At last I had my first international trip, and not only international but an international business trip. After a long wait when I almost left the hope to get a chance for a customer presentation abroad, the opportunity suddenly hit my way through a phone call from my ex-reporting manager. Can you do it, he asked. “Ofcourse yes”, was my answer. So a phone call finally settled the first experience I have been craving for.
Even though I said yes, I still had my own inhibitions in terms of why I am being sent for this inspite of other options available. I tried to juggle off the feeling convincing myself that I am the right choice. But there was some eerie feeling, some intuition which I was not able to comprehend. Nevertheless, the opportunity was mine and I need to do well. I carried on with this feeling and started working towards it only to realize that international travelling is not as rosy as it looks. Visa, passport, idiotic ticket choices, follow up, forex, laptops, etc etc..the list were endless. I was atleast happy of the fact that my colleague and close friend Ashwin was travelling with me, only to my dismay that at the last moment his Visa got screwed up.
I was obviously disappointed, and with no choices left I had to focus on completing the presentation and other activities single handedly. Days passed with endless reviews of presentation, editing the deck, series of dry-runs, follow up for my visa….puff..puff!!! Finally I was set to fly to Mumbai and from there to Riyadh. One of the best parts of this trip was the chance to meet my closest buddies in Mumbai almost after two years. We all met and had a good time together catching up with loads of things.
The flight to Bahrain from Mumbai was an experience I can never forget. I never thought the kind of crowd that travel to Middle East Countries. I witnessed the mass exodus of Indians to Middle East countries to become drivers, sweepers, and few even to work as labors. I was intrigued to know the reason for such mass exodus, which I finally got after speaking to few of them. It all boils down to money they make and save by working in Middle East countries. There was also some element of psychology of going abroad I found in their reasoning. If they would be doing the same job here, the money earned is not sufficient to support their family. Also, everyone in their social circle looks at them with the proud satisfaction “arey, yeh to videsh main kaam karta hai”!!
So much so, I mumbled to myself that everyone has their own reasons. I had a halt at Bahrain airport for an hour which I utilized in fine-tuning the presentation. On reaching Riyadh, I got the final taste of International trip. It took me more than 3 hours to clear the immigration, thanks to the lousy and indifferent immigration officers. They were stamping one passport in minimum 15 odd minutes and taking breaks every now and then to mock at the crowd standing in the queue. Finally after much ordeal, I managed to get my passport stamped only to figure out that there was no one to receive me at the exit. It was almost 4 hours since my flight landed and the person who would have come to pick me must have left. The next thing I had in my mind is to get the currency exchanged. After wandering here and there to find out the forex exchange counter, I finally spotted one. I went to the counter and handed out few hundred dollar bills. To my astonishment, the sheikh sitting at the counter refused to take the money and closed the counter. I dint understand the reason for his rudeness and looked helplessly at others. I heard someone speaking in hindi, and plunged at him for his help. He explained me the reason for this sudden closing of counter. It was 3:30 PM and was a prayer time in Saudi, and during the prayers everything gets closed. He was true as I saw every single shop at the airport was shut down. The prayer break was for half an hour.
So, there I was, stranded at Riyadh airport where no one was there to receive me and I have no currency to make a phone call as well (my mobile was not on international roaming) . Meanwhile I was waiting for the counter to get reopened; I saw a sheikh walking after 20-25 min and sat at the customer service desk. I went to him and requested him to make one call from his phone. To my relief, he agreed and then I got the chance to speak to the local person who was supposed to pick me. Luckily, he was still there at the airport and I told him my current location. The counter got opened and I exchanged crisp notes and finally met the pickup guy.
The hotel arrangement was fantastic. The room was booked in a good five-star hotel where I met my other colleagues who travelled from different places for this customer presentation.
You must be thinking that everything from now would have gone better without any hiccups. But me being me, problems never leaves me. What happened while my stay is a different story, but I can say I had a good learning experience in the entire trip. The three day stay at Riyadh was a good exposure – the customer presentation (which went on a different direction though), my sudden participation in a conference at the last moment when I was about to take to taxi to the airport, my one day extended stay, etc. Tough but I feel may be thats how it was supposed to be.
On my way back I had a six hour halt at Bahrain Airport thanks to the organization’s policy to issue the cheapest ticket possible :). And if I say the world is small, you gotta believe this coz I met my friend at Bahrain Airport (He works in Bahrain and was going home and his flight got delayed). We spent good time chatting and buying stuffs from the duty free shop. One of my prized buy was two bottles of Jack Daniels.
After all this, I desperately wanted to be back to my place. Indeed India is our home and feels great to be back home. What a trip it was!! A life-time experience indeed!!
Few funny notes:
(a) The person sitting next to me in the flight was a complete copy-cat. When I asked for the headphone, he did the same. When I changed the direction of AC blower, he did the same. When I opened the magazine, he just followed it. And this was not enough as when I asked the air-hostess to drop few cubes of ice in my juice, he did the same but dint ask the air-hostess but asked me to ask her to put ice-cubes in his drink 🙂
(b) The above was from Mumbai to Bahrain. The person sitting next to me from Bahrain to Riyadh was another disaster. We were given the Immigration form and need to fill it up. This guy ate my head and finally blew me off when he asked “kya yeh sab bharna LAAZMI hai kya?”. I was like what is LAAZMI…..i dint have the courage to ask him. But I had to fill his form though!
(c) Dint get a chance to see a single female face in Riyadh as all of them were covered 😦
(d) Heated argument with a Pakistani taxi driver over the strained relationship of India & Pakistan
(e) While returning back, two fellow passengers lying at the aisle, sleeping indifferently
And many more……but I will keep aside few only for me !!
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