Monday, 14 January 2008
The day George came to town aka House arrest in Dubai
Something to tell your grandchildren about, the day SZR was empty.
Day 1: Sydney people, imagine if all the road closures and disruption during the APEC conference had been sprung on you overnight without any warning at all. Well, that's what happened here in Dubai yesterday and there are only three words to describe the result: complete bloody chaos.
Yesterday on the early morning trip home from the airport after arriving back from Beirut we found the slip road in front of the Fairmont Hotel blocked off by the police so we had to drive round the block. On the radio various people were reporting traffic holdups all over the city that were worse than usual but nobody could say exactly why this was happening. During the day it eventually came to light that George Bush was in Abu Dhabi so Dubai was a mess as a result.
Back to the story, after a quick shower and change of clothes I got into the car to drive to work. Fifty minutes later and all I'd achieved was to get out of the driveway and crawl 300 metres down the road. While I sat there cooling my heels and sorting my car CDs, a friend called to say she'd spent an hour in her car barely moving and was now heading home having given up on getting to her office. I drove round the block and went home but, as at that time, nobody knew the cause of the traffic snarl I thought I'd try to get to work an hour later when I hoped the traffic would have cleared. Unfortunately the traffic mess was even worse than before so I thought I'd try to get to work the back way. What an idiot I was! I ended up on the highway heading to Sharjah unable to get off because all the exits were blocked by queues of cars. Aaaagh! I decided that, as I knew how to get to DFC at least, I'd head there and then figure out what to do. By the time I made it to DFC I'd decided that the day was a complete wash out. There was no way I was going to get to work, or if I did to work how long was it going to take me to get home again, so I had the car washed, had lunch with Colin and then crawled my way back home.
About 4pm an email started circulating through the Dubai legal firm grapevine advising of possible major road closures the following day. I went to the government transport department website only to find that the site hadn't been updated since 7 January, not a lot of help there. At 5pm the Gulf News website announced that tomorrow is going to be a public holiday and listed the road closures.
Day 2: Today is Monday and Dubai is shut down and off limits. There is an eerie silence outside and the only people walking around Satwa are confused tourists and irate locals. The airport is a mess as passengers who arrived today cannot leave the area as the roads are blocked, passengers who are scheduled to leave today can't get out there. The airport authorities advised intending passengers to get to the airport an extra 2 hours early and to come via one particular highway exit point. The problem with their plan was that the police had actually blocked that exit off and weren't letting people through. A friend who dropped his wife off at the airport just before the curfew started has been stuck at a roadblock for seven hours.
Security people are absolutely everywhere some in uniform but there's also a large contingent of plain clothes guys on the streets, some of whom are obviously "not from round here". Most of the guys blend in and are unobtrusive which is the way it should be but others need to go back to Stealth School. The prize for best non-disguise goes to the extremely fit looking, young white guy sitting at a bus stop on SZR dressed like a dero (hobo). Hobo in Dubai? White person at bus stop?!? Good Lord, he couldn't have stood out more if he'd been sitting there wearing a sequin bikini. (He was also wearing a beanie with the wire from a single earpiece showing.) The disguise might work on the mean streets of some US city, but in Dubai he stuck out like a sore thumb.
(The presidential entourage passed through Dubai at 2:45pm and the roads were reopened shortly afterwards.)
Photos are here.