Next week sees us mark the start of our 7th year in Dubai. SEVENTH. When I say to people I arrived in 2006 it really doesn’t seem very long ago. When I think of how I was a newlywed barely into my 30s and now my 40s are hurtling towards me at a rate of knots, I start to wonder where the decade went. When I realise I have entered my fifth cycle of friends in the space of roughly as many years (1. the ones I met when I arrived, 2. the ones I worked with, 3. the ones I met after having a baby, 4. the ones I met when my son started nursery, 5. the ones I met through theatre) I feel a little exhausted by the whole process.
Living abroad can be exciting, it can be depressing, it can be mediocre or even boring at times, and tremendously educational and fun at others. Depending on what you are doing or where life is taking you depends on how you feel about the whole expat experience at any given point. Dubai hasn’t been considered a hardship posting for years. But even for the mere housewife, between the times on the beach or in the mall or drinking coffee (which seems to be the general perception of my life even by the people who live here), it can be pretty hard work. If the summer heat doesn’t get you the incessant packing up and shipping out to escape it every year will. If living in the lap of luxury seems too good to be true it’s because there are hours and hours and hours of household management to keep it that way. If the ‘work hard, play hard’ ethic seemed like fun in your twenties then it’s a lot more like hard work a decade or two later to pull the same stunt whilst holding down a family – and a UK 10 dress size, a permanently perfect mani/pedi, a wardrobe full of up to the minute fashion and quite possibly a job. And then there’s the whole love ’em and leave ’em friend issue – the people you meet and like and fill your life with until they up and leave six months, a year, two years later and you have to work to find new ones all over again.
The gap between the different societies and nationalities that live here looms large. Miscommunication and misunderstanding of cultural differences make up 90% of why things take so long and can get so stressful. Of course, the other 10% is because a lot of people here are total shysters. That doesn’t make life any easier either, although with six years under my belt now it’s certainly getting easier to spot them. Experience has also taught me that everything takes far, far longer than planned – the Spanish ‘mañana’ has nothing on the arabic ‘inshallah‘. This particular trait appears to be cross-cultural, spanning across the entire spectrum of customer care – from trying to buy a bottle of water to wondering which decade your house will be finished in.
Dubai is a brilliant place to live – until it isn’t. After six years I have learned that when things go wrong, however big or small, it will take five times as long, be three times as expensive, and cause twice as much stress to put it right as it would do at home. The best thing to do, I have discovered, is really enjoy the bits inbetween. No doubt it is a great life we have here and when I try to imagine my life in the UK had we not come, I’m not sure where we would have been instead. Our house would have been smaller, for sure, as would my shoe collection – but there’s other things that would have been different too. I would most likely have still been on the corporate treadmill instead of realising a dream to teach, and to write. We would never have experienced living somewhere so different and life would be less rich for that. But most importantly and against all medical odds, I have a child. Yes, Dubai is a hard place to live sometimes, but it gave me my son, and there is no guarantee the stars would have aligned to make that happen anywhere else in the world. When I see the decades of pleasure I will have from this one simple act, six years doesn’t seem all that much to give in return.