, beeping at everything that moved and moving about the road as though he were the only one on it.

finger prints

In the room, there were more tired looking people and a small desk with one woman at the front. I gathered it was to her that I was to give my forms. She told me to sit without a smile. Smiling is NOT in anyone’s job description. There were no seats, so I stood until a seat opened up.  I stood for a very long time until a seat opened. I plunked down next to some cloaked ladies, holding my paperwork on my lap.  I waited and waited. A gaggle of 3 frustrated, young and loud American teachers sat on the other side. One was called to the desk. “Jo-wanna?” the lady called looking around. A tall American lady shot up angrily correcting her “It’s Jo-ANNA.  The lady at the desk shrugged and said “Door #4.” Joanna smiled back to her friends and disappeared into Door #4. Her friends one by one were called and ushered to their respective doors. They were in and out in seconds. All told to go to the next hall way deeper and deeper into the seas of waiting people.

Then I was called. “Elizabeth.” I went to the desk. She handed me more paperwork and told me to go to Room #2. I did. In Room #2 was a small, Indian doctor. He said hello, told me to sit, took my paperwork and asked me where I was from. I told him the USA. He smiled. “How do you find Abu Dhabi?” I gave him what’s becoming my standard response. “Hot.” He laughed and said, “Indeed, it is” with a knowing smile—he had not gotten the memo about never smiling. He handed me back my paperwork plus a few more sheets of triplicate, some stickers and told me to go down the hallway to sit. I asked “for what?” and he said “for to take blood.”

I thanked him and took my chances on these hallways. I saw the Americans and sat on the other side. I thought I should not sit too close as they were visibly mocking the “system”—let’s use this term lightly here. “Loud Americans,” I thought to myself, rolling my eyes, so calm and confident in how this process must be working/could work in a land far, far away—NOT here! I would soon learn. I watched them all pass through. “el-EEE-zebet,” a large, African lady called. Her big, wide-open eyes searched the masses. “Me,” hand raised timidly like a grade-schooler. She gestured me into another small room filled with all kinds of plastic vials in let’s just say less than sanitary looking conditions. Were I am germaphobe, I would have been outta town faster than you can say hepatitis c, but thankfully I am not. She was also a little scary. She hadn’t the English skills to make this comfortable at all for me, so she relied on her heft. She was a large lady. I handed her my paperwork, she put her enormous hand on my shoulder and pushed me into the small seat beside her. She threw her hands up in the air when she was obviously out of something necessary for the blood draw and bellowed in some language for different vials. Someone assigned to this task was there to bring them ASAP. I don’t know what language she spoke, but I know she was cursing someone’s incompetence—UNIVERSAL.

blood draw

There I was back out in the hallway with no instruction. I headed to a room that was marked X-Ray because that was the only other procedure that I was told I was doing today. Nope. Another seated lady pointed me towards IMMUNIZATIONS. “Wait! I think I am not supposed to get this,” I think to myself; but I went anyway. In the line for Immunizations, I sat, and I sat, and I sat and sat watching everyone around me go through the door and out. Something seemed wrong, so I searched the place for someone A. with sympathetic eyes and B. who could speak English. A cloaked, Muslim lady met my eyes. She said with some pity in her eyes, “There is no line. These women are just going in as they come. If you just sit there, you will never be seen.” What a revelation! I guess I should have known, but how I could I? I didn’t even know that I needed to be immunized. It hadn’t even yet crossed my mind what they might be immunizing me against. I thanked her with a knowing smile and looked at the impatient South Indian ladies seated across from me.  One of the women who sat down long after me, grumbled when I jumped up as the lady in the room called “Next! Another tried to push her way past me. The lady in the abaya stood up, pointed her finger at the woman and must have said something in Arabic like “this poor gringo has been sitting here forever while you all go past her. She doesn’t know any better. It’s her turn.” She gestured for me to go. I gave the South Indian lady a look like “See. What she said,” pointing to the Arab lady, as I strode in for my immunization.

And, I quickly strode right back out… The nurse looked at my paper and with big eyes, a grimace, and a strident tone said “Why you here? You no need.” She seemed cross that I had wasted her time. I stuttered “I—I—I don’t know why I am here. Where do I go?” She said, “You go X-Ray.” What she clearly wanted to say was “You go X-Ray, stupid!”  With my head lowered a little, I walked past the testy South Indians knowing that I had also wasted their time too. I bowed a quiet, small thank you to the Arab lady. If she had not helped me, I might have waited there all day in that seat, for something that I did not even need in the first place. She smiled and nodded back. She has obviously also been new somewhere too, and someone helped her as she did me. 

Stay tuned for Zippers, Buttons and Plain, Part ٢(2)….


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