Let’s just say, I’m not a morning person. I hate waking in the early morning, and for the past two weeks I have been trying to convince myself that at 6am I need to wake up to work out. Of course, that hasn’t worked out. But two days ago, I was forced to wake early and head to Dubai for the Government Summit...UAE journalism’s equivalent of Mount Everest.
The two-day summit was a huge, intense and important event that would test my endurance to the limit. I wondered whether I would be able to handle it as I was still a beginner.
Heading to Dubai on my own was terrifying as this was the first time that I had visited the emirate unaccompanied by family members.
Of course, the company’s driver did nothing to soothe my nerves, deciding instead to start drag racing down the highway through fog as thick as pea soup.
An hour or so later, possibly having set a land-speed record, I stepped, shaken and stirred, through the now-clearing haze to the hotel where the summit was being held.
In the courtyard I could see metal detectors through which all guests had to walk – yet more affirmation that something Very Scary was about to happen. My phones – both of them – bracelets and Louis Vuitton handbag were taken away and put in a basket to be scanned.
I got them back though, and re-blinged up as I was I then headed to reception to register. Waiting in line with the rest of the women – who were dressed in abayas laced with more crystals than a diamond mine, make-up heavier than warpaint and perfume strong enough to suffocate someone – I could see ahead of me a lobby packed full of powerful and influential men dressed in kanduras, suits and military uniforms. Which of the two groups was more scary, I’m not sure.
After about 40 minutes of waiting, it was my turn to register. I was asked for my passport, which I didn’t have, so I gave them my ID card, which they forgot to return. They then handed me a badge with my name and picture on it as well as a barcode, the purpose of which was never quite explained, but helped in making me feel Quite Important.
After a short wait crammed into the lobby with other journalists the doors to the giant arena opened, and we strode in like gladiators into battle, pens mighty as swords.
I took my place and started scribbling down notes frantically as I waited for the photographer, Sara, and another reporter, Awad.
Sarah arrived soon after the session started, but my backup gladiator – Awad – was nowhere to be found. I met him after the session, when everyone piled out to the courtyard, and we began to discuss what stories we would file for the next day.
I began to get more nervous – this was a huge event and we needed proper coverage. As the day progressed I would go back and forth from different sessions, before heading to the media centre to write and file the articles.
The media centre was a tiny room, crammed with about 20 or more reporters and photographers. Everyone was nervous, scribbling notes, bashing away on their typewriters, and blurting out the time-honoured Big Questions of Journalism: “Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Does anyone have a flash drive?...What does the lobster on the VIP table taste like?” Etc etc.
By 4pm I was way behind schedule, still writing my stories and still with one more session to battle through. It felt like I had a mountain to climb. I left to get yet another cup of coffee and when I came back someone had stolen my seat and moved my laptop. Journalism can be cut-throat.
With no more time to lose, I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the TV monitor with the volume up waiting for the next session to begin and started taking notes. By 6.30pm I was so stressed I could have generated electricity, but at least, finally, I could return to Abu Dhabi.
Day Two was Even Crazier. Despite arriving an hour early I found the summit’s doors were closed as it was already full.
Very Important People at the newspaper had made it clear that we would be Very Sorry if we didn’t file enough copy to fill two Very Important Pages, so I felt justified in sneaking through the VIP entrance and making my way to the arena. Needless to say, I was as nervous as ever.
Given the size of the task another reporter, Wafa, was sent to help. Poor her – she didn’t even know she had been assigned to the summit. As soon as she arrived, we got to work – Awad identifying story ideas, Wafa studying the agenda and poor Sarah lugging around her giant and extremely heavy camera as she waited to find out what she should take pictures of.
I headed back to the media centre to start writing my first article about the development of public services in Abu Dhabi, and again I didn’t have a seat.
As I tried to make sense of it all ... I went to sit back on the floor .... ‘cause I didn’t think that I could take anymore ... coffee to the left of me, journalists to the right ...
Nervous me realised I had to get the job done perfectly today. Nervous me got a little more nervous when Wafa called to remind me about the worskhops I had forgotten to attend.
We met Awad to finalise our plans. The story ideas kept changing, long important stories were confused with tiny unnecessary ones and by 4pm with deadlines looming I hadn’t a clue about what I was supposed to be doing. As Wafa and I started writing, Awad attended the last speech, by Sheikh Saif bin Zayed. The summit that kept on giving was still not over!
When Awad returned, we got to work once more and by 7.15pm I was ready to head back to Abu Dhabi.
I was tired, nervous, and shaking from the caffeine – but at last, I had conquered the summit.