I'm struggling to remember how old I was. Maybe 16 or thereabout.
My cousins were planning a holiday to Dubai, and because I was (am) such an awesome brilliant child, my god-parents invited me to follow them!
Obviously I was overly excited while my siblings openly hated my excitement.
I stuffed a few clothes into my blue medium sized suitcase waiting for the D-day.
But the trip never happened. The day before we were to travel, I was told my visa didn’t go through. Apparently, as a Nigerian girl you couldn't travel on your own if you were below the age of 25. Even though I was travelling with my aunt and her kids, I was still refused a visa because we didn't have the same surname.
To be honest, I can't even describe how I felt. What does surname have to do with it? The rules just didn’t seem to make sense to me. Apparently, I later realised that people could circumvent this process by having one of their parents apply for the visa as well, even though the said parent wouldn't travel. My parents would never have agreed though. What if they arrest me in Dubai?
'Biko sit your bum down in Lagos. Dubai is not running away'. I'm sure my mum said something like that.
My siblings slightly rejoiced at this turn of events. Or maybe not. Because now there was no way I was going to buy all the fancy 'abroad' things they had requested.
Really, as my mum predicted, Dubai did not run away.
After our wedding, we stopped over briefly at Dubai.
To be honest, I should stay we stopped over briefly at the Hotel in Dubai, because we were indoors (couch potatoes) for almost all of the three days.
So no, I still have not been on that crazy safari in Dubai where everyone wears the turban and watch those belly-dancers in the desert.
We managed to get to the mall, and to the Wild Wadi Water Park though. Although I was so upset at the husband for not telling me we were going to a water park, so I could take appropriate clothing with me.
I ended up wearing a white jump suit to partake in water sport, and constantly had to stop him from saying 'It doesn't matter, you still look good and it's not awkward'. It was awkward. Everyone was looking at me funny.
Oh. At least we saw the Burj Al Arab.
I remembered that first Dubai near-travel experience again. Last month. When again, a Dubai visa didn't come through. Bear in mind I'm over 25 now, so what could go wrong?
We had planned this trip to celebrate with our amazing sponsor at our wedding. (In the Catholic church, Sponsors are kind of like god-parents to the bride and groom. How cool!), who was turning 60, with her kids and grand-kids!
My colleagues knew I was going on holiday to Dubai, and just like my siblings they envied me, but this time not for abroad material things, but for the natural sunshine that abound there!
I'm going to save you reading time and cut the long story cut and simply say my visa didn't come through. And one of the incomprehensible excuses was that my surname on my passport was different to that of the husband. Really? Another surname excuse?
Yes really. At least that's what the agent attempted to say. Pretty lame if you ask me because we had travelled to this same destination as newly-weds, with different surnames.
Simply put, the agent was incompetent and near-fraudulent. Customer service was non-existent. It was so appalling, I can't even attempt to explain. Zero communication, ill-mannered and totally untruthful with us as customers.
Why do we have to go through an agent you may wonder? Well, if you fly Emirates, the official carrier of the UAE, they can process your visa for you officially. However, in the application form there's a drop down selection of countries and Nigeria isn't on there. Okay, second option. VFS is the recognised agent that helps to arrange UAE visa for people requiring same. But guess what, to be able to apply via VFS, you have to be over 40 years old, irrespective of whether you are male or female. Yes, 40 years old. That's actually the official requirement.
So yes, that's why as a Nigerian passport holder, you often have to resort to agents who in fairness, actually provide the visa.
But please be careful. My friend has such a terrible experience recently as well where she had used an agent for transport and accommodation in Dubai, and the said accommodation was never booked.
Till the international perception of the Nigerian passport becomes better, let's be careful of dubious agents.
And if you're a service provider, can you consciously improve your customer service and customer relationship! It's extremely important.
I went back to work a week later, and tried to come up with the response to 'Oh. How was Dubai?'. A brief narration, left my colleagues in shock. Rather interestingly, most of the Nigerians I related this to simply said 'God didn't just want you guys to go'
I think that's where I stand as well.
Have you guys had any near travel experiences or travel dreams that were shattered for whatever reason? Oh and if unlike me, you've actually had a real Dubai experience, please share how that went.
pS: It wasn't all a sad tale. We made the best of it, by exploring a part of UK. Hopefully a post on that soon.