Monday, August 11, 2014

"By sea or by air--it's your choice."

Yesterday was from hell. Moving day from my old flat, shifting stuff to Dubai to be later sent to Kenya. The day before, the Indian chappie came to assess my stuff. I had asked him if we should do it over two days but he declared—“No. The guys will come in early, wrap and pack everything and then we will be in Dubai by lunchtime.” That seemed straightforward enough, as that was his business. I had already packed away the huge JVC stereo, Sony TV, kitchenware, clothes and other things. I also dismantled the cumbersome computer desk and TV/stereo stand, the kid’s shelf, my bookshelf, dining room chairs, the kid’s bed and the king-size bed.

The three lads arrived, armed with rolls of bubble wrap, rolls of cardboard packing material, a rusty tool box, and some plastic weave stuff to make a gunnysack. They took a look at me in my ankle cast and told me to relax and they would pack everything. They work was as fast as they could, but it was a daunting task. The problem was in the process of dismantling the wooden stand/computer desk/beds into smaller sections it made for more work. If we were just shifting from one apt to the next we could have taken the whole thing but now these guys had to break the wood into different packages.

Even though they worked at a steady pace, time went quickly. I was worried we would not be on the road at noon. I kept phoning my friend MK at Salihiya cargo to ask her when she took her lunch break. She said she was off from 2pm to 4pm. I originally found out about Salihiya from my Kenyan-Somali guy at work—Shafie. I was always having trouble with Kenyan customs at the airport and with excess baggage fees imposed by Emirates Air. Shafie told me to send stuff through Salihiya, a Kenyan-Somali-run company out of Dubai. I wondered how they got around customs and duty especially if they flew into Kenya, but these clever chaps flew direct with Emirates into another international airport in Eldoret—circumventing the nasty customs.

As the time ticked past noon I phoned her again. She told me that I would have to go to their warehouse because of the size of my shipment and assured me that they did not take an afternoon break. I had never been to the warehouse so I was unsure where it was. Never mind, MK assured me, I will text you the details. Everything was moved out into the hallway to be shunted on the elevator. I was left sitting on my stool as the last goods went out the door. All that was left was me, my mountain bike, two suitcases, and my old mattress that I decided was not worth shipping. Dust mixed with bits of ripped cardboard, flakes and larger pieces of styrofoam laid strewn all over the flat, two dusty carpets were all that was left. Vultures were hovering outside my door as I had left behind a humongous wardrobe, a love seat, mirrors, an unused trash can, a pail with cleaning liquids and other discarded knick knacks. 

The sun was setting as the lads finally loaded up the truck, which was driven by an older Pakistani guy. It was 6:30pm when we finally got going. Having driven this route ad nauseum over the past 7 years, most of the time I was dozing in the ADNOC bus or paying attention if I was driving. Funny but, I swear I saw things I normally wouldn’t pay attention to, new signs, men jogging beside villas, and a number of pretty Filipina gals. As we drove over the new Maqtak Bridge, I saw the huge gleaming domes that were the Sheikh Zayid Mosque complex on the right and I looked down on the oldest bridge that was built before this was officially the UAE.

Our vehicle was the slowest vehicle on the road—maybe 70kms/hr max—we didn't overtake anyone. I was trying to doze off but was awoken by faster cars honking as they passed us on the shoulder—now I knew we were slow! This pervasive heat was starting to get to me especially with the trucks inadequate a/c. The words –“You will see a light in the darkness and you will make some sense of this…” Well I certainly hoped so!
We had already been driving for an hour when I woke up just as we passed a huge sign telling us the distance to the various gates in Dubai. Our destination, Mamzar Gate, was still another 65 kilometers from where we were on the sandy outskirts of Jebel Ali.

Dubai on a Thursday night, the start of the weekend here, is not the time to be driving through Dubai especially on its busiest artery— Sheikh Zayed Road. It is busy most of the time but tonight it was chock a block.

I gave Muhammad the phone number for the warehouse. I thought something was amiss when he didn’t understand the Arabic of the warehouse guy—Abdul-Aziz (AA). Muhammad said the guy must be Russian. Knowing that most of the shipping staff was Somali, I found this slightly off-putting—didn’t bode well.
I read the text message from MK again and it just said—“Salihiya cargo warehouse is in Mamzar gate no 8. Contact person Abdul-Aziz.” We drove on past, Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, past the series of malls, Ibn Battuta, Emirates Mall and just for confusion sakes, the Mall of the Emirates. Could not see the old landmark Hard Rock Café as they shut down many years ago. As we drove over Maktoum Bridge towards Deira, we were now in the heart of the Dubai emirate. Nevertheless, I had no idea where we were heading except that it was in Hamriya, wherever the hell that was.

We got to Hamriya area and Muhammad tried phoning AA again for directions but he didn’t answer. We got lost looking for Mamzar Gate 8, so Muh went around the traffic circle and pulled off into Mamzar Gate 1. I panicked and phoned MK as it was 8:50 pm and she would be closing the downtown office at 9:00 pm. I told her we couldn’t reach AA on the phone. She mentioned something about a mosque and told me to try AA again. We continued on to the next circle then did a u-turn came back to our first circle. Muh phoned again barking directions into the phone as we drove around the traffic circle 7 times –I was getting slightly nauseous as we drove up to the next circle then pulled off.
After 5 minutes, AA pulled up alongside us and led us off towards Mamzar Gate 8. It was actually the next circle but you would be hard-pressed to find it as we had to go through the circle then do a quick right turn off the road, drive past a mosque and after a left turn, there, hastily scribbled on a piece of cardboard was Gate #8. Unlike Gate #1 with a proper sign, police checkpoint, barricade and metalled road, here was nothing but an unlit dirt road with no security.

We pulled into what looked like a makeshift, run-down chicken-wire fence depot. I’m still looking for what I would call a warehouse. No a/c here and everything would be fried in the midday sun, including the workers. This was more like a shotgun shack. Crikey—now what? We were quickly surrounded by a motley crew of unshaven Pakistani guys in sweaty shalwar kameez, a few bare-chested Somali guys and other swarthy types who were lugging around various bulky-looking packages for shipping.
Muhammad and I stood around in +100F balmy night air as the Pakistanis guys unloaded my 25+ pieces. The Somali guy AA yelled at his charges to unload my shipment. He even had to roust them from the nearby trailer. Yelling, measuring of the boxes, items stacked high on the huge scale then weighed. The sweat was running down my back as I quickly soaked everything I was wearing. I talked with AA as my shipment was being weighed, debating over whether they should go by air or sea. 
"It's your choice," he told me." 
“Whatever is the cheaper way,” I yelled at him. It was agreed that the heavier ones would go by sea and the lighter ones by air.
Off to the side were three African guys, probably Somalis, who were busy making wooden crates for TV boxes. Finally after everything was weighed, AA barked for a calculator, then with some convoluted method involving inputting the boxes dimensions he could determine the volume they would take on the container. By sea would take a month, by air, they would be in Nairobbery the following Friday!

AA took the SONY TV box over to the Somali guys to get crated. “You will have to work out a price with them,” AA winked at me.
“100 dirhams,” the one guy said.
“No way, I only paid around 40 dirhams at your downtown office,” I said.
“What is your last price,” the other guy said.
“That’s my last. I ain’t paying 100,” I said.
They wouldn’t come down and I wouldn’t go up, so after much haggling, it was agreed that the TV wouldn’t be in a wooden crate. AA said it would be okay to send it in its original cardboard box by air.

It was 10pm when we got back into the truck’s cab and Muhammad turned on the a/c—we were both soaked. I was surprised when we finally got back to Abu Dhabi at 12:30 am that there were so many people out and about; cafés were still crowded, KFC, SFC, Tim’s, the Automatic Restaurants, and the shwarma joints were still going strong. It was well past my bedtime, I took a shower, hit the hay at 1 am, but it felt like I had been on an overnight flight as I collapsed into my bed. I’d had enough!

Being a nomad for most of my life, packing and moving has never been stressful but this time, I did feel deflated from the whole experience, perhaps because I had been in Abu Dhabi the longest--7 years! Now on to my next adventure--hopefully not a demented one!