- Post 12 February 2013
- Last Updated on 14 February 2013
- By Niyi Egbe
As the big bird noisily inched into the skies gliding over the rocky terrain surrounding Nairobi airport, I was glad that the risky but memorable mission to Kenya was over. All through the carols at the Nairobi Cathedral I couldn’t help but spare occasional thoughts about the reality of terrorist threats in the tourism haven. Just before our vehicle was allowed access into the premises of the church, Kenyan security agencies assured that we had no lethal cargoes. Amazingly, the frisking by security agencies even in God’s house was replicated in parts of the country’s capital.
It is sad; the damage these felons are doing to Kenya, whose economic jugulars is tourism. I keep wondering at whatever reason - that in the name of “God”, a man born of woman would not merely contemplate, but indeed, do detonate the now much familiar lethal instrument of cruelty – the bomb!
Ironically and so sad, most times, their victims hardly would have done them any wrong. Bang, pronto and scores have been forced unto early graves or irreparably maimed as bodies get forcefully dismembered. Tissues, organs, ligaments, bones, visceral, blood and fluid contents receive unsolicited velocity. They become missiles - beautiful creations of a loving God- the dreams of a father and mother blighted in seconds - their suns set undue. Pray, what joy would a man, other than an animal in human skin derive from venting such spleen and angst against a fellow man? Man has become perplexingly bestial, wicked and dark minded. Any wonder a why sad God of all creation lamented in the Holy Scriptures:
“The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” Genesis 6:5-6 NIV
Kenya like my dear Nigeria has had its share of insecurity, thanks to Islamist fundamentalists. On August 7, 1998, the United States embassies in the East African capitals of Dar es Salaam , Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya simultaneously came under bomb shelling, killing hundreds of people. The attacks were linked to local members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and did bring Osama bin Laden and Ayman al- Zawahiri to the radars of the United States security agencies till they were eventually exterminated.
Despite the siege on Kenya by the maleficent Al-Shabaab Islamist militant group operating in the growing axis of terror - most parts of the horn of Africa and East Africa notably Somalia, Sudan and of late Kenya, I was glad at the chance adventure that the spiralling fields of the Nairobi wildlife park afforded. It was impressive that despite being urban, Nairobi still afforded tourists a romance with its rich animal fauna – Ostriches, Wildebeests, Baboons, Crocodiles, Lions, Leopards, migratory birds etc.
As I took my exit and relished the deserved adventure in the cool clime of Nairobi, after two - three hours, I got enthralled by an unfolding strange phenomenon in a barren land. From the vantage height aboard Kenyan Airways flight KQ 306, I could see a stretch of neon lights whose golden - yellow flickers pierced the skies. There was as well, the irony that getting to reach them was becoming uncomfortably long. The scenario presented itself like a mirage - that natural phenomenon that frustrates many thirsty travelers, especially ones navigating sun scorching deserts.
We travelled several kilometers and given that we were at jet speed, you wonder what quanta of energy was being consumed in by the arid Arabian wonder – Dubai. I had to prepare my mind to demystify the well told stories of the oil rich kingdom on the Persian Gulf. That city has of course been popularized by many a trader who deal in assorted wares from the Emirate. I kept learning that the jewel in the Arabian Desert was a meeting point for several cultures. However, for the traders, they are happy that trips had always translated to smiling home to the banks - thanks to patronage from an increasing clientele base. Their consolation was that they had access to imported goods at prices relatively cheaper than the more expensive ones from Europe.
The Dubai International Airport was an impressive and intimidating introduction to what oil wealth could imply. There were all sorts of elevations, trekking you distances, rolling and gliding you downward or upward. There were options that all could employ, be you able bodied or physically challenged. The environs were spick-and - span with beautiful lighting that chased off ever appearance of darkness. You followed on in compelled sobriety, intimidated at what oil money could buy. The conveniences also showcased panache’; clean, largely automated and despite the traffic, were well deodorized
After about twenty minutes of the largely automated glide to the immigrations, you meet a large crowd of fellow pilgrims seeking ingress unto the kingdom. The officials wore obvious pride – they flaunted unashamedly through their dress culture – largely immaculate white kaftans and mottled head gears that they are Arabs, descendants of Ishmael. Immigration officials busied themselves enquiring where visitors intended to reside, mission … name it!
I noticed some soldiers in crisp light green khakis who were engrossed in discussions among themselves, seemingly carefree. Thankfully, their guns weren’t crudely advertised. More senior immigration officials darted up and down sorting out issues. They were engrossed in conversations that had to be in the native Arabic. Generally, all went about affairs as if there couldn’t be any alarm. You are advised not to be deceived at the seeming carefree disposition. You would also be observing firm refusal to clear and in such events, the visitor gets advised to sort their predicament with some other dedicated officials.
As you make your way through the immigration, you would be smart if you realize that you are being “trailed”. Unsolicited, you receive a welcoming baptism - some marketers are there to beckoning you to help yourself with “attractive” offers – a free trip round the Burj khalifa, the world’s highest man made building. They are also clever enough quick to offer more options - boat ride, a free night … name it. They pester on to sustain your interest and rudely seek your details. First timers, usually their primary targets, should be worried about such desperation. Should you avail them of your contact, be sure of intrusion into your privacy for two – three or four days. This introduction should convey to the discerning that surviving in Dubai, as is the case with cosmopolitan cities must have its challenges too.
You get relieved as you make your way out to see beautiful and neat cream coloured taxis that are mostly chauffeured by Indians and Arabs relatives of Africa and Eastern Europe. Most commercial buildings were adorned with several advertisements. Also beautiful well architectured, lit public buildings and offices of corporate bodies sustain your admiration. As you seek some respite for your weary limbs, you needn’t worry much as there are options of accommodation that are largely affordable, but need consent to the legal request of depositing your passport. You could then take a deserved dose to prepare for shopping in the city that hardly sleeps.
Dubai is a melting point of several cultures. Tolerable and alluring immigration requirements helps it with streams of visitors – jetsam, flotsam, name it. It is conveniently located for easy access by continental Europe. It is of course within the reach of neighbouring Arabian countries especially those on the Persian gulf and then the near and far east. This unique location has facilitated its rise to becoming a commercial city and as well becoming an unavoidable hub. Emiratis are wise for it as there are further ambitious plans to expand the airport to becoming one of the world’s busiest and largest. ……What wouldn’t these people buy with money?
Dubai permits several cultures to showcase their wares, ply their trade and co-exist. You could predict Indians or Arabs of Middle East and African descent to ride your taxis. They would also attend to you as hotel guides. The Chinese and Indians would serve at the restaurants, shopping malls and super markets. Dubai obviously is good ground for economic migrants. The economic ill tide in Europe is having Europeans – discovering the virgin market. Italians could be trusted to carry on their fashion prowess everywhere they go.
What seemed convenient for Africans is going shopping. A shop owner let me know that Nigerians, Zaireans and Angolans are kings in this turf. In his view, they always seemed poised to outdo themselves in shopping. I did a bit of investigating. I was always curious to know patrons of some of the quite expensive furnishing or clothing or jewelry shops. They would always confirm that they hail from those three countries. A shop keeper did explain that Angolans had an interesting renown – they would hardly bargain or haggle. It seemed like, name the price and they will pay – can you see the impact of easy-win oil money? The Zairean case would be understandable – being one of the most resource rich countries on the continent. As for Nigerians – Oxford Street, London would always attest to our prowess and penchant for going on shopping spree!
Some shop owners seemed much at home with Nigerians. We met a quite elderly Syrian and after haggling over prices surprisingly asked what area of Nigeria my wife and I came from. Upon realizing that we live in Lagos, he reached out from a worn carton where he had inscribed the words: “ko din” – Yoruba words that mean last price. We saw the Hausa and Ibo versions of the same words. Some other traders simply entertained you with Nigerian music and danced for you – all to get at your pocket! They had mastery in the act and if you are gullible, you would make losses or where unlucky, you pick fake items for the price of originals. Beware!
Never make the mistake that security is slack in Dubai. But for the visible presence of seemingly cocky security personnel at the airport, I couldn’t recall seeing any uniformed official all through our weeklong stay. I keep asking myself if anything was amiss. Are Nigerian security agents smarter than those of the Emirate? Gun toting soldiers and Policemen are somewhat omnipresent in my beloved Nigeria. They convey the impression that Nigeria is at war. Thanks, the new Inspect General of Police, Abubakar for thinking up our liberty from such siege. He asked Policemen off the road, a feat that should win him crowning as Nigerian man of the year 2012!
There were two incidents that educated me that policing didn’t need to be so crude as to wield guns that have sent several souls to an early grave through accidental discharge. We intended a trip to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirate. We were convinced by some transporters to board an unbranded taxi that was to be driven by an Indian national. We became worried and protested the uncomforting trek to where the car was parked. Unknown to us, the dude parked that distant in order to avoid security agencies. He did his best sustaining our interest. However, we were oblivious that he was being trailed. Before we knew it, a man in plain clothing accosted him and politely dismissed us, booking him and enlightening us that the would-be chauffeur was up to an illicit game – running an unlicensed taxi! We gladly scampered away.
At another time I had purchased an item that didn’t function as advertised. Tried as I would to have the shop owners change it, they gave a flimsy excuse that they were stock-taking. I enlightened them that I was due back to Nigeria that day and requested a rethink. All appeals turned to deaf ears. In frustration I threatened to reach the Police over it. It did the trick. Pronto, they consulted and had it replaced. They obviously didn’t want anything to do with Emirati Police!
I couldn’t imagine a visit Dubai without reaching the Burj Khalifa – the world’s highest man-made building. No one would escape the glistering edifice whose electrification especially its noticeable swirling lighting is said to be capable of electrifying a small city. The half mile tall skyscrapers magnificently inches unto the skies. A skyward view of the Burj Khalifa and a nearby brown sky scrapper gave a frightening impression that they could collapse especially as clouds drifted past them. This was sure a tourist destination and the Dubai planning authorities had ensured ease of transportation in the modern and alluring city buses and High speed electro - train. In the vicinity is also the famed Dubai Shopping Mall. Here, the rich are humbled at the expensive request on their pockets. Undoubtedly, the visit to the Burj khalifa, the Gold Market and its unbelievable worth, the Shopping Mall and the ride on the speed train are memories that visitors to the Emirate would ever cherish.
Night life in Dubai unveils volumes of the potential in catalyzing economic turn-around where there is security and peace. Shopping go on virtually round the clock. The streets and its neon lighting get the city truly alluring. Methink there is some romance with the nightfall as some of the Arab indigenes find solace in the cover of darkness to showcase their sleek limousines accompanied of course by the kid, spouse or concubine? What is success without a loved one - spouse or family to share with? Hotels obviously relish the dark too, making brisk businesses from those who would love to spoil themselves with the good things of life.
One last thing about Dubai, I was glad that the city afforded me the relief from the westernized food cultures that Nairobi offered. The city that never sleeps had room for African dishes that would give the Iya Alamala or the Nne churning out Isi ewu or the Ete and his offers of Affang or is it Edikiakong a run for their monies.