I’ve been really lucky in the past seven years. Whilst I’ve said goodbye to a few people here and there, friends have tended to drift in and out of my life as circumstances have changed, rather than be ripped from my side and onto a plane, never to be seen again. However, my time has come. This week sees me saying farewell to my oldest (okay, second oldest) and best friend in Dubai, and I am so very, very sad to see her go after so many shared years.
Good friends – really good friends, that know you and understand you and are committed to you – are hard to come by in expatland. That’s not to say she’s been consistently brilliant – sometimes she’s been downright lousy lol… But like friends anywhere, that’s not always the thing that matters. Our friendship is about our similarities, our personalities, who we are, who we have grown into. Our shared love of laughter and honesty and housewifery skills bordering on Stepford territory. Our tendency to bury our head in the sand and close up the doors in times of personal crisis instead of asking for help or support. Our mutual experience of arriving in Dubai and making it our home. The importance, above all else, of our children.
I admire my friend and am proud of the woman she has grown into during the time we have known eachother. She has made wonderful friends and a beautiful home and ‘kept it real’ for her children, who are the least expat brat-like kids you will ever meet. Her Dubai journey is a different one from mine, but no less arduous. Despite the many things that have shaped her in the past seven years, in many ways she leaves as she arrived – a willowy, determined, vivacious woman who can’t take her liquor. She has never deviated from her Aussie down-to-earth no-BS attitude and is always the person who will make me laugh, make me feel comfortable, make me feel loved.
We were talking a few weeks ago about leaving (trying not to cry) and the thing she fears most about going home is not fitting in. Ironically the very thing we feared when we arrived in Dubai. Only I think going ‘home’ is worse, because as much as we haven’t changed, there are ways in which we have, irreversibly, far more than we realise at the time. I can see the attraction now, of moving ‘on’ rather than ‘back’. We are simply not the same as when we left and it’s hard to start over in a place where your brain tells you, you shouldn’t have to. Things are the same, yet different. We have seen and done things our family, friends and neighbours will never see, and we have done it alone, often without their support or guidance. We have coped with stress of being away from all that is loved and familiar, beyond the realms of many people’s imagination. As someone with childhood friends who have inexplicably ended up scattered to the four corners of the earth at one time or another, I can say with some confidence that expats the world over share this common experience, this perilous journey; to have to make your home somewhere else in the world, and then go home again. (Or not… It is never an easy or obvious choice.)
My friend will leave for Brisbane next week. And I will eventually leave for London. Of course we always knew it would happen and have often joked about who would manage to get out of here first. The chances of us seeing each other again are slim, although I hope that we will. If we do, it will be different again. Our lives will move on and we will make new friends in our new homes and reacquaint with old ones and we will use these new relationships to cope with the struggle to reintegrate. But no-one can replace the good friends you make as an expat, which is what makes returning home so daunting – on that side of the journey, they won’t be there to meet, or make friends with. And often, other expats are the only ones who ‘get it’ – who understand just what you are feeling – on the way in, while you are there, and, I’m pretty certain, on the way out as well.
So I can only wish for her what I wish for myself one day: that the landing will be soft, and that one day in the not too distant future she happens to meet a friend of a friend who suggests a glass of wine in a local bar; they talk and laugh and the company feels like putting on a pair of old shoes – familiar and comfortable. She once wrote me a card which said “you made it ‘home’ for me”. Well ditto, my lovely friend. It won’t be the same without you. x