Pakistani and vacationing in the Middle East? Think again!
I am sure you have had one of those conversations in which you end up making a random plan with a friend. Well, that is what happened to me. I have a friend in Jeddah and while talking to him, we realised that we had not met in a long time and hence, I made a plan to take a short trip to Dubai.
He was going to travel from Jeddah and he managed to find a flight but I could not get a ticket. However, I have crossed international borders before by road, to the Far East and to India via the Khokrapar-Munabao train, so I decided to take the Dammam-Dubai bus route.
This route is managed by Saudi Arabia’s national transport company, SAPTCO. I asked my travel agent in Pakistan to arrange a United Arab Emirates (UAE) visa for me and on October 14, 2013, I was on my way to Dubai.
My UAE visa did not specify if I was allowed entry via road, which made me a little nervous. However, when I reached the UAE immigration booth at the border, I was granted entry without any objections. I cannot explain the relief and happiness I felt at that moment – I was in for an adventure and all the roads seemed to be opening up for me.
After spending two spectacular, fun-filled days with my friends in Dubai, I returned to the bus terminal at Dera, for my return to Dammam, on October 17. Post a six-hour journey, we reached the UAE side of the border and proceeded to immigration where the officer stamped my passport with the exit stamp.
The bus drove us to the Saudi side of the border, which is about three kilometres away from the UAE border. Once again, we stepped out of the bus and approached the immigration counter. When my turn came, the officer looked at my visa and asked me to step aside. I stepped out of the line, thinking optimistically that the officer would return my passport to me after first dealing with Saudi nationals, since citizens tend to have priority during immigration.
This did not happen.
He said something to me in Arabic, which I obviously did not understand, and returned my passport without stamping an entry on it.
Now, I was really surprised and a little nervous.
Just then the bus driver walked by and the immigration officer said something to him in Arabic. The only words that I could decipher were dakhool (entry) and taera (airplane). I connected the dots and guessed that he was saying that I could not enter through this port on this visa. However, since I had been granted an exit from the same port, I was quite convinced that he was mistaken.
The bus driver then guided me to another room where a senior immigration officer was busy playing the Arabic version of Angry Birds. I tried to explain to him that his colleague was not allowing me to enter Saudi Arabia, despite having a return ticket issued by the government authority and a valid visa. I also told him that I had been allowed to exit from the same port only two days ago. Looking at me disdainfully, he simply shrugged his shoulders and continued with his 399th level of Angry Birds.
Then the driver dropped another bombshell on me.
He asked the officer to address the matter as soon as possible since I would not be allowed entry back in the UAE either. Like a broken record, the official kept saying the same thing in Arabic, which to me seemed that the only way I would be allowed entry would be via air. By this time, my mind had given out, and for the life of me, I could not think of a solution to this crisis.
What the driver did next, was simply unbelievable. He off-loaded my luggage from the bus and asked me to walk back towards UAE.
I looked at him incredulously. How could he expect me to walk three kilometres, on a dark and deserted road?
How was I expected to explain my case to the UAE officials?
In spite of repeated pleas and requests, he simply did not seem to care and left me there, all the while readying his other passengers for their trip to Saudi Arabia. Scared and dumbfounded, I started walking towards the UAE border, all the while cursing my fate.
About 30 minutes into the walk, I saw a bus coming from Saudi Arabia and I frantically signaled to the bus, hoping that it would stop. Fortunately it did and after explaining to the driver why I was walking between borders in broken Arabic, English and sign language, I finally managed to convince him to take me to UAE.
Once there, I tried to explain to the officials, unsuccessfully, that I wanted a re-entry into the UAE since I had not been allowed to enter Saudi Arabia.
Just when I was losing all hope and imagining the worst of circumstances, I found an Urdu speaking officer to whom I explained the entire situation. After listening to my case, he took my passport and left. The worst case scenario, I imagined, was that UAE officials would not allow me entry either, and I would have to spend my time between border areas, until my travel agent arranged a new UAE visa for me. With dread, I thought that I would not be able to stay for that long on the border.
Eventually, I stopped thinking and began praying instead.
After about an hour, the officer returned with a letter from the Interior Ministry. He explained that he had managed to get my exit cancelled. He handed me the letter and instructed me to give it to the officials while making the exit.
I cannot express the gratitude I felt for this kind soul. He had literally saved me from spending a night or more on the highway! Fortunately, after two hours of waiting on the border, a bus carrying Egyptians travelling to Dubai came along and I managed to find a seat with them.
I reached Dubai, caught the first flight leaving for Saudi Arabia and vowed never to try any such adventures in the Middle East ever again!