THE SEVEN STAR BEGINNING – Chapter 3
“Most times, we paint a picture of our journey through life in colours without a canvass, hoping that when the canvass, brushes and paint arrives, we will deliver each stroke perfectly and bring our dreams alive with colours. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don’t, but for every season we must dream and prepare, because the beauty is not just in the painting, but in every stroke that attempts to make it complete. – Abidemi ‘Babaolowo’ Oderinlo.
A few days to my birthday in 2009, Dayo Adeyomoye had arrived in the hostel from work with some loose Dirhams change he’d gotten from changing money for his colleagues that were travelling… I collected the monies from him because I was a bit pensive about visiting Dubai some day and also as the daddy of the house for safe keeping. I brought out the monies from where I kept it on my birthday and took pictures of it and with it, and uploaded it on Facebook with the album tagged “Bday Morning Wif Arab Money”, feeling myself. The total amount of Dirham was AED50 in two AED5 and four AED10, converted to Naira at the prevailing rate of N33 to a Dirham as at then, the total was N1650 (One thousand six hundred and fifty naira only). It wasn’t a lot of money you see, but the fact that it was “Arab Money” made it special and upload worthy so I slammed it on my Facebook page and it is still there till this day. I’d dreamt of visiting Dubai openly, downloaded and watched documentaries about Burj Al Arab, the only 7-Star hotel in the world countless times, and I could almost tell anything you anything about Khuan Chew, the interior designer on why she initially turned down the project but later accepted to designed the interior of the Burj after she was persuaded by Sheikh Mohammed without blinking. Dubai and Burj Al Arab was on my bucket list as destinations reserved for when I become rich enough, I didn’t have plans to visit as a broke ass because my target was the luxury, but little did I know.
Luxury was not in my head as we headed to the airport to board the Emirate Flight from Lagos to Dubai on the 12th of June 2011. I was practically going with a whole team for a training and it was like going to catch a regular flight from Lagos to Abuja or Kano, the only difference was that I wasn’t heading to Abuja or Kano this time. We wore “to-match”, all dressed in white and pink with cream hats as we crossed the length of the terminal. Even the blind turned to catch a glimpse because we became the cynosure of all eyes at the departure lounge; just imagine fifteen grown-ups in matching formal attire, lining up to board an Emirate Airline flight on a warm Sunday evening. It was something you only see the flight crew do but we did it exactly nine years ago. Boarding was easy except that I had to almost strip naked at the gate that led to the boarding terminal for the normal airport checks. With that exception, the entourage was almost treated like VIPs. We took off from Lagos and as soon as we were in the air, I went straight for Fela music on the inflight entertainment menu. I was used to the Aero Contractor air hostess selling sandwiches enroute Kano, so I was a bit surprised when I discovered that we weren’t only going to get two meals on the flight, I had a choice and could also drink as much alcohol as I could get the chance to request. The latter was a later discovery I made a tad too late though, so I didn’t explore it. The Farouq in me wasn’t expecting a Middle-East Airliner to serve alcohol since I knew alcohol was restricted in Dubai, let alone cognac on the trays or bottles of Hennessy XO for sale at the inflight bar but yes, they had it all. Oh! I forgot to tell you that I took the job already? Yes, I did and we were going on that training I mentioned in my previous tale. My boss popped into the economy cabin a few times from First class to check on we the “mekunus”, and it was kind of therapeutic to see him smiling as he checked on everybody, one after the other, every time he did which should be like every other hour on the 6hrs+ flight to Dubai. Don’t dare underrate the Economy class on Emirates, it’s like business class on BA with smaller seats and leg room.
Touch down Dubai and it was like everything I’d seen online before was a lie. The Dubai International Airport was looking softer and a whole lot better than I’d imagined, especially when you’d just left Uncle Murtala’s place. Fine Emirati looking Arabs all dressed in white like grooms, only their ID tags gave them away as airport staffs. We picked up our luggage in minutes, and a few turns and bumps, we went straight through the retina scan and came out at the duty-free section of the airport, led by the Prince himself. The duty-free section was as busy as “Oyingbo market” but it wasn’t time for shopping yet so we moved through the maze. I had resigned to fate that my time on the training will be 100% sober, a period of compulsory abstinence from alcohol and reflection. The info I had was that there was nowhere to get alcohol in Dubai, and it wasn’t going to be a strange year because my service year had been alcohol free as well but nobody warned me about the Duty-Free!
See! When they tell you to “follow who no road”, my brother please do because all we did was follow the leader, and we were led into the sanctuary at the duty-free section of the airport. The store was filled with alcohol from cheek to cheek, and the boss himself simply gave us the pass to pick whatever we wanted before we leave the airport because “this was the only place you can get alcohol in Dubai except you go to a club”. I was reluctant initially but was spurred into action by the action of the ladies among us. While I was busy admiring the bottles, the trolleys were already getting filled with Baileys and I could hear the boss himself suggesting they try the “Tia Maria”. It dawned on me that he meant what he said so I unreluctantly grabbed a bottle of Hennessy VS so that it won’t appear like I was disregarding a direct directive. He stood by and watched since he doesn’t drink, Rekiya stood aside as well because she was Muslim and had no business with alcohol, but I remember Chimobi Nwosu went with the Old No.7 from Tennessee named Jack, and Dayo was all for the Dutchman named Heineken, Nelson had other plans as he picked a mix while others, including Idowu Ogunbayo walked the lines behind, jokey with Basirat Lawal and Bukola Somide in the lead. The drinks were packed and loaded, we headed for the city centre and in 30minutes, we arrive at Hyatt Regency Hotel and Apartments, the place where this local man was going to lay his head for the next few weeks in the good old but now new Dubai.
There was a lot to learn and so little time to learn it, so most of the day was usually spent between classes at the SAE Institute facility on Middlesex University Campus. Classes began in the morning and lasted till sunset every day, assignments and reviews followed so there was no time to do anything other than rest which was limited to relaxing at the pool on the rooftop pool before it’s closed, or coming down the apartments to watch skaters on the Ice Rink rigged into the hotel or a sneak into the Premiere club of the Hyatt which almost never happened. Shopping was a regular for the ladies and they did shop till it entered “Over Do”. On one particular evening, Uche aka “Fish” came to our apartment to invite us to join them to the mall, and Nelson went ballistic on her by asking her “do you think men’s shoe is ten-ten Dirhams like you people’s own”? and he was right, the ladies were buying five shoes for the price of one. We had a bus and driver dedicated to our movement and my people went everywhere at every chance they got to shop. I like it indoor a little so I only went anywhere when the movement is led by the boss himself and that was 50% of the time. I made it a point of duty to always finish the main business before doing anything else, and because I was always too tired, my destination was usually the pool upstairs, or the Dayo’s apartment and I will tell you why. You see! Something happened on the day we arrived in Dubai as soon as we got to the apartments so all of the brew was confiscated except Dayo’s drinks. Dayo was technically untouchable and Dayo was my friend.
Dayo was practically the boss’ PA on this particular Dubai trip. He was on the trip with us but not on the training, his own assignment was Sharjah and printing related. He was one of us but he wasn’t really one of us in a suave way. Dayo had been with the boss longer than all of us (the new recruits), only ID, Basirat and the drivers had known him as long as Dayo did or longer. He was still working with another company as at the time of our recruitment, so we didn’t get to see him at all. He was invited by the boss to join the company from his current employment like ID, Basirat and a few others so he skipped the recruitment process. After the recruitment was done, we were all invited for a photo session to take passport photographs for identification and other documentations that might require pictures. We all assembled at Ilupeju and left for the photo studio together; I didn’t even know Dayo existed at the time until he showed up at the studio in Adebola House on Opebi road for the photo session. We all showed up dressed in new branded purple or white shirts depending on the gender (except ID and Basirat), but Dayo came directly to the studio and wasn’t dressed for the occasion, he was on tees and was the odd one out. Driving to Ilupeju to pick up a branded shirt was not an option because there was bound to be traffic on that route at the time of the day; so instead of being exempted, I gave him my own shirt for the passport photograph session, and he had to hide at the back of everyone for the group photograph. My friend! that was how we became friends. When we arrived in Dubai and all the drinks were confiscated and moved to the same spot, Dayo’s cache was untouchable and he was in the same apartment with “you know who”, that apartment naturally became the better destination when the day got darker. Dayo’s beer naturally became our beer (Dayo and I), and the other beers and drinks except the Irish creams was also ours. All I needed to do was pay my friend a visit and we find a spot to chill within after every long day instead of going up to the pool or ice rink, “I no kuku sabi skate or swim”.
Every day was loaded with activities but Friday in Dubai was supposed to be free and sweet for me as planned in my head but… The plan was a brief but lengthy meeting with the boss in the morning to do a recon of the training so far, then head back to my room and sleep till it was happy hour, little did I know that they’ve already helped me to plan my weekend and the joke was on me. I was barely done with my late lunch after the meeting when the whole crew showed up in my apartment, all dressed up and ready to move. “Na where una dey go?” was my first reaction when I saw Faith, Uche and co because I had no plan to move an inch outside my room, but the response was the inevitable, “WE are going out with Oga” meaning I had no option than to dress up and join the movement. Nelson was indifferent about the news as he recoiled, and Chimobi was within range. Minutes later, were all downstairs in the bus and ready to move. Diwura, Busola and others were out before I got downstairs, and we went from one mall to another as the ladies kept picking and peeping. A shoe here and a bag there, and of course Uche couldn’t help but take a picture with anything that stood still with her favourite line as she handed her phone to whoever was close enough “oya take me”. We made a stop at The Mall of the Emirates because the boss was pick up his suit that was in for fitting at “Sacoor Brothers” and for escorting him, he bought each lady and gentleman a blazer. We all disappeared into the mall in smaller groups and just when I thought the day was over, he announced that we will be going to Dubai Mall to watch the Water Music Fountain dance and we all filed into the bus and headed for the mall, arriving there just in time for the beautiful show of water and music moving in perfect symphony. Back in the bus and enroute the apartments, Dami who had gone out with him earlier started gisting us about how they’d gone to Burj Al Arab, and she was sure we will be heading there tomorrow. He mentioned that he told his boyfriend and he didn’t. My reflexive response was “did you just say Burj Al Arab, the 7-Star hotel” and she lifted her head that was rested on Chimobi’s shoulder and looked at my face like “do you also think I’m lying or whining you like he did” without saying a word?
My reaction was more out of surprise than disbelief, the Burj was suppose to be the destination of the future for me, I didn’t consider the training trip luxury or the next day the future so I waited patiently for Dami’s revelation to become a reality. Saturday was also supposed to be a free day and it was… Oga had left the hotel with some of the ladies before noon with the instruction that we should all be ready to go out by the time he’s back. Deira market and the Gold Souk were close by and the plan was to go shopping initially so I called Bukola to find out if she was ready to lead, she knew the way around and she replied with a “Yes”! Minutes later, we were at “Papa Naija”, a fragrance store somewhere between the Gold Souk and Deira market, buying every perfume oil and cologne that I had listed before leaving Lagos. We went round and round buying everything we fancied, and I remember buying a Rado replica that was as good as the truth on the second floor of a building somewhere in Deira for the price of a travelling box. There was gold everywhere, and there was either a Yoruba or Igbo man at every corner as well. We tore through the market until Bukola hinted that it was time to head back to Hyatt, so we packed our newly acquired spoil and headed back to the apartments to get ready for Burj.
Every day was fun because we practically went everywhere in groups. I couldn’t wait, I practically started taking pictures from the minute we approached Burj Al Arab. I took the mantle of “oya take me” from Uche for the first time and used it well. I’d imagined that we were only there for a tour, little did I know that a reservation had been made for a luxury suite and dinner had been paid for inside the most luxurious hotel on the planet. I was still striking a pose at the water fountain at the reception area when a beautiful lady beckoned that it was time to go; I thought it was time to go home. She led us towards the elevator and in my head I thought, “our bus is in the basement, we are not even leaving through the front door”, I didn’t even notice the button she pressed but instead of the elevator to go down as assumed, it went skyward to a floor I can’t currently remember.
The moment the door of the apartment was opened and we stepped in, the first thing ID Ogunbayo said was “omo ti eyan ba do, ti o ba loyun ninu ibi bai, ikan ninu awon omo alalubarika to ku lodo Olohun lo ma fi bi” (you’ll need a Yoruba interpreter to help you with the meaning). I wasn’t excited and I showed no sign of it, I was calm but was evidently in the moment as I surveyed the expansive suite, poking jokes and taking pictures with my colleagues, and remembering to plant my DNA in the building by peeing in the toilets. The toilet in itself was a bit confusing because at first, I didn’t know how to flush, everything looked pretty but I figured it out sha. After plenty “how?” and “wow!”, it was time for dinner and the few of us that were selected based on potential billionaire status were told to go for dinner.
Dinner was disaster to say the least because everything on the menu was nothing local man could eat. My love for meat helped me with mouthing some of the steak that was almost raw even though it was labelled “Done”, but it was total torture for Nelson and the rest as we went round and round the buffet but came back with nothing to the dinner table. ID in his usual jovial style had done the calculation of how much the boss had spent on each staff so far, and equated it to the number of years each person will spend as bond employees of the company. He arrived at six years after adding the two years some already agreed, but all of that was none of my business at the time, I was lost in the moment and was only thinking of coming back to this luxury with the Mrs. someday to highjack one of the very few “omo alalubarika” ID had talked about the moment we entered. We ate what we could since we’ve been threatened not to waste the money paid for the dinner, and got merrier for as much as we could. Here I was, chilling in the most luxurious hotel in the world, dining and armed with pictures to show the world, knowing the picture the pictures I’d share will paint to the world is that “Babaolowo has finally arrived” when actually I was just beginning, and the pictures were pictures of dreams and all for the “gram”. I swallowed my meat, knowing the seven-star experience was just a distraction for the moment as classes still awaits the next day.
All was fun and fine, but not without events even though nothing could trouble the man within me. Before the last day of SAE, I’d requested for all the slides and training materials, software for scripting and other tools that were used in training and a day before the last day of training, I got everything on a USB in PDF format from Stefan Rand our instructor. I went straight to work. I installed the scripting software on all PCs, copied the materials on our PCs and was busy putting the presentation on our iPads when I got summoned. The room was tense when I got in and I was wondering what went wrong until I was asked the question “why are you giving everybody the training material without my permission”. I was lost for a minute because I had only copied the materials for my colleagues that were on the training with me, and the software itself was free, putting the slides on our iPads was me trying to help everyone keep up with knowledge acquired, especially those that will be working directly in production department. The question was presented as if I’d collected and shared a material that was paid for, exclusive and meant to be delivered directly with everyone, but I explained that I was the one that specifically requested for the material in question. The trainers had no intention or plans to share the training materials with trainees until I asked, and the software installed was unlicensed; which was why I didn’t think I needed to go through the formality of submitting or think of getting permission before sharing it with those that were in training with me. My explanation didn’t directly solve the problem, but somehow it saved the moment and I returned to my room thinking and unthinking, creating a mind-scape of my new environment and striking a plausible balance about my employer, colleagues and potential real work environment.
By the end of the trip, I had completed a crash course on Digital Film Production at the SAE Institute, crunched the Final Cut Pro video editing training at Media Cast, and journeyed to Sharjah with Dayo and Diwura to learn the intricacies of configuring and syncing the Roland Versa together. I think I was the only man on the team that was a part of everything, and I remember acting and co-directing the film project we did to complete our diploma titled “Chess” as directed. It was a new beginning with a long road ahead, I knew I had only my own hand to hold if I was going to paint the pictures within and without.
It is important to dream, it is more important to stay awake while you dream because going to sleep might present you a semblance of your dream, but being awake will definitely keep you moving towards the dream. I am awake, and still walking towards the dreams I had awake. #StayWoke
I am Abidemi ‘BABAOLOWO‘ Oderinlo.
Here are some more pictures for your delight!