Living in the UAE tests the patience from time to time - most of us who have moved here accept that and do our best to cope. But in the 14 months I've lived here nothing has quite tested my patience – not to be too dramatic, but at times my very sanity – like trying to get an internet connection. Etisalat is, quite simply, the most discombobulated company I have ever had the misfortune to become involved with.
Some 3.5 months ago I wandered into the Etisalat offices on Muroor Road to sign up for a wireless connection. As the fellow behind the big, granite desk filled in my user card I had an intuitive moment. "This isn't going to happen," something deep inside said.
And it didn't. I called. I called again. I called more times. I yelled into the phone. When I can flip open my lap top to see a half-dozen of my neighbours' connections (locked - I would steal them to avoid aggravation, oh yes I would, in a heartbeat), when the fellow who lived in the apartment just 3.5 months ago had a wireless connection, hearing "there is a problem with your port, ma'am" over and over started to turn me into a mentalist.
On one particularly memorable call, I had this exchange with an attendant:
ME: "So a technician will be coming?"
HIM: "Tomorrow. (pause) Or next week (longer pause) - "
ME: (Thinking) Don't you dare say it
I went down to the Virgin counter in Abu Dhabi Mall, because my friends told me the Filipino guy with the shaved head who works there really knows what's going on - perhaps more than any of Etisalat's own employees. He told me I should go to the head office, cancel my first service, and then come back down to him and sign up again. Can't you just cancel it? I asked. No ma'am, he replied. Then, the morning after I returned from Australia, a knock on the door.
"We're here to hook up your internet ma'am". Filled with hope, I set to making coffee and let them get to work. Several minutes passed. "Ma'am?" I heard. "Ma'am, we cannot hook up your internet."
THEM: "Because you have no connection."
ME: "Yyou can't hook up my internet connection, because I have no connection?"
THEM: "Yes ma'am."
Turns out the dudes were from an Etisalat team that is switching the building over from copper to fibreoptics. I cannot get either, apparently.
I spent 2.5 hours at Etisalat's head office on Airport Road last week, which was eye-opening, if not fruitful or resulting in an internet connection. As you can see, it's a shiny lovely building. That's nice, I thought, as I was shuttling between the fourth and third floors. Third floor to sign up, fourth floor to see about the application, third floor so they can call the engineer.
"I am sorry," I overheard a weary-looking expat man say to one of the attendants. "It's just that I spend so many hours here."
For awhile, I chatted with Fayyed. He was there with his little boy, and told me he has been paying monthly visits for more than a year now. In May 2008, Etisalat overcharged him for 610 dirhams - about $150 Cdn. It has never been repaid. Are you ever going to give up? I asked.
"Maybe," he said, looking at his seven-year-old, who sat swinging his legs under the chair. "But I am better off with it. I'll buy a toy for my kid. He likes yo-yos."
I watched as another woman gathered up her bags and stormed off from her wicket, rolling her eyes, shaking her head and exhaling loudly. Having a total strop, basically.
The morning after the head office marathon, as my blood pressure levels had just started to return to normal, I had an early morning knock on the door. Three men holding boxes of things were outside. "We are from Etisalat ma'am," said their leader. "We are here about the internet connection."
Instantly hopeful again, I let them straight in, failing to realise I was still in pyjamas. Again, I set about making coffee, perhaps whistled a snippet of a happy tune. Until ...
THEM: "Ma'am, we cannot hook up the internet connection."
THEM: "Because ma'am you don't have an internet connection."
An hour later as I headed out to go to the gym, another Etisalat fibre-optic enabler approached me. "I need to set up your internet connection," he said. "You are this flat?"
"Please don't knock on my door again," I said, wearily. Defeated, even.
He knocked on my neighbour Tom's next, and as the elevator doors closed, I could hear Tom saying "you've already been here – you've already hooked it up."
I spent a half-hour on the phone this week, alternately yelling - yes I was yelling - and pleading with the woman on the other end. This is where my sanity really started to waver, as I heard myself saying things like "I am very far from home and I need internet" and "can I just ask you, YOU, to care about my case and make sure something is done?" She explained it appeared as though I had just signed up for it the day before, and not in March, and it would be at least 10 days before I would see a technician. That's when I, a grown woman who more than a year ago got on an airplane with four suitcases for parts unknown all by myself, hung up the phone. And cried.
"That's it," I told my friend at work. "I give up. I am never getting it."
The next day at 7am I had a call from Matthew, an Etisalat employee. He was wondering when he could come back to hook me up. For real - not a fibreoptic pipe dream.
I'd like to tell you I have internet access. I don't. Matthew did spend two hours at my apartment on Thursday, installing gadgets and boxes and wires that don't seem to be connected to anything or communicating with my laptop in any discernable manner. At one point he asked how to find his USB stick on my desktop; I sighed and showed him, and then told him I had to get back to work. Ducking out for what was promised to be a 20-minute endeavor and failing to return had severely spiked my cortisol levels.
Nonetheless, I have his mobile number, and he assures me he will come back, at my convenience, and sort this *&^%ing (profanity mine) business out. Parting words, from dear, sweet Matthew?
"Etisalat is working for you."