Archive for November 2011

Dubai: City where water dances

November 26, 2011

Casmir Igbokwe

Are you surprised that water could dance? Or that a hotel could be built on top of a sea? Or that a building could have up to 160 storeys?

Welcome to Dubai. This amazing city is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. The other emirates are Abu Dhabi (the capital), Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Qaiwan. Four-fifths of this federation, formally established on December 2, 1971, is desert. It has one of the most developed economies in Western Asia.

Right from the Emirates Airport, you begin to see beautiful architectural designs. Some buildings look like fish. Some look like a ship. The roads and bridges are not just smooth, they are a showcase for engineering wonders. There is a particular road said to have been constructed under a river. On top of that road is a rail track. You won’t see any water as you drive on. But your guide will remind you that you are driving below the sea level.

As you move on to the Dubai Mall, you begin to appreciate how responsible leaders turned desert into gold. In the mall are over 200 gold and jewellery retailers, over 70 global fashion stores and many others. The opening page of a booklet listing the things on offer in the mall says, “There is nothing else on earth quite like The Dubai Mall. Much more than one of the most spectacular malls on earth, it is a shopping, dining, leisure and entertainment experience like no other. With more than 1,200 retail outlets and an unmatched range of world-class attractions, it will delight, amaze and thrill you time after time.”

Oh yes! It’s thrilling, what with the world’s largest aquarium. This aquarium has the largest viewing panel on earth and  over 33, 000 aquatic animals.

Just by the mall is what these Arabian people call the world’s most spectacular fountain. Or dancing water, if you like. It performs at intervals of about 15 minutes. With soft music wafting across the landscape, it displays different acrobatics, suffused with the extravaganza of light and colours. This spray of water covers over 150 metres in the air.

Overlooking the mall is the tallest building in the world called Burj Khalifa. Opened on January 4, 2010, it is over 828 metres (2,717 feet) and over 160 storeys.

Some smart Chinese have cashed in on the craze by many people to take pictures beside the building. They will come and ask you to pose for photographs. Afterwards, you cough up 65 dirham (about N2,795),for one normal-sized picture while a slightly bigger one is 85 dirham (N3,655).

Despite the crises in most Arab countries, the UAE is quite peaceful and crime-free. At any of the tourist sites in the emirates, you find a large crowd of Chinese, Indians, Africans, Arabs, Europeans mingling freely without any fear of any attack, or even pick pockets.

Unlike some other Muslim countries, the emirates is tolerant of other religions. For instance, Christians practise their religion, but rather than Sundays, they worship on Fridays. Some Nigerians even distribute handbills for one crusade or the other.

However, alcohol is highly prohibited. If you must drink it, it has to be secretly. Woe betide you if you are caught. In case you see some cans of Holsten beer imported from France on the shelves of any supermarket, don’t be deceived. Look very well and you will see “non-alcoholic beer” written on it.

What you lack in beer, you gain in food. There are African restaurants run by Nigerians in many hotels in Dubai. And these foods are relatively cheap. A plate of semovita, wheat, garri, or amala, with egusi, ogbono, okra, bitterleaf, or even ewedu soup is 10 dirham (about N430). This comes with two big pieces of chicken, fish or beef (depending on what you want). Except you are terribly hungry, you will likely not finish the food.

Dubai is the destination point for many Nigerian businessmen and women. In Deira area are shops where you can buy things ranging from shoes, men and women wear, vehicle spare parts, computers and many others.

This is why the Nigerian community is rapidly expanding in this city. Many of our people there are agents who help in procuring visa, hotel accommodation and even container shipment and air cargo for their trusted friends and customers in Nigeria.

Those who wish to come and do the business themselves share hotel rooms to make it cheaper for them. There are hotels everywhere in Dubai. There are some affordable ones in Deira  that go for between N8000 and N12,000 per night.

For the super rich and politicians with mega bucks, there are many five-star hotels around. There is an outstanding one called Burj Al Arab. Some, arguably, call it the world’s most luxurious seven-star hotel. At 321 metres tall, it is designed like a billowing sail of a yacht and said to be the world’s tallest hotel. It has 28 storeys overlooking the Jumeirah Beach. Of course, some Nigerians come there to relax, the expensive rate notwithstanding.

Are you already salivating? Don’t worry. You too can visit there if you wish. Obtaining a visa won’t be much of a problem. There is no visa interview, for the UAE has no embassy in Nigeria. All you need do is to contact an agent there who will process the visa for you for about $200. The visa will likely expire after two weeks. Travel agencies can help here if you don’t know any agent in Dubai.

When you succeed in your travel plans, remember to take pictures beside the dancing water; remember to acknowledge that you got the inspiration here. And remember too that Nigeria can be better than Dubai if well managed.

Surely, Abraham’s blessings must be ours!         

Crowd watching dancing water

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Shame of a nation

November 14, 2011

Casmir Igbokwe

We sang, “The Lord that answereth by fire…” with gusto. It was on a Saturday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Dubai. The Catholic Charismatic Movement, populated mainly by Nigerians, organised the fellowship. A friend, Eliseus, had dragged me there to share in the anointing that would supposedly flow that night.

I was in the United Arab Emirates for a short vacation. My experiences made me wear my thinking cap and also come out of my over one-year hibernation from writing. I’m not fully back though. I only wish to address a few issues arising from my observations in Lagos and Dubai.

 First, the head of all the security agencies need to do something drastic to check the level of corruption  at the nation’s international airports. At each security point I passed through at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, security men asked for dollars. I rebuffed them.

In one particular instance, I played along. I offered to give them N1000 instead of dollars. They felt insulted and threatened to delay me. I became furious and wondered how we could reform Nigeria with that type of attitude. One of the men retorted, “Let the reform begin from the top.” Seeing that they couldn’t intimidate me, they let me go.

A certain young lady was not that lucky. She wanted to go for business. Her agent in Dubai told me she had $2000 on her. The security agents wondered where a small girl like her got such an amount of money from. They asked for $300. She didn’t give them. They delayed her and she missed her flight.

Many Nigerians have such sad tales to tell. When an American television showed 60 minutes of corruption in our flagship international airport a few years ago, we fumed. But the truth is that what was reported was a scratch on the surface.

 The head of the security agencies could send undercover agents to visit some of our airports as travellers. Those found to be culpable should be dealt with accordingly.

Or do we not visit international airports in other countries and see how things work? The moment you step into the beautiful Emirates Airport in Dubai, for instance, the meaning of orderliness becomes apparent. You will not see any security agent asking you for dollars. They are business minded and security conscious. The only snag there is that you could be asked to open your eyes for scanning  so wide that you risk developing eye problems.  

Ironically, Nigerians are the people to beware of in Dubai. Some of them try to market some property in the airport. One of them stopped me and made some proposals to me. She had already taken my details and then urged me to go and buy a SIM card for easier contact. The business proposal sounded too good, especially when I had to, as an incentive, spend two nights in a luxury hotel free.

As I was going to buy the SIM, an eagle-eyed security agent, who had watched us from afar, stopped me. He said he knew what the girl was telling me and that I should disregard her. “She is a Nigerian girl who just wants to market some property. That’s how they deceive many Nigerians here. Just go! You will get the SIM cheaper in town,” the man advised. I heeded the advice.

 One thing that drew tears from my eyes was the plight of many Nigerians living in that Arab country. Some of them were doing well in Nigeria before one government policy or the other crippled their business. They came to Dubai with high expectations. But as it is now, many of them are merely existing.

Let’s share a few examples. You can find as many as 12 people living in one room meant for one person. Their bed is six-spring triple bunk. Even in my secondary school days, I never saw triple bunk. What we were used to were double bunks. As Emeka, my old school mate who is now in Dubai, told me, “I was living in a two-bedroom flat with my family in Lagos. Now, see what I have been reduced to.”

Even at that, the rate does not come cheap. It is 3,500 dirham (about N150, 500)per month. Add this to electricity bill, which is about 1, 200 dirham (about N51, 600) per month and you have an idea of how expensive it is to live in Dubai. And this is even at the low cost area called Deira. The business these people do is another story for another day.

One other lesson we need to learn from this country is tolerance. Though largely a Muslim country, Christians are not hindered from practising their religion. The only thing is that Sunday is a normal working day. Both Christians and Muslims worship on Fridays. In fact, opposite St. Mary’s Catholic church is a mosque.

It is also a crime-free city. One can drop one’s bag in the street, come back the next day and still pick it up. This, perhaps, is because the people don’t tolerate any crime. Once you are caught, the law takes its course.

Here in our country, nobody sleeps with two eyes closed. If one is lucky to escape armed robbers, one may not be too lucky with kidnappers. Boko Haram has been terrorising the nation, killing and maiming people especially in the North.

We keep pretending that all is well. The United States issued a travel warning to her citizens in Nigeria. We said that was being alarmist. Niger Delta militants have threatened to resume hostilities if certain conditions were not met. We said they were disgruntled elements. In Port Harcourt, armed robbers shot and killed seven policemen escorting a bullion van and carted away a lot of money. We issued empty threats to  them. The Federal Government said it would remove fuel subsidy and reintroduce toll plazas across the country. We punched the air and said over our dead bodies! State governments say they can’t pay minimum wage of N18,000. Abia’s solution to it was to sack non-indigenes working in the state.

We seem to be permanently unorganised and permanently unorganisable. Many of us have resigned themselves to fate. One of the songs we sang at the earlier-mentioned fellowship I attended, was, “I will never let you go unless you bless me…”

Let us resolve today not to let President Goodluck Jonathan go unless he provides a platform where Nigerians will discuss the basis for their continued existence. Let us not let the governors who have looted our treasury go unless they account for their stewardship. Let us not let the aviation minister go unless she brings sanity to the shame called international airports in Nigeria. Let us not let the local government chairmen go unless they tell us how they spend money they collect for the provision of infrastructure. Let us not let the Minister of Works rest unless he ensures that Benin-Ore Road ceases to be a death trap.

A few minutes after I came back home from Dubai, I heard a knock on my door. It was an evangelist from the Deeper Life Bible Church, Unity District, sharing hand bills. What was on offer? “Miraculous Visitation Crusade 2011.” It was at Toyin Street, Ikeja.

Let us ask ourselves why we always look for miracles instead of  thinking deep about how to bless and liberate ourselves.