I did not think unravelling 15 years of my life in Dubai would take less than 15 minutes and cost just Dh125. All it needed was to walk into a typing centre in Al Jaffiliya and tell the owner that I wished to cancel my residence visa.
He directed me to Counter 7, which was a table in front of me that had snaking, dusty wires connected to a dusty power strip, and a busy Bangladeshi behind the table speaking to someone on the phone about the progress of their application.
While I had grown wider around the waist and appeared to have become shorter over the years, things seemed not to have changed much at this typing centre. I remember walking into it many years ago and finding a person from my hometown managing it.
He had been running the centre for the past 20 years, he had said. I wrote a story about him in our paper and now 35 years later he was not in his chair, but there was a younger version of him with a beard sitting in the same place. The typing centre is in a corner of the complex housing the GDRFA. Over the years the department underwent a name change from the Department of Naturalisation and Residency Dubai (DNRD), that everyone referred to simply as the immigration department, to the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs Dubai, as the number of expatriates in the emirate grew exponentially.
“Sponsor’s letter,” said the Bangladeshi. “My wife is the sponsor,” I said, and started to tell a joke about how it is being under the sponsorship of a wife in a patriarchal society, when he cut me short and said, “Madam’s passport”.
A few minutes later he handed me a printed form and said I would get an email from the department about the cancellation. “No need to get the passport stamped’? I asked. He said everything is now computerised, and I prayed that hackers would take a day off until my papers were processed.
When I reached home after driving in the scorching heat of Dubai summer, I got an email from the department saying that my request had been processed and the file number has been cancelled. I was advised to leave the country within four days or change my status. “Please find a copy of the cancellation printout attached with this email,” it said.
“That is that,” I told my wife. “No,” she said. “You have to drive to Oman and return to get a visit visa on the passport. Remember we leave only in July.”
“Some people can never say goodbye,” I muttered under my breath.
“What’s next?” I said and opened my Evernote. There was stuff to be done like taking the cat to a pet spa, get her shots, selling the car, cancelling the apartment lease (our friends advised us against leaving as we had a great bargain and were still paying Dh50,000 for a two bedroom in The Gardens in Dubai!).
I went to the bank and requested a non-resident account to be opened. The banker refused saying that he did not know what I would use the money for.
“We stopped opening such accounts,” he said, then thought for a while and asked whether I had property in Dubai. Seems like everyone has property in Dubai and is a landlord or a landlady, except us.
It still has not hit me yet that I am finally leaving Dubai. Maybe when everything is marked off the To Do list, I will sob on my friend’s shoulder and bemoan the fast passing away of the years.
Or, then again, I may return like the prodigal son and be sitting somewhere in the Dubai Free Zone waiting for Summer Surprises.
Mahmood Saberi is a freelance journalist based in Dubai. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ mahmood_saberi.