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Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Journey

Spoiler alert: I’m safely in Dubai! This was a long journey, and this will be a long blog post, as I typed it out when I couldn't sleep! But let’s backtrack to a few days before I left…

For me, packing for Dubai was such a struggle. I have a tendency to over pack for every single trip or event to which I travel, and moving across the world proved to be no different. I was trying to downsize my packing selections for the past few weeks. I gave away 6 garbage bags filled with clothes, and I packed up a ton of clothing (mostly sweaters!) to store at my parent’s house. I had two free 50 lb bags with my airline carrier, and two carry-on items. I first started to try and fit everything into two bags. My mom and I weighed the first one and it was close to 70 lbs. It became immediately clear that there was no way I could fit the weight of everything into two bags, and I would simply have to pay for a third bag. After hours of re-assessing clothing options, stuffing space saving bags, and constantly weighing items, we were done. I finally had three bags at approximately 50-52 lbs  each. My carry-on suitcase was extremely overweight (around 30 lbs), but I was hoping that no one would weigh it. My carry-on backpack, which housed most of my technology including my MacBook and iPad, was about another 10 lbs. In total, I was moving across the world with almost 200 lbs of my stuff.

The final days were extremely hard. I was constantly upset and crying after saying good-bye to so many of my close friends. I became extremely nostalgic for seemingly random things. For example, I lamented over my last spicy perogy pizza from Boston Pizza! I also lost a lot of nerve and excitement. Until about 3 days before I left, I was extremely excited and confident. That soon diminished and I was left wondering why on earth I was planning to move across the world and leave everything I’ve ever known behind. I checked into my flights, and aquired three window seats. I no longer felt brave, and I became more and more anxious about the upcoming journey.   

My journey started at 10:00 am on Thursday, August 15 with a 2.5 hour drive to the nearest airport in Winnipeg. I wasn’t actually that sad about leaving my hometown, because I was distracted with restoring my phone from my computer! After carefully checking in 3 bags (final weight totals: 52, 50, and 49 lbs and only $100 for my third bag!!!), I had lunch with my parents and said a very difficult good-bye, and I was off! Flying out of Winnipeg was extremely sad. To me, Winnipeg was representing all of Manitoba, and I was leaving it for at least a year. I couldn’t stop crying as I watched Winnipeg grow smaller and smaller. The tipping point was when I spotted the unmistakable blue cap of “the Fort”, an apartment building next to the Fort Garry where several of my friends lived throughout student teaching.  My first flight was fine and nothing exciting happened. I cried for awhile, then got myself together and read. 

At the Toronto airport, I had a 4 hour layover and was able to go for dinner with my brother and his girlfriend. I had visited them in March, but it was very nice to see them one last time before I left.

Then came the big flight – a 9.5 hour flight on Turkish Airlines. I met up with a friend, Cassie, who was on the same Toronto – Istanbul flight, as she is going to teach in Kuwait for a year. We managed to snag seats together, for which I am very grateful! The other young woman beside us was from Turkey and very friendly, and helped explain the food options. Overall, I was extremely impressed with Turkish Airlines during this flight! They actually have a chef on board. The very first thing they did as we were taxied to take off was hand out Turkish delights. The flight wasn’t too bad, although we hit a fair amount of mild turbulence and one particular child screamed for hours. I managed to sleep a bit, talked to Cassie, watched a movie, etc.

Heading into the Istanbul airport off by far the most overwhelming part of my 33 hour journey. The plane had been warm for the entire flight, and we were pelted with humidity and heat as soon as we exited. Inside the Turkish Airport was absolute chaos. There were hoards of people walking in all directions, and we had trouble finding where we were supposed to go, sweating profusely all the while. We realized we immediately had to go through security again, which was a bit of a pain. Once we went through security, there were even more people in the large, main part of the airport. Cassie and I went to brush our teeth and change our clothes, a welcome relief after the hours of travelling we had just incurred. After walking around in a daze we found a Starbucks – a welcoming site. We got drinks and I used my VISA internationally for the first time! In case you are wondering, a Java Chip Frappuccino tastes identical in Manitoba as it does in Turkey. We found a wall to lean on and eventually acquired a wi-fi password. I proceeded to text and talk to people, and even sent my friends some snap chats from Turkey. We talked to several people who sat next to us, often offering the wi-fi password. One of these men was from the US and living in Morocco. Our final experience in the Turkish airport was finding a Turkish delight store that offered free samples of several different types of Turkish delights. Cassie and I ate some Turkish delights and parted ways.

I went to my posted gate and hung out there for about 15 minutes. My boarding time was supposed to be at 7:00 pm, and around 7:05, things started happening. I locked eyes with the gentleman from earlier who lives in Morocco, and he mouthed to me that this wasn’t my flight. I asked one of the employees, and she told me the gate had changed. I was very annoyed, and slightly worried. I had been sitting at the gate for 15 minutes, and had not once heard an announcement for a gate change – at least not in English. The board had also still been displaying the incorrect gate 15 minutes before the boarding time. I quickly proceeded to the new gate, talking to two gentlemen who were also flying to Dubai as I went. We arrived at the gate to see a “30 minute delay” announcement. I continued to stand and stretch while talking to the gentlemen. An hour later, we finally boarded the plane. To my delight, the middle seat in our row was empty. The guy on the aisle and I were both able to stretch out a little more, and I felt a lot less cramped. I immediately got my flight essentials out (iPod, iPad, headphones, eye mask, etc.) and went to sleep. I think we were boarding for about half an hour. I woke up as we were taxiing for take off.  I was unable to sleep well on this plane, and ended up watching several episodes of a TV show I had downloaded to my iPad. The 4.5 hour flight went quickly, and soon I was touching down in DUBAI, my new home!

I got into the airport around 2:30 a.m, an hour later than originally scheduled. I walked for around 15 minutes until I finally found the Marhaba man who was meeting me (I found out later that my roommate got to drive in a golf cart vehicle instead of walking – jealous!). My school pays for this welcome service to help us through baggage claim, customs, security, and to meet them. Customs was incredibly easy. I’m not sure if it was because I went through the “Marhaba” line, or if everything I read about entering Dubai was blown out of proportion. The customs gentlemen basically just confirmed that I was coming to teach music, and asked if I would be able to teach someone like him music. I joked back, had to look into a machine and have my retinas scanned, and that was it. There were no questions about medications or anything. I had been incredibly nervous about customs, and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make it through! After collecting my three bags and quickly using the wi-fi, we continued through the airport, eventually ending up at the main Marhaba counter. As an aside, the Dubai airport was clean, incredibly modern looking, and full of Arab men in their traditional white robes. I pulled my luggage cart up to the Marhaba counter and heard someone say, “Emma?”. It was the school’s business manager, whom I have been emailing for months over travelling plans and tickets for both my IB training in Lake Tahoe and the flights to Dubai. Three men were there to meet me – the business manager, the assistant business manager, and the head of housing. My principal had also come to meet me, but we met up with her in the parking lot. Apparently I made it through the airport quickly, because they were all surprised that I showed up so soon! I was soon in a car with two of the men (one of them disappeared with all of my luggage – that was slightly scary!) and we drove to my housing, about 20 minutes away from the airport. We passed the school on our way, and it looked incredibly huge and fancy! I finally saw a glimpse at one of the famous buildings, the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building the world)! It was very far away, so it didn’t look that impressive, but I was still excited none-the-less.

I got to my apartment around 3:30 a.m., and got to meet my roommate in person! She had arrived about an hour earlier. The men left us with our settling in allowance, a cell phone (programmed with contacts reading: “Elementary School Principal”, and “Business Manager”, etc. in case we need to call someone), and instructions about how to be picked up for school on Sunday.  My roommate, Alison, and I explored our apartment and unpacked a bit. There were several confusions on our first night. We wanted to wash our new bedding, and had no idea how to work the washing machine. We don’t really know how to work our stove (it’s gas and some of the elements require matches!). We both decided to shower, but we didn’t really know how to work the hot water heaters. My shower doesn’t have a bath water option as it automatically comes out of the shower head. I didn’t realize  this, and immediately got drenched after turning on the water. Both of our bathrooms also flooded while we were trying to shower. Fortunately, I think this is common, as both of the bathrooms have a drain in them. My floor was completely soaked, as water was spraying out of the side of my showerhead. It was a night full of adventures, and we finally crawled into our beds around 5:00 a.m. I had been travelling for 33 hours – from 10:00 am on Thursday to 3:30 am on Sunday (minus 9 hours for the time change). We agreed to sleep until 10:00 a.m., then get up and try to stay up all day. After 33 hours, I had finally made it to my new apartment in my new home – Dubai! J

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