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Lost in Al Falah: Stress, a mess, and Ravi, the human GPS

  |  January 21, 2013

Stress is a given when you’re a reporter – but even so, Tuesday last week took the biscuit.

I was asked to interview Emiratis living in a new housing project in Al Falah, close to the Abu Dhabi International Airport, and ran into Problem Number One. This was quite a big problem – I had no idea where it was.

The furthest out of the city I’ve been is Khalifa City B, where my university was located. I’m not allowed to drive any further than that, and I’ve never risked going off route as I have a tendency to wander around aimlessly.

I asked around and even pinpointed Al Falah on the map, but still felt lost. Then someone suggested I take a photographer with me as a sort of human GPS, though it’s best not to refer to them like that in person.

Even with a photographer in tow, it took us about an hour and a half to find Al Falah and reach the compound in question.

Once inside, the mission became no easier as we found ourselves completely alone – the place was deserted. We were forced to search around randomly, hoping to find a wandering human who would agree to be interviewed.

No cars were passing by, and no pedestrians were in sight. Interesting neighbourhood!

Ravi, my photographer, driver, and human GPS rolled into one, kept laughing, saying this was the first time he’d been assigned to photograph a “ghost house”.

Eventually we found a couple of labourers working on some of the houses, but when Ravi (pictured above) asked them where everybody was they just looked confused and replied “nobody is here”.

It was around this point I started feeling distinctly nervous. I had to find someone to interview for the next day’s paper and I was running out of time.

A few uneasy minutes followed before I spotted my chance – a school bus passed by and a child ran towards his home. At Ravi’s suggestion we followed in hot pursuit, hoping to track down his parents, but he proved surprisingly quick for one so young and we soon lost him.

And that’s when I decided to employ the time-honoured staple of newspaper journalism known as “Doorstepping”.

Doorstepping, as you may have guessed, involves knocking on people’s doors uninvited and hoping they’ll be receptive when you introduce yourself as a journalist and ask to interview them.

Of course, the technique tends to work best when there are indeed people behind said doors, and seems to assume that people want to talk to journalists.

Many, many houses later I came to question this assumption, but was eventually rewarded when a teenager appeared and called his mother to talk to us. I was overwhelmed with gratitude!

His mother told me many people were yet to move in because they were putting the final touches to their homes and bringing in their furniture.

Soon after this woman, I found a second lady willing to talk, and Ravi joked I was now an expert in finding people.

However, I felt a little less “expert” when the third person to answer, a lady, became irritated at me and suggested that rather than answer my questions she would feed me lunch instead.

So, after three hours of driving, walking and interviewing, I had three families for an article. I wished I could have found more, but I needed to go back to the office or I would be late in submitting the article.

Then it was time to write – and as a newspaper reporter under daily deadlines, that’s when the stress really begins.