Thursday, April 21, 2011

Moving in Abu Dhabi: A very, very long story

The bottom line in the UAE, when it comes to moving house or doing anything at all, actually, is this: Expect it to be a massive, major hassle. That way, when things do work out, you'll be happy and pleasant to deal with and not a stark-raving lunatic who fulfills every spoiled expatriate stereotype there is.

I found out I had to move house when I was informed by my company that my one-bedroom flat within walking distance of work was no longer going to be a company flat and was going up in price, meaning I would have to sign an inflated one-year contract that necessitated getting the company to front me the money. Since moving here, I have avoided such nonsense like the plague. Rent has been ridiculous in Abu Dhabi (upwards of US$30,000 a year, that kind of thing) and the idea of living in a month-to-month situation is much more relaxing to me than essentially making myself responsible for Dh100,000. You know what I mean?

 If I didn't stay in the flat, I had 24 days to get out. Initially panic set in. But luckily I arranged more reasonably-priced accommodation in a beautiful penthouse flat downtown and all was good. I had some second guessing when word came back that we could stay in the flats, and for only Dh75,000 a year, but by then it was too late and I'd committed to the other place. (That does go to show you just how much rents have come down in Abu Dhabi)

I spoke to the building manager in person in the lobby one morning, informing him I would be moving out. He kept sending me back upstairs for papers: A residency visa copy, a passport copy. I thought it all a bit odd, really, considering I was leaving. He mentioned nothing about handing over keys. When a representative of the the management company phoned a week later, informing me that my new rental contract was ready, I realised that the most important element of the discussion had been majorly lost in translation.

Anyway, all that to say is I moved out yesterday. Zaheera, the Sri Lankan fixer masquerading as a cleaner who has major wasta in Abu Dhabi after 24 years and frequently saves my life, arranged for some pals to pack my stuff, move it, and take away anything I didn't want.

Yesterday was interesting. You know when you are in a taxi in Abu Dhabi and the driver asks you five times about the location, and you just keep repeating yourself and think 'what is the problem'? That is what it was like yesterday. After Zaheera departed, her friend asked me at least eight times what was happening. Granted, it was a tiny bit complicated as I had to pick up some furniture at another flat in Manasir and drop a fridge off at Zaheera's in Karama, but not really. Plus, she explained it all to him before she left. Still, it went kind of like this, all day.

Him: After, Manasir?

Me: Yes

Him: Then old flat?

Me: No, new flat.

Him: Manasir then new flat, ya?

Me: New flat, ya.

Him: First Manisir, then new flat, ya?

Me: Yes.

Him: When Karama?

Me: After new flat, then old flat, get fridge, then Karama.

Him: Karama first?

Me: No, Manasir first, then new flat, then old flat, then fridge, THEN Karama.

Him: New flat now?

Me: Sigh.

The move started at 9am and ended after 6pm with me holing up in the Holiday Inn (I am leaving on vacation today and decided to avoid unpacking until after I return) ordering two glasses of wine from room service before collapsing into bed.

Today I ran around, tying up loose ends, cancelling electricity, internet and cable. Of course it would not be that easy. The Abu Dhabi Distribution Company (ADDC) building where I signed up for electricity, two years ago, the one they said to go to when I phoned this morning, the one off Al Falah, behind the police station? You can't cancel your electricity there anymore, the security told me. Instead I regrouped, and took a taxi to Abu Dhabi Mall to cancel my Orbit/Showtime package. The man working there very much did not want to take my remote and cable box, which I needed to unload as I am temporarily in hotel with only a suitcase before leaving for vacation. I persuaded him to take it, but of course to cancel I had to phone their customer relations team. Then I was handed to a technician who said she would forward my request to the company's "cancellation team", which would get back to me in 48 hours. Sigh, another task not completed.

I jumped in a cab at that point and headed for the Etisalat building I signed up for internet at oh so long ago. Long-time readers might remember that endurance and sanity-testing exercise, if not, here's a rundown. By now it's 3.30pm and guess what? It's closed from 3-5pm daily. 

I don't skip a beat before suggesting to my taxi driver, who thinks I am nuts, that we head to Marina Mall. Downstairs, at the ADDC counter the security guards directed me to, is a lineup of at least 15 people. Two men working the counter. As I stand in line, conducting a one-woman deep-breathing exercise, I hear the beginnings of an argument behind me. An expat woman is very calmly telling the Emirati man behind me that "it's just not fair when there are two sets of rules". At this point I desperately want to know what the problem is, and curse myself for not being further along in Arabic when the man mutters something to his friend about it. (My snippets of conversation are so far limited to numbers and days of the week - not very illuminating)

Some 30 minutes later, I am in front of an ADDC representative, telling him I am cutting off my power. The first thing he says is "inshallah" and I mentally kick myself not to get irritated. I mean, what exactly is "inshallah" about it? You work for the company, you are in front of a computer, I am asking you to cut it off, I don't owe any money, right?

He tells me I have to be at the house to let in the guy who is going to cut it off. This, to me, is utterly new. The switch to activate my electricity is inside the house? Am I nuts for thinking this is strange? Anyhoo, "inshallah" the watchman will let this man in on Sunday to cut off the power, as I will be out of the country. In retrospect I should have cut off the electricity earlier, but the experience of some colleagues who went without power for a week when they did this a year ago made me wait until I no longer needed it.

Electricity is not finished either, of course. When I return, inshallah if it has been cut off, I can obtain my deposit and my "electricity clearance letter", which I then owe to my employer.

 Lastly I went to cut off my Internet at Etisalat. And here's where expecting the worst really paid off. I took a number, 917, and headed for the ladies room. That's when I heard it. The most beautiful sound in the world. The Etisalat woman, saying "917".

And so the day ended with just a few sharp words from yours truly to assorted characters I met. I could have been kinder to the security guards at that original ADDC building. There was the cab driver who seemed to be taking the long way around, that is a trip that I wish I could do over. There are still loose ends, the electricity clearance letter, a missing key, the Showtime "cancellation team" that needs to spring into action.

If you read to the end of this, thank-you. If you live in the UAE, you know exactly what I've been talking about. If you are somewhere else, just be glad you don't.

1 comment:

Leah Reiter said...

awesome. some of your points are exactly why i'm living in a weirdly furnished apartment. we won't have to cancel anything, and can leave the bulk of everything behind. but no, i'm sure it won't be that easy. inshallah.