A few short months ago I was offered a job with the American University of Sharjah. AUS is located in the United Arab Emirates. Sharjah is the northern most of the emirates in the UAE. The campus itself is approximately a 20-minute drive north of Dubai. We accepted the offer and are now on a grand family adventure with an indeterminate end date. Not having a fixed end is, in my opinion, one of the defining characteristics of an adventure.
As I write, the clock on my computer reads 3:32pm. That time is, of course, British Columbia’s time. We are somewhere over Turkey by now or possibly Syria. This plane will land in Doha in the country of Qatar on the Arabian Peninsula. The local time must be somewhere between 1 and 2 am. I slept little on the 12-hour flight from Vancouver to Frankfurt. I envy Jaron. At 35lbs and about 3 feet he curls up comfortably even in these economy class seats.
By the way, travelling with dogs is not as bad as it seems unless you are flying into the UAE. It turns out that pets can only be brought into the country via manifested cargo. In other words, they must be shipped as airfreight rather than checked as luggage. This obscure law really messed up the airline. By the time they figured out they couldn’t take our dogs it was the morning of the day we boarded the plane to Frankfurt. When I booked the flight with Qatar airlines I also booked the dogs. I was told to call the next day to confirm the dogs. So I called the next day (2 or 3 times) and then the next and the next. Each time I was told to try later. They assured me it was just a formality and all would be fine. Then the fated email on the morning of our day of departure that the airline could not take the dogs. I spent hours on the phone trying to figure out why. The baggage check would tell me I could not take the dogs and send me to the cargo department. The cargo department would tell me I could take the dogs and refer me back to the baggage department.
So, when we arrived in Frankfurt at the Qatar baggage check I was worried. We went through the story with the supervisor at the counter and she got in touch with a pet shipping company. It looked as though I would have to send my family on to Dubai without me while I slept in the Frankfurt airport until a shipper could claim the dogs and I could catch a later flight. Lisa and I divided passports and luggage and paperwork and prepared to go our separate ways. When in the midst of changing my flights the pet shipping company representative suddenly appeared.
He measured and weighed the kennels and quoted me the price… 936 Euros! What could I do? I raced to a moneychanger and asked if I could get the money from my visa. They sent me on to another moneychanger who in turn directed me to an ATM. In went my visa card and back came an error message… once, twice, three times and the money was not forth coming. A final try with my back up credit card and again an error message. I felt sick. I can recall a handful of times when I have pleaded for urgent assistance from above. Standing helplessly at an ATM I said a silent prayer and put that credit card back in the machine. It worked… but I could only get 600 Euros.
I raced back to my family and the shipper and explained that I could not get all the money but if he would take the 600 I would happily send the rest when I arrived at my destination. He graciously offered to take the dogs on my word that I would pay the bill when it came. He would not even take the 600 Euros I had in my pocket.
While this was all happening another issue arose. I foolishly did not print the entry visas for the UAE. I was told that I would be met at the Dubai airport with the original visas and thought that meant I did not need to print copies. My family was in tears standing rejected by the baggage staff when I returned from dealing with the shipper. To make matters worse I had archived my email, which contained the visas. Somewhere in my baggage was a USB thumb-drive containing all my archived email. I had no idea where it was. Then an impression came that the thumb-drive was in a particular pocket of my carry-on. I grabbed at my bag and thrust my hand into the pocket, wires, ear buds and yes a thumb-drive.
There was panic as I imported the emails back into my computer ever so slowly; panic when I realized I had no Internet access to email them to the airline and panic when after the airline printed them directly from the USB drive Jaron’s visa was missing. His was sent in a separate file that I eventually found.
Had I not believed that the shipper could not send my dogs in time and Lisa and I needed to separate she would not have attempted to check-in without me. This, of course, would have left the visa issue undiscovered until it was too late. As it was we barely made it through customs and security to the plane. While it was excruciatingly stressful everything appears to have conspired to open the way for us. Some say miracles have ceased. At this moment if I were to stand beside Moses as he parted the waters of the Red Sea I could feel no more awe or gratitude.
We have truly departed on an adventure. Adventures are not vacations or parties though they may contain those things. An adventure is challenging. It forces one to think, brings the proud to their knees and plumbs the depths of one’s capacities. I made a conscious choice to take my family on this adventure so I ought not to be shocked when it begins the moment I put my foot out the door. I realize my errors in judgment with the advantage of hindsight and hope that I’ve learned from my mistakes – is that not the whole point of an adventure? “It builds character.”
I am happy to report that the dogs are safe and happy to be with us at our new home. We’ve been here an entire day though it feels like two. The adventures have not quit. Perhaps Lisa or the kids will relate some of them in the next post.
My children have the assignment to enter a blog post every week while we live in the UAE. Lisa and I will also write weekly. These entries are largely for us but we are happy to share them with you too.