Monday, January 14, 2008

The day Bush bashed my Paris plans

The eternal optimist in me doesn’t cancel the ticket to Paris. Instead I keep checking the French consulate’s website just in case there is a cancellation so I can jump on it and get my visa in time.

Then, just as miraculously as the rain that is falling here in the desert, it happens. An appointment opens up on Monday at 9am. So I book it, print the receipt and spend the night tossing and turning in excitement and anticipation, with 'Lady Marmelade' ringing in my head.

What I don’t realize is that fate is already laughing at me, sending me on another seesaw ride of hope and disappointment. When the taxi eventually gets to the turnoff towards the consulate building, the road is closed – same as most of the other roads in Dubai this morning.

So I phone the consulate and somewhere in the recorded French message I pick up the word ‘ferme,’ closed. The darkness closes in again and blacks out my visions of a catwalk show and a hotel close to the Moulin Rouge.

Most part of the city looks like a ghost town as we try to make it back to my apartment, the taxi and I. The only other people in the streets are the security guards who monitor the blocked roads with eagle eyes.

“Sorry but you can’t go back now,” says the taxi driver, “the roads are all closed.”

“Ok, then just drop me off at a shopping centre,” I say, feeling confused and drained. Why did they give me the appointment if they were going to be closed?

“The shopping centres are also closed. President Bush arrives at 9. So today like public holiday. Everything closed.”

I end up spending most of the day at a coffee shop, drinking coffee I don’t really feel like and staring out into the empty streets.

The whole city closed down for Bush’s arrival. All the streets. All the shops. All the consulates. The authorities declared today a public holiday at the last minute, to ensure the US president’s safety in this Muslim city where Al Qaeda is rumoured to be based and do their banking.

How many lives of little people like me has this big man affected? I just lost my last chance of getting to Paris. It could be worse. It could always be worse. Some others have lost their lives.

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