Confusion reigns supreme. After a fortnight spent in the UK, I am once again no longer sure if I have been home or if I’ve just arrived back there. I am finally sleeping in a comfortable bed again but long for the fresh cool air I’ve left behind. I have my own kitchen back but I miss my mum. I am happy to be home and yet miss it terribly. In my final act of abandonment I’ve swapped SIM cards and am in some sort of communication purgatory – my friends in the UK no longer sms me, but the Dubai ones don’t know I’m back yet, if indeed they ever noticed I was gone. The cats appear to share my quandary: one minute howling at me for daring to return to what they have officially claimed as their territory in our absence, the next cuddling up and leaving me covered in fur.
Two weeks isn’t a long time. People go on holiday for 2 weeks all the time and I know when you come home it always feels a bit weird. (And sometimes it smells funny too but I bet no-one except me will admit that.) But you open your mail, unpack, stick the heating back on, download your photos and then get up and go to work the next day and life springs back to normal (and you don’t notice the smell any more either). Trouble is for me, my normal isn’t normal. This week, after I’ve unpacked, I’ll be starting the whole thing over, because in 8 weeks we leave Dubai again, this time for the whole summer. It takes an extraordinary amount of logistical planning to leave your home for a whole season, particularly if you are incredibly stupid and married a foreigner. In total, we will be gone for 7 weeks, staying in 6 different locations across 2 continents and flying a total of 28 hours and God knows how many miles. I will be arranging our diary for the trip, coordinating family and friends in Essex, Herts, Surrey, London, New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I will make plans to see friends travelling from several different states and some from entirely different countries, in addition to attending a wedding, seeing a new baby and celebrating my birthday – all with a 2 year old in tow. I have to think about potty training and big boy beds and whether it’s easier to stick to nappies and cots or try toilets and bedguards. And how do I travel with a cot? Or a bedguard? Or a potty for that matter? How do I carry it all by myself? I need to book cars and taxis and trains and porters to get us from airport to airport and all the bits inbetween without me breaking my back or being committed. I need to pack for warm weather, cool weather, wet weather and beach weather. I need to do online food shopping for the self-catered parts of the trip and book babysitters in 3 different cites. I have to figure out whether to hold a birthday party for my little boy in each country so that everyone gets to celebrate or just leave it until we get back because he’ll never remember it anyway. I can’t even start to think about the effects of this nomadic lifestyle on him because if it takes it toll anywhere near as much on him as it does on me I fear it will scar him for life. I’m exhausted just thinking about it all and I haven’t even got over my jet lag from the last trip yet.
But it has to be done. Why? Because on top of being 45 degrees in the shade, Dubai summers are notoriously lonely. Everyone who can, leaves. For as long as they can. Which pretty much means every Trailing spouse and their many Trailing kids are shipped out just after school finishes and arrive back just in time to get over the jet lag before they go back.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule. Newbies, who think the summer ‘won’t be that bad’, generally plan to stay for most of the summer with a few weeks’ break in the middle. And some people maintain ‘it’s not that hot’ and choose to stay all summer long. Others insist there is plenty to do – which there is, if you like shopping malls and sweating. This will be my sixth Dubai summer and I’ve seen enough to know they are bad, they are hot, there is nothing to do and they are definitely not for me. The first year we were here I stayed for all but 2 weeks. I learned the layout of several malls by heart and went days – no – weeks without talking to anyone between 8am and 7pm except shop assistants. I sank so low I thought I would never recover. Then three summers ago due to a gross miscalculation I spent July and August confined to my house waiting for my baby to arrive, watching my ankles swell to gargantuan proportions in front of the entire box set of Sex and The City and several series of Desperate Housewives. Even the excitement of an impending baby did nothing to lessen the boredom. And last year I thought it would be easier to stay here for most of July rather than travelling with a small baby. It wasn’t. It was long, hot and incredibly lonely and I nearly went completely mad. So personally, I have a mantra about summers in Dubai that goes something like this: Never again, never again, never again.
But the price to pay for my summer escape is this: a permanently temporary feeling. Every year is the same. Summer is approached through the number of weeks spent away from Dubai. Winter plans are determined by visitors and Christmas. The gaps inbetween are filled with ‘real life’, but too often it becomes merely space filler. The answer of course is not to travel so much, but that’s way beyond my comfort zone. I want to see my friends and family, I want to go ‘home’! It’s why I find it so hard to think of returning to work, because four weeks of holiday simply isn’t enough for me while we live so far away. And now I have my son to consider as well, it makes thing even harder. He is growing up in one place but his life is in another. And another. It’s a dilemma I hope will be resolved before he is much older because I want him to know his home and be sure of where that is, where he comes from, his identity. I don’t even mind where ‘home’ ends up being for him, I just know that it isn’t here. For many reasons Dubai can never truly be home, even though we do our best to make it ours we know it is only ever temporary. I always notice the smell.