One of the most wonderful things about getting older is all the friends you collect as you go through life. This past few weeks have taken some interesting turns, not least because of all the people I have met in the past twenty years (and then some…). I have been so inspired by an old school friend in recent months that I felt compelled to take action and jump start my career, which was rewarded last week with my MA acceptance. Encouraged by a few of the many talented, fun people I have met whilst performing, I have uncovered via the power of Facebook a previously unheard of hotbed of creativity and artistry in Dubai, and begun to experiment with the boundaries of my acting skills (and discovered that apparently there are boundaries to them – good to know). I have ended up co-ordinating ‘background artists’ for a UK TV crew shooting over here, because a friend from college is on the production team and messaged me to ask if I could help. I have shared a rare but precious skype session with an old work colleague in South Africa who never fails to brighten my day. A dear friend from home called me on the telephone, which doesn’t happen very often and was a real treat. Not counting the several friends I have emailed or facebooked just to say hi.

But how much do I take this for granted, that I am in touch with all these people, from school, college, work, my hobbies – and spread all around the world? I’d like to imagine that it’s 100% down to my sparkling personality, but in reality I think it has an awful lot more to do with modern technology. The internet and its merry band of men, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, email, Skype – they keep us in touch with each other no matter where we are of course – but in particular they are a serious contribution towards making expat life much easier than it would have been in days gone past. And I am extremely thankful for that.

Realistically, if I was me now, in the 80’s, I reckon barely half of the people I am in contact with would even receive a Christmas card. Long-distance phone calls would be reserved for family only. I would only have a very small pool of people from which to pick my friends, and it really would be the place where everybody knows my name, for better or for worse. In fact whilst writing this post I did some digging on what life in Dubai was like thirty years ago to try and get a feel for what I would have been up against and it made me realise that back then it was a true hardship posting. In fact it kind of made me a bit ashamed at all the fuss I’ve made about being here.

Sheikh Zayed Road in 1990

Sheikh Zayed Road in 1990. 1990!

But then I dug around some more. Yes, it was hot (no A/C back then, of course!) and there was nothing to do – it would seem from these archives that the first coffee shop (cafe, if you will, rather than a roadside pitstop) didn’t even open until 1981 – but it was also a much more caring, social, friendly place to be. There isn’t much I found to read about personal experiences, rather a lot of old photos and some descriptions to go with them – but where there are comments from people it seems they genuinely loved their time here. It was a special and unique experience of a select few rather than the mass exercise in money-making and spending that it has become today. There was room for sisterhood because these expat women had no-one else. They were literally cut off from everyone they knew and loved and only had each other to rely on. I guess that would make you the odd lifelong friend or two.

I wonder what my life would be like if we’d been here then instead of now. Would I have morphed into a ‘Jumeirah Jane’ and partaken in hosting competitive coffee mornings and elaborate dinner parties for my villa compound friends and my husband’s co-workers? Would I ever have been brave enough to come here in the first place, send my kids to UK boarding schools in their teens so they were prepared for ‘real life’, be content not to work – not be able to work – and learn to consider social standing in this tiny community as a career ladder to be climbed? Would I have despaired at the heat, the sand, the basic amenities and the lack of contact with my family and friends back home? Or would I have embraced the kinship of my fellow ‘Janes’ and joined the party? Indeed – would I have been happier without all the technology to remind me of life back home? I wonder if this is why their memories are so fond, that they didn’t have anything to distract from their lives as they stood, and therefore just had to get on with things. I know when I am busy I miss home the least. Detachment from your old life is a very simple way to ease homesickness and so in that sense I wonder if the Trailing spouses of the 80s had a easier in that sense.

This is a photo of the skyline of Sheikh Zayed...

Sheikh Zayed Road 2008.

But not being able to Skype, or Facebook, or sms anyone, or email – gosh, if someone took that away from me now I would be utterly distraught. Communication from home fills in my days, colours my world with something other than sand and sun, and makes me feel not quite as ‘foreign’ as I would otherwise. How else would I know about politics, VAT on pasties and snatchels? Not even counting the volume of news I get from my friends on a near-daily basis, filling in the gaps left by living thousands of miles away.

No, I think I’ve got it better. I get to see my niece growing up eight time zones away, my son knows his grandparents and ‘plays’ with them while they watch, and I can still be inspired by someone I was friends with nearly thirty years back living in the depths of the English countryside. My predecessors may have made lifelong friends in Dubai out of a necessity to survive, but I’m kind of glad to have mine spread about – sitting at their computers all around the world, keeping me virtual company and at my disposal whenever I need to laugh or cry or just touch base. All hail the world wide web.

2 thoughts on “www

  1. I doubt you would have morphed into Jumeirah Jane! She didn’t exist of course. JJ embodied all the things other Expats disliked about “newcomer” Expats whom they perceived as choosing to become “social animals” rather than joining the general run of Dubai life. Art, Creativity and Airconditioning were all part of Dubai life way back when……. Expats painted, performed in plays, made music and enjoyed life. They were separated from old friends and family it is true but by the 1980s Family and Friends were travelling to Dubai to stay with their Expat families for “cheap” holidays in the sun. Sending kids to boarding school was not easy for the parents or their offspring but they also spent about 5 months of the year either in Dubai or their home country where they had the undivided attention of at least one of their parents.
    Technology has certainly made life easier in Dubai in maintaining contact with friends and family but nevertheless I doubt you spend your entire day in front of a computer using Skype (at least I hope not). Life still has to be lived and that’s what Expats did back then and most do now. Friends are friends however you make them. They are not conciously made with a purpose in mind i.e. out of necessity to survive. Expats then made friends through common activities, their children, social gatherings, work – you name it. Friends I made back in Dubai are my friends still. The WWW keeps us in contact in the same way you link with friends and family.
    A main cause of men resigning their job in old Dubai was their wives missed their Mothers and wanted to go back to their old way of life. So not all women coped with life in old Dubai – but most did. The majority that did were certainly not meek and mild “trailing wives” – far from it.
    Would you have survived? Probably – even without Skype.
    Good luck with the MA.

    • Len thank you so much for your comment! I love hearing about the ‘real’ Janes – of course the one we hear about isn’t a reality (or is she… I think they are out there but I’m pretty sure they aren’t the trailblazers we are talking about!) No matter how much life was enjoyed I still think it must have been incredibly tough without all the modern conveniences and ability to communicate with home that we enjoy, and I am in awe of the women that did stick it out. Expat life is a big gamble for anyone to take but I think it is easier now because the world is simply a smaller place these days. Anyway – I’m rambling – thank you so much, I really enjoyed your site too, it is so interesting to see life as it was in the ‘old days’!

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