Wanderlust

Meanwhile, in real life, I’ve been a bit preoccupied. Apologies for the prolonged literary silence. My MA is ramping up to the final hand in date, and quite frankly blogging has had to take second (or third, or fourth) place to writing an essay on narrative in memoir (more interesting, it turns out, than I thought), trying to get over the writer’s block and finish my book, (still working on that) plus quite a bit of performing thrown in. And that little thing called parenting. And dealing with the rather catastrophic decision to move into a new house four days before flying to the other side of the world for nearly two months. (That had just a bit of fallout to manage. Turns out boxes do not unpack themselves, the garden won’t ever grow plants in it unless I actually get it landscaped and we own a sh*tload of stuff we really don’t need)

But things seem to be calmer this week*. I have managed to create distance between me and chaos, which was a difficult parting of ways but not entirely impossible to execute. I have a small list of things still to accomplish (little things, like the final 35,000 words of a book to write), but what I really need to do is wrap my head around the business of being in Dubai again. I feel like I haven’t quite got the hang of being back yet, even though it’s been nearly two months since our summer hiatus. It’s almost like I’ve been too busy to acclimatise. I turn up to stuff and nod and smile in all the right places but feel a little bit uncommitted to the idea of life being here, of this being ‘it’. I’m surprised at myself and honestly, fairly confused as to why I’m feeling this way. Maybe the displacement from our home has left me unsettled – yet I love our new house, so I don’t think that’s the problem. More likely it’s the influx of new people who’ve arrived with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure I no longer possess. I feel a bit jaded, and groundhog day-esque, like there’s nothing new for me here. And yet that’s not true either – I have a life filled with theatre and writing and friends where, a few years ago, there was nothing. I love what I do and I love my life here. So what is the problem? It’s not homesickness per se – in fact it’s almost the opposite – dare I mutter it’s just a feeling that I might have nearly (nearly – I’m aware it’s awesome here) had enough of being in the same place.

Nomad’s curse. That feeling of wanting the next adventure, of seeing the next new place. I don’t get itchy feet very often but I feel like I’ve got them bad right now. I feel a need to see the world again, to be surrounded with the hum of a new city that’s alive with different faces, different ideas, different histories. I’m stifled; my frame of reference has shrunk to school drop offs and pick ups, negotiations with workmen, parties and play dates. Creatively, emotionally, this isn’t enough. I need to find somewhere or something new to fall in love with; to inspire me, to feed my soul and create new energy within. I need to change something before the routine becomes a rut. But I’m about fifteen years too late to just grab a rucksack and hit the road. So instead, I’m resolving to unplug the laptop, pick up my camera and a notebook and take myself to a corner of Dubai where I haven’t been before or at the very least, haven’t been for a while.  And then I’m going to write about it. It’s the best I can do, to shake things up and maybe quell the urge for something new. I need to see that there is a life outside of my bubble, to observe and listen to a wider world, even within my own city. I hope that it will quiet the wanderlust that is lurking, and allow me to see there is still plenty on offer here, if only I reach out to grab it.

Failing that, I’m going to have to steal the family air miles. Don’t worry babe, I’ll be back by Sunday…

 

*I wrote this on Monday. By this morning (Wednesday), the boy had been sick off school, given me his germs, and the gardener has just put an axe through a pipe in the garden, creating a rather picturesque mud lake and possibly cutting the water supply to our house. I’m currently waiting for the plumber to turn up and charge me a small fortune to nearly fix it. But not quite. That would be too easy.

Over the fabulous hill where life begins

I’m 40. Tomorrow. I am so excited about this I have been thinking what to write in this post for weeks, months maybe.

Let me explain. Being 39 has been awful. When I tell people I am 39, they suck the air in through their teeth, or raise an eyebrow, or act superior/highly amused at the thought that I am significantly older than them. It is very dull, that everyone thinks they are being so amusing, and that I’m somehow deeply traumatised by the idea that I’m going to hit this milestone. When I am finally 40, tomorrow, and they revert back to saying things like ‘really? wow I wouldn’t have said you were that old,’ like they did when I was 38, I will take great pleasure in saying, hand on heart, ‘well I am, and you know what? It’s F*CKING FANTASTIC.’

Because honestly, I really think that it is. I had a somewhat hedonistic decade between 20 and 30 which was, well, just about the most fun ever, but didn’t really amount to much (that I can remember). I had a life-changing decade between 30 and 40, where I got married, had a child, moved country, found my calling after a couple of false starts, and generally became a responsible adult. It was eventful, and quite fun, but a lot of hard work. Entering this new decade, I feel like I might be starting to appreciate how to be a grown woman, finally. A proper 21st Century woman who has her sh*t together and intends to make the most of it.

I thought I was a woman once before, in my 20s. But now I see it was more a heady cocktail of ignorance and arrogance served with a large splash of over confidence, a paper umbrella and a straw. As I’m approaching 40, I finally understand: it takes a whole lifetime to become a woman, and I’m really only just off my training wheels. The apprenticeship I’ve served so far has given me a sense of self and confidence I could never possibly have achieved in my youth, built from a solid foundation of experience, and learning from some really bad mistakes. Now, at 40, I really do care about the important things in life: family, friends, health, home, career, education, travel, happiness; spending time doing meaningful things; spending time with people who have sound values, sparkling wit, and wisdom I can admire and emulate; making friends and keeping friends who have the same sort of love for me as I do for them. I really don’t care about much else; in fact, I couldn’t give a toss about anything or anyone that isn’t on that list. Least of all turning 40.

Because while this decade might bring challenges of it’s own (I’ve already started checking round the room when it feels a bit warm to make sure I’m not the only one with glowing cheeks), I am healthier, happier, and look and feel way, waaaay better than I did a decade ago. And there are aspects to my life that fulfil me that I didn’t even dream of two decades ago. I have a family. I have a wonderful life that I worked hard for, and continue to work hard for. I love the idea of my future. I am looking forward, looking onward, figuring out how to make life the best it can be from now on in. I am optimistic that finally, this is my time, when my life is in balance and I can invest in myself in a way I haven’t done before. I’m not the only one. I look around at my forty-something peers and I see transformations taking place everywhere, as they blossom and bloom and mature as wives, parents, in their careers, and most importantly, as individuals. I’m exceptionally pleased and proud to be joining them.

So happy birthday to me. I’m over the hill. Fabulous and forty. Life begins.

 

First time expat? Read this.

Bet you’re halfway between elated and exhausted, right about now. You’ve probably done your goodbye party weeks ago; the house is packed up, you’ve shipped your stuff. The kids are enrolled into school, your husband’s been gone for weeks and you’re just about to get on the plane and leave absolutely everything behind. You might have even already arrived. You’re nervous, excited, sad and happy all in one go; you’re hoping the kids settle in quickly and that you can still get PG Tips and Marmite from somewhere and you’ve already given everyone your Christmas dates so they know you’re coming back for regular visits, just like you promised you would. You’ve spent the last three weeks feeling like you’re treading water – like you’ve said goodbye about 10,000 times. You know it’s not forever. It feels like forever. You can’t wait to go but you don’t want to.

You’re nearly there. Or you’ve just arrived. Welcome to being an expat. A thousand experiences and challenges await. But something’s already happened: you’ve changed. Life has changed you. You’ve taken a step away from everything familiar and put adventure at the top of the list of things to do. Here’s my list for you to mull over, in the coming days, weeks and months: Ten thoughts on moving and living abroad.

1. No matter what you think life will be like, it will be different. You will be different. You can try and stay the same, try to squeeze the shape of your old life into the new one. But  you will not return the same person, if indeed you return at all.

2. You’ll find yourself high on the experience one moment and crashing down the next, and you won’t be able to predict when or how or what will set you off. It’s not you: it’s culture shock. Even a culture that seems to be familiar, is still different. You’ll experience it a lot for about six months, and then it will ease off. But it won’t ever go away completely, even if your stay stretches into years. Ride the wave, accept that there will be times where you really don’t know what the hell you are doing here, and then move on as quickly as possible.

3. There will come a point when you have to get in a car, or on a train, or a bus and just get lost. Do it the first few days, to get it over with. After you’ve sat crying because you can’t understand anything and you don’t know where you are, know that it will be easier the next time.

4. Talk to people. People in coffee shops, people in the queue at the supermarket, people at school drop off. Everyone is in the same boat as you – bar none. Even seasoned expats need new friends to replace the old ones who left, so don’t be put off by their tenure. The longer you remain alone, the more alone you will be. So put yourself out there, find a club, or a group, or join the PTA. Don’t wait ‘until we’re settled in’ to do this. You won’t settle in until you have friends and in the absence of family, you’ll need them. Go get them. NOW.

5. If you are a trailing spouse, and you even think for a millisecond that you want to continue working while you are abroad, prepare for the fact that it might be a lot harder than it would be at home; because of visa issues, or lack of appropriate childcare, or because the job you do at home doesn’t exist where you are going. If it’s hard to find a job that fits, keep searching, and networking, until you find the solution. Make it work. Don’t be lulled into an expat lifestyle you didn’t want because it’s easier. If work is an important part of your self identity at home, consider the impact not working will have on you, and act on that before everyone gets too comfortable.

6. You will feel very lost, for a while. Not just in the streets, but as a person. Your identity, your life as you knew it, has just been ripped out from under your feet. It takes time to build yourself up again. Don’t feel a pressure to be ‘normal’ on day 1, or day 10 or even day 100. You need time to recalibrate, and you might go off in completely the wrong direction before you figure out who you are in this new world.

7. Don’t forget who you were, either. It’s okay to change but it’s not okay to pretend you’re someone you’re not. You’ll get found out eventually.

8. However easy it seems to get on a plane and go home every couple of months, try to resist the temptation, and commit to the place you have chosen to be in. Commitment will make you happier in your expat life and ironically make you less homesick than if you keep going back all the time.

9. Remember your spouse is new at all of this too, and if you have moved because of their job, the responsibility and pressure on them is IMMENSE, to make it work for everyone. Cut them some slack and make time to talk (not yell) about why life is different/difficult/depressing. Try not to blame them for your feelings (easier said than done, I know) because unless someone held you at gunpoint, it’s pretty safe to assume you had a say in this adventure too.

and finally,

10. It might not feel like it now, when you are lonely, stressed, don’t know how to get anywhere, or where to buy anything, or how to say thank you even – but this is the best adventure of your life. It will take time, oodles of it, to really appreciate this  – perhaps you won’t even realise until you’re back home again, what an amazing thing you did. But you’re doing it, and in between all the hard work, it’s going to be awesome. The very best of luck. Now get out there.

Ruby. x

 

You know you are creating an expat brat when…Part 2

I’m starting to think we may have permanently ruined our child. I’ve mentioned this before, but feel it’s prudent mention it again. He does not live a normal life, despite our best intentions. Honestly, we try to keep it real, but it’s kind of difficult when your life involves jetting across two continents at a time (and back) for the summer holidays. My son isn’t five yet and already has two separate air miles accounts with more points racked up than most people get in a lifetime. He’s living in a gold plated sandpit for three quarters of the year in near-permanent sunshine, where ‘nature’ is limited to sand, camels, scorpions, palm trees and bougainvillea flowers blowing across the fake grass.  Then we blast him through time and space to various destinations for the remainder of his year, travelling with as many upgrades as our own air miles can muster in order to make our travel experience just that little bit easier. The kid barely knows what economy class looks like and certainly has no idea that flights can sometimes last as little as two hours to get you from A to B. But it’s not all bad. He’s had some pretty cool experiences that mean expat life can and should be celebrated. Ask him about time zones and he can tell you which of his relatives is eating breakfast while he’s tucking into dinner. He hasn’t been on a pony, but he’s ridden a camel across the Liwa desert. He hasn’t been to a football match but he’s nipped to the Dubai 7s for the afternoon. And the ferris wheel in London was cool, but not as high as the Burj Khalifa.

But living a normal life? Keeping it real? WTF is normal about any of this?  NOTHING.

So I admit defeat. My son is an expat brat. Here are seven more signs for the summer vacationing expat parents out there, that you’ve probably been smoking something if you think your little darlings are growing up ‘normal':

1. Arriving in at any airport, the first words they utter are: ‘Mummy, where’s the driver?’

2. When other kids ask where they come from, they mutter ‘America, England AND Dubai’ in a sort of reluctant mid-atlantic accent which leaves the other child in question a bit flummoxed and their accompanying parent rolling their eyes, as though you’ve deliberately trained them to show off about it, as oppose to encouraging them to embrace their international heritage.

3.You go to lunch with old friends at their house, and turn up in jeans and jumpers. You walk in to find their kids dressed in swimmers and galavanting in 4 inches of freezing cold paddling pool. Instead of begging to join in, your child takes one look at the grass and dirt infested ice water and scarpers inside to play in the warm.

4. When you mention, six weeks into the summer trip, that they need a haircut (again), they say: ‘But Mummy, I had a haircut two places ago.’

5. Long sleeves are such a novelty your child insists on wearing jumpers all the time, even when the temperature hits a reasonably warm 24 degrees. You acknowledge, however, that they may actually still be cold in the shade, and don’t bother to argue about taking it off.

6. They collect stones off of people’s driveways, presenting them to you as ‘special gifts’. Twigs, seaweed and flower petals hold similar fascination as unique aspects of nature they don’t see at home which are expected to be kept and transported back without being detained at customs. In fact, everything is exciting. This is because the average 5 year old expat has spent approximately 80% of his or her life living away from the things the rest of us take/took for granted. This includes letter boxes, policemen on the beat, rain, cbeebies, flowers that smell, and trains.

7. They know the airport drill better than most grown adults: ‘Are we at Heathrow Mummy? After we’ve checked in, and gone through security, can we go to Giraffe for pancakes?’

And I say ‘Of course we can, my lovely little world traveller.’ And then I realise all over again, that although his normal is not my normal, and my normal is not very normal either, however not-normal it may be, we are just plum lucky to be doing what we do.

 

On the road…again…

It’s a funny thing, this expat life. We are 4 weeks into our world tour and have just under 3 weeks to go, now (mainly) staying put in the same beds, and although I’m happy to be here, and the sun is shining, and my little boy is content, I’m a teeny, tiny bit homesick. For Dubai. Ironic? Rather. Here, in no particular order, is why:

1. I miss routine. School, work, social: I miss it all, for a variety of reasons but mainly because routine gives purpose and order and a kind of contentedness to life you don’t seem to get from living out of a suitcase for 2 months

2. I miss my quiet time. The bit where I come home from drop off, put the kettle on, and go upstairs to write for two glorious, uninterrupted hours. Or sit watching TV with a glass of wine when I’m home alone and the boy is in bed. It is a serious situation. I’ve even taken to doing the ironing just so I can get half an hour of time to tune out.

3. I miss my friends. I haven’t spoken to an actual peer, i.e. a person who shares my day to day existence for a month  except via the odd Facebook comment. It’s tough, not talking to the people you usually share the minutiae of life with. They are either sighing with relief or miss me too. (It’s debatable which).

4. I miss my bed. My glorious, comfortable bed. My bed in my bedroom, with my bathroom, and my wardrobe with all my stuff in it, with floors that don’t creak and walls that block out anything quieter than a fighter jet and air conditioning and occasionally containing a husband.

5. I miss exercise. Not that I ever do a lot of it, but I miss the idea that I could just pop to the gym whenever I wanted. I seem to lurch from one mealtime to the next while we’re away, so much so that I’m starting to feel absolutely sick of food. And as a result of relying on eating to fill my days, the relatively svelte bikini body I’d accidentally acquired due to stress appears to be disappearing amongst lunchtimes out, afternoon ice cream and mid morning muffins at the coffee shop as a substitute for any other kind of ‘routine’.

6. I miss pedicures. This is admittedly not going to win me any sympathy, but I would really, really like to get the dead skin filed off my feet and for someone to make my toes pretty again and give my feet a nice rub. If they could see about doing my hands and thread my eyebrows as well, that would be brilliant.

7. I miss my son. He’s here, with me, but he’s not the same little boy we have at home. He’s spent a lot of time feeling unsettled, disgruntled, and fed up with the lack of normality in his life. We expect so much of him with all this travelling and it’s really not very fair. I feel so horribly guilty for putting him through this upheaval every year. It’s the worst bit about living away.

8. I miss my kitchen. I want to flick through a recipe book, to shop and cook and serve a meal without getting halfway through and wondering if there is a can opener, or not being able to work the grill. I want to not eat lunch if I don’t feel like it, or eat 4 chocolate digestives with a cup of tea because they’re mine and I can if I want to.

9. I miss privacy. I’m surrounded at all times. I love everyone, they are my family; but I miss having precious hours of my day to sit and muse in silence in front of my computer, or to wander the shopping mall deep in my own thoughts, or sit in a car by myself singing, or not to have to put a bra on as soon as I get up in the morning for fear of running into a male relative on the stairs.

10. I miss myself. I’m on the road. I have no time to write, no chance of getting on stage and worst of all, I left my hairdryer in Dubai. I love seeing everyone, but I don’t feel truly like ‘me’ while I’m away from my home. Ironically this is exactly how I will feel all over again when I leave the UK and return to Dubai in three weeks.

And let’s be honest: I’ve got all year to enjoy my life in Dubai, but only a few weeks to make the most of this one. As a result, I’m enjoying every second of being home, before I go back there. I hope you are all having a great summer too.

Ruby x

Travelling without moving

…or, in the alternate plane of reality I appear to live in: ‘Hell, after all we’ve been through this year, let’s move house AND depart for a two month round the world trip all in the same week’.

Several people thought I was insane. Many more thought I would go insane. But against all odds, I survived, and despite a rather last minute approach to packing and a house so full of boxes I thought we’d never get out alive, I am now sitting in dear damp old London town, apparently in possession of not only my marbles, but, it would appear, all the necessary belongings required for our trip. (I even remembered my decaf tea bags and a sunhat. Years of list making and packing everything not nailed down for various long haul trips have apparently not gone un-wasted).

Our departure from Dubai for the summer draws a line across what has been the most tumultuous six months of my life. Never have I been so glad to see the back of time, to be so relieved to move on and away. There’s guilt about this as well as relief: I’ve neglected people, near and far, as I’ve buried myself in my own life trying to cope with it all – and in spending large amounts of time lurching from one disaster to the next I fear one of the worst crimes I’ve committed is that I didn’t stop to notice a lot of the growing up my son did while I wasn’t watching. But now, suddenly, I feel like the worst is over. And although I was already beginning to feel better as the list of horror got shorter and the time away from it grew longer, getting on a plane has purged me and left me feeling lighter, able to enjoy myself at last. The immediate future is bright, filled with adventures to have and memories to be made and time away from normal life that our little family unit of three badly need to have. And when we return again, refreshed, it will be to a new home, which I know when the teething pains of moving house are over, will be a joy to live in.

I understand now that it takes time to heal, to regain strength when so much happened to take it away. I appreciate I’m not there yet, but I’m on the way. Sitting listening to the rain fall outside and watching my son manage his jet lag with (mostly) good grace, I feel like I am, in this moment, travelling without moving. My heart and mind float slowly to surface to breathe the fresh air and I feel a peace I haven’t felt for months. I can look outside myself again. My summer will be filled with vibrant cities, country lanes and quaint seaside towns; culture, art, the sand between my toes, glasses raised with friends, the joy of family – and I plan to make the most of every minute, knowing the moments will pass without me if I let them. But I won’t, now; I’ve let enough of them go by.

Seven signs it’s summer in Dubai

1. Due to lack of fresh air and sunshine, your face has taken on a greyish, putty like consistency usually reserved for when you’re lying on the slab at the undertaker’s.

2. You don’t decide what to wear based on what you will sweat least in, just what will show the least sweat.

3. Your spare room is hosting a plethora of open suitcases containing jumbles of new clothes for the holiday bit of your summer in the Med/United States/Cornwall (delete as appropriate) and a collection of ancient light jumpers and jackets for cooler days in the UK that, for the eighth year in a row, you wish you’d replaced during the spring sales.

4. If you have to walk outside for any reason, you track shade like an overgrown scorpion.

5. You avoid going anywhere with a small child who can’t (or won’t) get in their car seat within the 30 second window you have to get their seatbelt fastened before you melt onto the pavement.

6. Your child actually says things like ‘can we turn off the television and go outside to play?’ And you actually say things like ‘no.’

7. You tell all the newbies that ‘it’s not as bad as last year’ because your sunglasses haven’t fogged up and left you staggering around blindly in the car park at drop off yet, and despite the fact that your mascara has slid down your face and landed on your cheekbones by 8.30am, you’re somehow convinced it isn’t.