Dubai: When Peri Abouzeid moved to Dubai in January to marry her long-time friend Khaled Mokhtar, little did she realise that her life with her partner would follow the strangest of trajectories, from Egypt to Mexico to Istanbul and then to the tiny island nation of Maldives, where the couple are still stuck on a never-ending honeymoon, sitting atop rising finances, credit card bills and a desperate attempt to hold on to their jobs.
Peri and Khaled, both from Egypt, got married in Cairo on March 4, and left for Cancun in Mexico on March 8. Like all newlyweds they had planned for a lavish 10-day honeymoon and at the end of it all, they boarded the flight to Dubai via Istanbul on March 19.
Midway in air, totally unaware of what was happening in real time, the couple got a rude shock when they received the news that Dubai was suspending flights and resident visas as part of the precautionary measures of COVID-19.
“We got off our flight in Istanbul, totally stressed, and no one had a clue to what was going on. We had no luggage, no boarding pass, we could not get into Istanbul, and neither could we buy anything from the airport shops, not even toiletries,” Khaled tells Gulf News by phone. For two days, the couple stayed put in the terminal.
“We just managed to get some food. That’s all,” he says. In a desperate attempt to get out of the situation, they tried to find out a country that would still allow them in on their Egyptian passports. It was Maldives. With a “go ahead” from the Maldives Embassy in the UAE, the couple boarded the flight to Male and from there on a sea plane to the Furaveri Island Resort and Spa.
From 48 hours to two months
“At this point we were just happy that we were in Maldives and we were expecting that matters would be sorted out in the next 48 hours.”
The 48 hours has turned to more than two months now, as the couple moved from one resort to the other and are now staying with other stranded tourists at the Olhuveli, Maldives.
Khaled, a telecommunications engineer and Peri, a marketing director, both admit that the honeymoon is long over for them. “We are just trying to figure out how to tide over the financial challenges that we have been hit with,” explains Khaled. “We did not plan for Maldives. We have shelled out US$300 a night on an average at the beginning to now around a US$100 for a room and there are other added costs as well,” he says.
A stronger bond
In a bid to hold on to their jobs, the couple started working from March 22, remotely, borrowing laptops, making calls, logging in through phones, attending online meetings. “Our day is quite busy with work, checking websites for news, looking in to our Tawajudi applications and speaking to family back home,” says Khaled, who feels the only positive thing that has come out of this misadventure has been a stronger bond with his partner.
“Yes we are back to reality and we are trying our best to see how we can reach home. There’s an option to charter a flight with a few other stranded UAE residents, but that would cost us US$400+ per person. But even for that we have to wait for our permits to come in,” he says.
Peri agrees that the cost of this travel has been way more than their combined salaries. “I don’t know how we will manage. We were just starting a life together. I got a new job, I just did a whole lot of furniture shopping before we left to get married, we spent a lot on our wedding and honeymoon and now we’ve got hit with a global crisis. It’s a massive financial strain and we don’t know where it would stop.”
The couple had, for once, considered flying back to Egypt but the exorbitant cost of the tickets and the possibility of a 14-day quarantine in a faraway facility was frightening enough. “Also Egypt had stopped air traffic indefinitely, so we chose to stay back here in Maldives, which we consider much safer than Cairo,” says Peri.
Chartering a flight home
The couple are hoping that the UAE authorities will help give them the permit so that they can at least weigh the option of chartering a flight back home. “We are ready to do whatever it takes to get back, but get back we must. I started my life in a new country, with a new job, a new home and with the man I love. I still haven’t seen anything of Dubai. I am just waiting to be back.”