Many stranded expats in different cities of Pakistan connected through Facebook groups.
A group of UAE residents who were complete strangers, bonded in Georgia where they had travelled to quarantine, before returning to their resident Gulf country.
Pakistani expat Syed Asad Ali and his wife, met fellow expats facing similar circumstances in the foreign country and bonded over breakfast at the hotel in Tbilisi where they all had checked in. The initial conversations soon turned into deeper bonds and even friendships over the next few days, said Syed.
“There were many others like us who were stranded in different cities in Pakistan. We had connected through Facebook groups — The Travel Diary and Pakistanis in Dubai,” Syed told Khaleej Times. “When we reached Georgia successfully, we realized some of them were staying in the same hotel and often we would catch up over breakfast. But then there were others who were staying in other hotels as well. So, we decided to plan a get together there. I arranged the meet up at a Pakistani restaurant in Tbilisi. We were nine unknown people who met for dinner on Sunday and by the end of a memorable evening, we had turned friends.”
The Dubai resident says, “We had gone to Pakistan to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr with our family. We booked our return flight to Dubai on May 17, right after Eid, but got stuck due to UAE’s flight suspension, as we couldn’t get the appointment for our Covid-19 tests in Karachi, and only two days were left before the travel ban was to begin.”
Compelled by the circumstances the couple were forced to stay back. But professional worries started haunting Syed. “After a certain point of time, I felt my job would get affected if I stayed back for long. I even tried to get a chartered flight to the UAE, but that didn’t work out. That’s when me and my wife Sayeda decided to consider places where we could quarantine before returning to the UAE. Albania and Georgia were two places that we had in mind. But eventually we decided on Georgia because it was cost-effective, peaceful and a beautiful country,” he said.
Syed and his wife were not the only ones taking this route to reach the UAE. On arrival in Tbilisi, the couple discovered there were many others quarantining there to return to the UAE.
Like Syed and Sayeda who are set to return to the UAE this Wednesday, Muhammad Arif will also make his way to Dubai after completing two weeks of his quarantine period in Georgia.
“I tried getting a chartered flight from Lahore to Dubai, but unfortunately we didn’t fulfill the minimum passenger requirement,” he said. “So I decided to go to Bahrain which also closed down on May 23. Since I hold a UAE residence visa and I am fully-vaccinated against Covid-19, I could get the visa on arrival in Georgia and then proceed with my travel to the UAE. But ultimately, I travelled from Lahore to Turkey and then Georgia. It was tiring, but that exhaustion dissipated when I met people from my own country here, who speak the same language and share the same culture. It will be an evening etched in my mind forever where I met some lovely people who didn’t seem new at all,” he said.
Another Pakistani expat who was part of the dinner, says: “The journey was hectic, but it was really nice getting introduced and eventually meeting up with a bunch of fellow Pakistanis here in Tbilisi. The group was really nice and we genuinely enjoyed it. I look forward to staying in touch with these people once I return to Dubai,” said Sara Khan.
Syed summed up the feeling of the group of nine. “The introduction and eventual friendship with complete strangers in a foreign land is certainly something that we would cherish for the rest of our lives. That evening we had some great conversations about our professions, got to know about each other’s different situations and why everyone travelled to Pakistan. People discussed their experiences pertaining to Covid-19. Then we recommended some tourist attractions to each other in Georgia and suggested good eateries in Tbilisi. We also helped each other with information related to our flights back to the UAE. It was truly enjoyable, as we all connected at a certain level due to a similar situation.”
However, not everyone was as lucky as this group. By June 12, the country which is home to Caucasus Mountain villages and Black Sea beaches had amended its rules and many who had arrived after that date were turned away. “Many had been asked to return after reaching Georgia, as the country changed its rule stating that only fully-vaccinated passengers could enter the country,” Syed said.