gn reader reeshma rafi at expo 2020 dubai
Gulf News reader Reeshma Rafi and her husband visit Expo 2020 Dubai at least once a week. Image Credit: Reeshma Rafi/Gulf News reader

A traveller at heart with a love of cultures, Dubai resident Reeshma Rafi had to put her globetrotting plans on hold – much like the rest of us, this year. But it’s a bit more complicated than that for the 26-year-old expecting mum, whose visits to the doctor are her only escape from bedrest. Fast forward to December 2021, Reeshma has nearly seen all of the world from her Expo 2020-provided wheelchair, right here in Dubai.

“I was advised not to walk a lot. I’m 28 weeks pregnant, and since my pregnancy is a complicated one, I was prescribed bedrest until the eighth month,” Reeshma wrote to Gulf News in a readers’ email. She later explains over an interview that the advice came after she experienced subchorionic bleeding, a rare condition during pregnancy when blood pools between the embryo and the uterine wall.

“In the past seven months, I’ve only been to the doctor’s and Expo,” she added.

gn reader reeshma rafi at expo 2020 dubai
Gulf News reader Reeshma poses for the camera inside the Austria Pavilion. Image Credit: Reeshma Rafi/Gulf News reader

Seeing the world from her wheelchair

Reeshma makes it a point to visit the world fair at least once a week, backpacking 10 pavilions in one go. This travel schedule has helped her cover more than a 100 of the 192 country pavilions at the world fair so far. And all the credit goes to her “travel-holic” husband, she says, who has actually been to 31 countries plus the Antarctica.

“The Expo 2020 venue is just 15 minutes away from our residence in Remraam, but we couldn’t visit even once because I was advised not to walk much. Having been born and brought up in Dubai and living just around the corner, I was sad that I couldn’t make it. And then one fine evening my husband rang me up and asked me to get to ready and that we were going to Expo,” said Reeshma.

gn reader reeshma rafi at expo 2020 dubai
Reeshma and her husband outside the Switzerland Pavilion. Image Credit: Reeshma Rafi/Gulf News reader

It took a wheelchair and a solid support system for the expecting Indian mum to set the record. The couple wheels in and out of pavilions, collecting stamps in their Expo passports, gathering travel brochures and learning about various cultures.

“One of our main reasons for visiting Expo is that we are a travel couple – we like to know more about each country in the world. So we gathered information from each pavilion for when we travel in the future,” she said.

Seamless experience, hospitable staff

At Expo, visitors can lease wheelchairs for free on a first-come, first-serve basis at each entrance and all Visitor Centres. Spanning 4.38 square kilometres, the site and its offerings pose no challenge for Reeshma, especially since the staff has been so accommodating, she notes.

“We go there, park our car, take the shuttle to the gates then get a wheelchair. The staff is so good; they helped us a lot. Even the pavilion staff would open the door for us from a distance. I’ve received so much care. They were very interested in talking to us about their countries,” she added.

gn reader reeshma rafi at expo 2020 dubai
The expecting mum hopes to buckle down on all 192 country pavilions soon. Image Credit: Reeshma Rafi/Gulf News reader

Of all the pavilions, Reeshma and her husband were quick to put Slovenia on their travel list. The country pavilion is located in the Sustainability District, with its leafy fixtures and wooden construction, surrounded by a shallow pool.

“We didn’t know it was so nature friendly and attractive with many adventurous activities. We’re now planning to visit Slovenia,” said Reeshma.

More Expo visits are still on the books for the couple, who hope to clear all pavilions soon: “We will try to go twice a week, whenever it is not too crowded.”