There’s No Place Like Home

Where’s My Ruby Slippers? is five years old this month, and it’s with huge reluctance that I’ve decided it’s time to say goodbye. I’ve been in London for nearly a year now and my expat life, the full technicolour version that I once lived, is most definitely filed in ‘memories’. I have a full and happy life here, that I love, and it’s not taken anywhere near as much time or effort as I once feared it would. Occasionally it’s tinged with the sadness of it not being where I was, and often it’s saturated with the exhaustion that comes with the territory of building a new life. It’s doesn’t feel like I never left, though, doesn’t feel like I’ve wandered back into my old self; I’m a different person, in a different world, and I never expected it to be anything else. I’m glad it’s not.

As I slowly sink into life here, I become steadily, softly ejected from the old life in Dubai. The messages and skype calls and everyday contact so prevalent just a few months ago, are diminishing. Photos appear, of my friends’ smiling faces, their arms wrapped around strangers I will never know. And of course, there have been more goodbyes. I watch from afar (well, okay, from Facebook) as the people I once cherished in my everyday begin to scatter to the four winds and return home, or continue their journey around the world. It was always inevitable. And I know in those moments when news of the next departure reaches me, that I will most likely never see them again. And each time another one leaves, I am sad, not just because it is another friendship confined to the realms of social media, but because I feel my ties to the city I used to call home being cut, one by one by one.

One day there will be no one left there, and I wonder if, when this happens, I’ll ever go back. Our son was born there; I used to believe that this fact would bind us, even if the near-decade we spent there was slowly erased by time and the absence of familiar faces. But even a year on, I’m not sure it’s enough. I’m not sure, when everyone is gone, what will be left. A holiday destination; a place we once lived; but a home? No, I don’t think so.

Is London home now? Nearly. Not quite, yet; we’re about to move house again and there’s still a hundred things I don’t know about, don’t know how to do, not sure how to get there. But I know that it’s only a matter of time. I am happy, abundant with friends old and new; I have accomplished an enormous amount in a year that I know I couldn’t have dreamt of achieving ten years ago and I have my expat life to thank for that. I’m proud and amazed at myself, that I did it better this time around, without too many tears or fights or slow lonely days and nights – and given my tendency to be glass half empty, that I did it with so much joy. Life is full, life is good, in a thousand different ways. And because it’s good, and because I’m just getting on with things, it feels like it might be time to say goodbye to my Ruby Slippers. To keep writing about this part of my life – to keep one foot in the doorway of my old self – stops me moving forward to something new. And if there’s one thing expat life has taught me above all else, it’s to embrace change. So although it’s with an incredibly heavy heart, I think it’s time to close up shop.

Of course, I am a writer, and so there is always something new to be said. I’ve started another blog that feels like it might be a better fit with my life as it is now, and I hope you’ll take a look. You can find me at www.fortysomethingfeminist.com , where I am not entirely sure what I’ll be writing about yet, but it’s safe to say I’ll be busy embracing the consequences of being a woman hurtling towards middle age. Fun times lol.

So, it’s not ‘goodbye’; it’s ‘au revoir’. I like to think that the pages of this blog will remain relevant to many of you, and I hope that the time isn’t too far away when There’s No Place Like Home makes it into print, as I always intended it would. I’ll be sure to shout it from the rooftops when it does! In the meantime, with all my heart I thank everyone who has supported me in so many ways and taken this enormous journey alongside me – in real time or virtual. It was an honour, and I will miss you and this funny old life of ours enormously.

Ruby Slippers
xxx

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The boxes are the least important

Well. Here we are. Here I am. We’re six months in, and I’m standing at the school gates offering advice to a teacher at my son’s school as she embarks on her maiden expat voyage to New York. ‘The boxes are the least important bit,’ I say, before wishing her good luck. And as I walk towards the car, I think ‘maybe it’s time to blog.’

Some may consider this a tad overdue, but I would disagree. I write when I feel compelled to do so, and quite simply, I haven’t felt compelled in quite a while. There wasn’t much to say. I was getting on with things, it all seemed to be going well, and I didn’t care to dwell on it too much. After that, I had stuff to say but I wasn’t sure how to say it. And then I got too busy and it seemed like I’d be writing out of a sense of duty, in that awkward apologetic mode, like anyone really cares whether I put pen to paper or not. But now, I sort of think that maybe I’m ready.

Six months. It feels like yesterday I dragged my sorry, hungover arse onto the plane and few away from my old home, towards my new one; and yet so much has happened, you could tell me it was light years ago that we left and I wouldn’t argue with you.

The family have, by and large, settled in well. The boy is making friends, and although he desperately misses his best friend from Dubai, he seems to have accepted that they won’t be seeing each other any time soon, and that life must move on. He’s happy in school, seems happy with his life, and mentions Dubai less and less. I don’t think he’ll ever forget it, but I see him making fewer comparisons as the months go by, and as his life fills up I’m sure it will become nothing much more than a distant memory. It’s a relief, that he is so content, but mixed with a large dash of sadness, that a part of his life is gone and consigned to the memory pile before it was really time. But there’s no denying, it’s mainly relief, that his transition has been easy and he’s embraced life in London with such joy. You can’t ask for more than that, and it makes me incredibly happy to watch him flourish and grow in his new world.

So my job in terms of parenting this move, is pretty much done. I can relax a bit now, and turn my attention to all the other things in my life. Not the boxes, obviously; there are still plenty of those, lurking in corners and in the attic where I can’t see them and don’t have to unpack them. Not that there’s much point, because the house we rented is a pile of crap. We love where we live; we just don’t love what we live in. Sigh. There were bound to be problems moving to a house you’d only ever seen on a video, I suppose, but I didn’t quite bank on moving again so soon. The Rightmove and Zoopla apps remain on my phone and the reminders come weekly, advertising potential properties to rent or buy. It’s the one cock up, the fly in the ointment; it’s not bad enough to make us miserable, but it doesn’t make us happy either. Mainly, what doesn’t make me happy is the idea that I’m going to have to box up the sodding house all over again in six months. Still, I mutter on a regular basis, once it’s done, it’s done. It’s only moving house, not countries. A walk in the park, right?!

So, what of me? Well, I finished my book. It’s out there, submitted, and I live in hope that someone will love the idea of 200 pages of expat life and put it into print. I’ve had a short story published here, another one sadly rejected, and I’m tackling the idea of starting a novel in January. I’ve made friends with some of the mums at school and have organised a little festive drink this week to seal our friendship, which was met with great enthusiasm. This means an awful lot to me. It’s been lovely, to meet new people and be so welcomed by them. I value them enormously, even after such a short time, and look forward to the years I will be spending with them a great deal.

I accidentally started two businesses, which has been interesting, challenging and a bit stressful to say the least. The first one, to be fair, wasn’t accidental; I was hoping to build up some copywriting work once the summer was over, and miraculously, September and October went crazy thanks to a single client who suddenly put a lot of work my way. I was ON FIRE. I was psyched. I was king of the friggin’ world. Then November hit, the jobs finished and I realised I had nothing. No pipeline of work, no network, and no idea where to start. As a result I’ve spent much of the past month swinging between wanting to network the crap out of everyone I meet, and shutting myself in a room to avoid having to do anything that might involve putting myself out there. I am terrified I will fail. And so, I have learnt the first harsh lesson of being a new-born freelance writer: not only is it really hard to win clients when no one understands why they need you (‘It’s just writing; everyone can write…right?’) it’s also a lonely, lonely job and no one is just going to roll over and pay you money because you asked them to.

The same goes for friendship, as it does for entrepreneurship. No one is going to be friends with you unless you make it happen. That goes for new friends and old. It’s hard but necessary work – yes, work – to manufacture a brand new social life, that at times has been just as stressful as running a business. This is where my homesickness kicks in, where I desperately miss my life in Dubai. Where I was out working acting jobs in the day, or on stage by night, with my best friends; where I would nip for breakfast with the girls before wandering home to write in a room bathed in sunlight; where I could head for a glass of wine bathed in a warm evening breeze and laugh, carefree and content. In contrast, after school drop off each day in London, I head back home to, I suppose, what most people in the world who don’t have live-in help probably head back to: laundry, clearing up the breakfast stuff, putting the bins out and cleaning up cat shit. Once that’s done, I debate going to the gym, decided against it, and head to my desk. I sit, lonely and silent, in a room which never gets light. I try not to get distracted by social media, which I stalk in the vain hope of getting some attention, and at my lowest points, live my former life vicariously through the photos and status updates of my Dubai friends. And then I realise I need to get out of the house and do something that actually means I won’t go crazy.

And that’s where business no. 2 comes in. I have inadvertently become the producer of an improv show, launching in February. I didn’t mean to, I just wanted to do my hobby and meet some people…but it sort of turned into a big monster truck of a thing and apparently I’ve ended up behind the wheel. But no matter. THIS is where I will come alive; this is where I feel myself, where I can embrace the crazy and laugh about stuff. I know it will come, and I know it will make me happy…I’m struggling to not wish time away so that I can get there faster. In the meantime, it’s giving me purpose and confidence to carry on, and stay positive, and it’s probably the most vital thing I could be doing for myself. Luckily, both men in my life can see that too, and let me loose each Saturday to indulge myself, so that I come home revitalised and smiling, ready to take on whatever is next.

And boy do I need to be revitalised. It is an understatement to say I’m tired. I’m completely, utterly exhausted. This year, like last year, has been a full 365 days of stress. More people died who we cared about. We’ve left our lives behind, we’ve moved house, and started over. We’ve been on planes, lived out of suitcases, and spent months negotiating the unknown. We’ve worked really hard to get to this point and remain sane, loving people. It feels like we’ve achieved a great deal and for the most part, life is good. I have few complaints and more importantly, no regrets. Repatriation has been kind to us, but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t been an awful lot of work. It continues to be. It’s part of the reason I’ve not really blogged and written very little, in a creative sense. I don’t have the energy, or the brain space, or the time to devote to writing swathes of text. I haven’t travelled anywhere to inspire me, haven’t gazed at the stars, or the desert, or the mountains, or even sat by a pool in the heat of the sun. To be honest, more than anything else, I’m gagging for a sunbed and a book and about 48 hours of undisturbed peace and quiet, and I expect I’ll feel that way until I get it.

I’m not sure when I will blog again. It’s been hard to write this, to put into words the myriad of feelings and experiences I’ve had about the past few months. It’s a rollercoaster: some days you’re high, others you’re low, and sometimes you just feel like you might throw up in someone’s coat hood in front of you. But the thrill of it all, the rush of the ride makes it worth while. And I had to write it down for you. Mainly to avoid the rest of the boxes.

Five reasons why being new is a good thing

Being new anywhere – new school, new neighbourhood, new job, new country – they all come with the same set of doubts and fears, where, given enough time to think about it, you end up creating your own dystopian fantasy of a friendless, soulless void in which you fail in your quest to ever find a way to laugh again. Generally speaking though, this is not how it goes. A few minutes/days/weeks of feeling like the village idiot and sooner or later you find your way in. Still, it can be a stressful and lonely time getting there. So I’ve been thinking about why it’s good to be new, and why you should celebrate it.

  1. You get to pick your friends. As I get older (and a little bit wiser), I realise it’s okay not to be friends with everyone you meet. There’s no need to be rude, but you don’t have to add to your circle if you don’t want to – and being new is the ideal time to be picky in order to avoid those awkward moments later where you wished you’d never engaged in a friendship you have absolutely no interest in pursuing. It’s. Okay. You are not a bitch. You just don’t gel with that person, and in truth they probably feel the same way. If you start out by being discerning, you can go about your life safe in the knowledge that you aren’t going to have to go for coffee/drinks/dinner with anyone you don’t want to, and neither are they. Win win.
  2. You get to pick your friends. Friends that reflect who you are now, rather than who you were when you were 27. This is not to say there’s no value in those friends – of course they are part of your make up, part of you. But we tend to see our friends as ageless things, as the people we met and loved for who they were at that time. Even with friendships that go the distance, we don’t always help them to nurture the thing they want to become, or have become. New friends = new you. If you tell your new friends you are a writer, for example, they believe you, and accept you as a writer, want to know about you as a writer. (And hopefully even offer to pay you as one, or at the very least introduce you to someone who can. No job too small. Reasonable rates. See my website for details). Also you get to expand your world, by meeting new, vibrant people who stimulate and energise you. Being new, and meeting new people because of that, is a way to reinvent, reinvigorate and revive parts of you that old friends and family cannot reach.
  3. You can ditch things about your life you don’t like and add in new things that you do. Like, say you’re on the PTA at your school, but you really don’t want to do it anymore. Guilt goes a long way. When you’re new, you can just not do it. (Of course, this has never happened to me). Or, vice versa. You can join a gym, get a new hobby, stop smoking, learn to cook, throw your millennial kids out of the house finally – anything really. Routine is the devil’s work, and being new means you get a window of opportunity to get out of whatever rut you previously found yourself in.
  4. You have the chance to evaluate your life. Being new means you left somewhere, to get to the new place. It’s a brilliant time to take stock of what’s important to you – family, career, marriage, health – and refocus on those things.
  5.  It makes you a stronger person. Being new anywhere is hard. It takes guts. But when you look back after a week, six weeks, six months, you realise you’ve achieved more than you thought you ever could. And suddenly, you’re not new anymore.

Dorothy…you’re not an expat anymore

Today marks the day I stopped being an expat. Or rather, the day I realised I wasn’t one anymore. Maybe this is the wrong way to describe it. I mean – I’ll think I’ll always be an expat. The longer we are here, the more foreign I feel, to be honest. My friend says I’m just going through the ‘I feel stupid’ phase. I feel like this phase might last for years, some days. But setting stupidity aside, today I just feel, well, a bit sad. Maybe what I mean is, today marks the day I don’t live in Dubai anymore.

What has caused this sudden dawn of realisation? On the other side of the world, in the desert we called home, my friends’ kids – my kid’s friends – went back to school on Sunday. Everyone is back from their holidays. Work has begun. Pictures of proud little men and women in their new uniforms begin to adorn my Facebook page, chatter on my Dubai chums whatsapp group has increased tenfold, a new season has begun at the theatre where I spent my life these past three years, and suddenly, I realise that life is moving on without us. I watch it go, full steam ahead, and I know it’s an unstoppable train.

We are just back from a wonderful weekend in France celebrating my birthday, so it’s not like I have anything to complain about. I’ve spent three days eating butter-laden pain au chocolate and drinking cheap but delicious rose wine at various hillside idylls, soaking up the last of the Mediterranean summer at the beach, speaking bad French at everyone who will listen and gazing at beautiful old buildings backing onto impossibly blue skies at every opportunity. There are worse places to turn 41, I realise this.

But it was weird coming back here. It just felt a bit odd. Like, as in, ‘you’ve just come home to the wrong place’ kind of odd. I had a cry in the kitchen, in secret, bizarrely while trying to sing ‘I will always love you’ by Whitney Houston. I’m not sure why. But it appears my son felt it too, whatever the sensation was  – we’ve had tears this evening, about going to the new school, about missing his old house, his old school, his friends. It’s the first time he’s had a wobble like this since we arrived in England and I know how he feels, I feel what he feels – the strangeness of it all, the confusion, the lack of purpose to being here, the wave of homesickness that rears up when you least expect it. All I can do is hold onto him and tell him it will get better, that we will make new friends and it will all get better soon. ‘But how do you remember the old friends?’ he says to me, wiping away his tears and looking at me like I have all the answers. ‘You talk to them, and write to them, and visit them, and when your life fills up again with new friends and things to do and places to go, you don’t miss them quite so much,’ I reply. My heart aches.

The reality is we’re doing fine so far. More than fine. Surprisingly so, if I’m honest. I’m just a bit sad, sometimes, when I notice my old life disappearing. It’s been blurring around the edges and smudging along the lines all summer, and now school has started and everyone is back from their holidays, I know it will quickly begin fading from view altogether. When we visit, as we plan to, we will be visitors. I knew that before, of course, but it’s sinking in now. It’s the bit I was dreading, the purgatorial part of the whole process, where you’re neither here nor there, but everyone else is very definitely here or there and you don’t have any of the answers about how to be, or who to be, or what to do. It is the ‘I feel stupid’ phase. The ‘lost’ phase. The ‘helpless’ phase. Or maybe it’s better to give it it’s official name, and call it culture shock? Or homesickness? Or a bit of both? Whatever, I wish wholeheartedly it would be over, for us all, before it engulfs us along with the truly rotten British weather (sorry to state the obvious, but I’d forgotten how bloody relentless the misery-inducing greyness can be. Three days in the Med only exaggerated the whole thing, I fear).

Mainly, though, I wish it would be over for my boy. There’s nothing more saddening and guilt-inducing than seeing him upset over a decision that wasn’t his to make; an action that I can’t undo; a sickness that I can’t kiss better. He’s been amazing, so strong and I’m so proud of him, but enough’s enough and I need to fill his life up again. Next week, when term FINALLY begins (and really, I just wish it would, I think it would do everyone the power of good just to get on with everything) I will post my own Facebook photo, and embrace the start of a new life for my boy. I hope that his own ‘I feel stupid’ phase is blissfully short lived. I could barely care less about my own happiness in comparison to making sure he finds his. And he will, I know. I will be there with him, egging him on, helping him every step of the way. It works the other way too, of course. ‘I’ve got 37 friends to make, mummy,’ he says, counting all the kids in his new Year 1 who he hasn’t met yet, ‘so you’ve got 37 mummy friends to make as well.’

I do. And I’ve got a ton of stuff coming my way that will help me find a new tribe and begin to heal the wounds over from leaving the old one. I’m sad, in a mourning kind of a way, but I’m not miserable, or stressed, or any of the things I was when I first moved abroad. To coin the analogy (or whack it over the head with a big stick)*, we’re nearly ‘over the rainbow’. Nearly. We’re so close to being in a new place and point in time we can call ‘home’, while knowing that in some other dimension there’s another place just like it, but different, that we love just as much. Just a bit more time, just a few more steps along the (yellow brick) road and we’ll be there, and we’ll miss the other place just a bit less. Whether we’ve landed in Oz or woken up in Kansas is questionable. But then that’s rather the point, isn’t it?

*I can’t believe I’m reading this much into the Wizard of Oz. It must be the weather.

#mydxb

It’s the eve of the eve of the eve of the eve of our departure from Dubai and I’m feeling nostalgic. I’ve lived in Dubai for nine years, and there are so many memories here, so many little parts of Dubai that are gone forever, so many people that have moved on, so much that has changed. So what will I miss about this city? What has made it, in the words of the social media hungry, #mydxb? What is so extraordinary about this place, that despite my best intentions, I ended up falling in love with it? Here’s my top five:

1. The people. Yes – there’s good and bad here, like anywhere. Yes – there’s a lot of irritating arrogant idiots around who should be ashamed of themselves. Ambition and self-belief are the cornerstones of Dubai society; admirable in small quantities, obnoxious in larger ones. But there’s a bigger picture here too: the general tolerance and acceptance that people show, the easy harmony with which everyone rubs alongside each other that makes the city special. Rarely will you see such a mixed bunch of nationalities and religions all hanging out together with such comfort and good humour. So many people have not a good word to say about this place, but IMO the rest of the world could learn a lot from this city.

2.  The roads. Okay…so the driving is – how shall we say – erratic. But with nearly ten years of driving in the Middle East under my belt, I feel pretty invincible returning to the UK roads. There’s something perversely enjoyable about driving here too. Absolutely NOTHING that would surprise me anymore. Someone talking on their phone while driving? Amateurs. Unless there’s a falcon flapping about in the back, or someone is reading their newspaper at the wheel, or backing up the on-ramp of a motorway, I’m not interested. Also – I must hand it to the transport authority. When we arrived there were about five roads in Dubai, each a variation on a theme, entitled ‘will I get to work and back without being in a car crash today?’. There were no speed cameras, no maps and no street names. Driving frequently involved large tracts of sand, using the now-demolished Hard Rock Cafe as the the mainstay of all direction-giving, and trying to avoid hitting the ‘red flag man’ acting as live bait as your traffic lane ran out. These days, the roads might still be, er, challenging to negotiate, but they are a VAST improvement. And there’s buses, and a metro, and the boat thingy that crosses the creek and the marina, and the trolley is coming…it’s quite amazing, how much has been achieved in less than a decade. Makes returning to the M25, South West trains and the District line pretty unattractive, to be honest.

3. The cleanliness. OMG it’s clean here. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be desperate for the toilet than in Dubai. Nowhere else I’d rather have had my toddler crawling around the floor than here. Nowhere else I can walk along the streets knowing that I will never, ever have to worry about gum, dog shit or bins smelling of sick with filth spewing out of them every 500 yards. It seems like a bit of a weird one, that this has made me fall in love with a city. But, well, I think it’s going to be a huge culture shock to be back in a place where your snot turns black and travelling anywhere in flip flops means certain pedicure death. Sigh.

4. The nightlife. I have been lucky enough to eat and drink in some of the most amazing restaurants in the world. It’s not done my waistline any favours but it’s been an incredible privilege to eat at so many beautiful places. Superficial? Yes. Spoilt? Yes. But it’s been part of our wonderful adventure here and we’ve had some truly spectacular nights out in Dubai. I will miss it.

5. The arts scene. When we arrived, there was one amateur dramatics society, one theatre and a sprinkling of art galleries. Ten years on and the city is blossoming and blooming with stand-up comedy nights, improv comedy, theatre and film festivals, street festivals, art, photography, dance and literature, independent theatres and classes and courses to suit everyone and anyone who wants to flex their creative and cultural muscles. I’m so proud to have been part of building it, at the Courtyard Playhouse – so happy that I got to make real change and be involved in something from the very start. This little corner of creative paradise found will forever be my Dubai. It is the part I will miss the very most.

There’s so many more memories of my time here, of places and people and sounds and smells: Crossing the creek on an abra surrounded by jellyfish;  the old man in Bastakiya creating beautiful calligraphy; the bustling ‘foreign-ness’ of Deira and Bur Dubai; the Disney wonderland of the Madinat at Christmas; the majestic Burj Khalifa; January rain falling on the grey gulf waters; the desert sunsets, beach sunsets and city sunsets; sandstorms and lipgloss; it’s a fascinating place, built on hopes, wishes and dreams, a city that I will miss knowing as it changes and grows without me. But let’s face it, a city is only the sum of it’s people. The never ending waves of people, coming and going and staying and leaving, friendships fluctuating like the tides of the ocean. They are what I will miss the most. They are #mydxb.

Still going…

So, the container left yesterday. There were tears. There’s been a lot of tears this week, and tantrums, mainly in the car to and from places behind the relative safety of my sunglasses so I don’t upset/annoy/embarrass the very people I’m crying over. I’m trying to be mature about the whole thing. Trying not to sulk about leaving. Trying, goddammit, to leave well. (I rue the day I ever heard that phrase). But every time I think I’ve nailed it, something happens, and it’s the last time it will happen, or the last time I will go there, or the last time I will see that person, and my world comes crumbling down again.

I know London is going to be great in so many ways. It’s not going there that I’m sulking about, it’s leaving here. Although, I am sure, as long as it’s not pissing down with rain when we get there, that London will score heavily over Dubai almost instantly, in that it’s pretty much a guarantee I won’t have to stand unloading a container in 45 degree heat. I don’t think I have EVER been as hot as I was yesterday, sitting by the truck ticking off 265 boxes of our stuff on a bingo sheet as they made their way into their metal hulk of a home for the next weeks.No bottle of cold beer has ever been more welcome than the one I popped last night after it was all over. A friend swung by on a mid-morning mercy trip with 24 bottles of water after we ran dry in the house, took one look at the state of me and offered an oscillating fan on an extension cord from the garage, which I refused out of kinship with my packing team. I was okay. I would survive. Of course I regretted the decision around about school pick up when I had a six pack of salt-sweat marks on my vest top and a sunburnt forehead. But I didn’t dare complain, because at least I wasn’t the poor sod lifting my 265 boxes onto the truck. Those guys are amazing to do what they do. Bloody amazing. The bloke that came to pick up some of our furniture at the weekend spouting ‘sorry I’m late, I’m just waiting for my monkeys to turn up’ nearly got knocked out cold by me on the spot. Working in this heat, lifting and carrying someone else’s shit for a pittance of a pay packet…anyone doing it deserves a bloody medal, a hefty tip and a whole lot of respect.

So anyway, now it’s over, and it feels a bit weird because I actually have some time on my hands. As in, I’ve got a stack of things still to do, but I’m not running about like a headless chicken. I’m in purgatory, caught between one world and the next and it all feels very weird. So of course, I’ve spent the day closing bank accounts and shopping for teacher gifts and having a healthy lunch for once and generally trying to ignore thinking about the next bit: getting on the plane.

I don’t want to deal with it. I  keep thinking about it and wigging out. I know it’s just an emotional time and I’ll get over it, but I’m so tired of feeling this way. I don’t feel ready for a new adventure. I like this one, thanks very much. Another one just feels like a lot of work. But, inevitably, I’m slowly coming around to the fact that we just NEED TO GO. I know, deep down, that I’m done. I’ve said my goodbyes, drunk my own bodyweight in beer, made my peace with the fact that the next 6+ months are going to be exultant and arduous in equal terms, and now I just want to get there, get the keys, unpack, stop mourning my old life and get on with the new one. It’s so difficult, letting go, and this bit is the worst, when you know you are nearly on the plane but there’s still time left, which inevitably gets spent with dear friends that you end up even more emotionally vested in than you were before. It’s some kind of torture, then, to finally let go, and walk away.

Even though we aren’t planning a return to live, leaving is not a finite act. We have too many ties not to come here again. I lived half my adult life in Dubai and I can’t act like it never happened. I refuse to act like it never happened. It’s just too much part of who I am. But I know from bitter experience, it takes discipline not to cling on too hard, not to imagine that I can keep my life on ice and pick up where I left off when I pop back here for weekends or holidays. Especially in Dubai, where the expat merry go round spins in continuous motion, I can’t ever come back thinking that it – or I – will be the same as I left it.

Maybe it takes the experience, of leaving, and of being left, to understand and accept that moving on as an expat is bigger than simply changing countries, or going home. I know that when I leave Dubai, I cease to exist. Or at least, cease to exist in the way that I existed before. I will never be the same person again, as I am right now: not even close. That is the loss I am dealing with, that is the pain I feel, the thing that I am mourning.  And no doubt I will spend a large portion of the next few months figuring out where the balance lies: figuring out how to be happy and ‘at home’ in one place and the graceful alumni of the other. Figuring out who I am next.

But for now, I just have to remember to pack my sunglasses for the plane.

…get set…

And suddenly, we’re four weeks away from leaving. My days and nights are crammed with coffees, lunches, dinners, drinks and shows with the best of my friends, in a frantic attempt to make up for the fact that after June 27th, the door will slowly close on all the wonderful times we’ve shared together and things will never be the same again.

My last show at The Courtyard Playhouse was on Saturday. It was a 12-hour Improvathon to raise money for the Children of the Mountain Nepal Earthquake disaster fund. We managed to raise over Dhs 10,000 on the day through sponsorship and donations on the door. If you want to donate, you can contribute here.

The day(and night) was magical. We had a lot of fun, and the audience did too – as you can see here from this rather amusing video taken from one of the shows, there were several silly moments – and a whole lot of laughs. And then there were the tears. At the end of a three year adventure that began in a living room with a bunch of random socially challenged egomaniacs making stuff up, it was a true privilege to perform together one final time to a packed out audience in our wonderful theatre that for me has become synonymous with home.

It’s heartbreaking to know it’s all over. Four of us are leaving, and it was the last performance for all of us. An incredibly emotional day – and given the hole left in our original cast of nine after the massacre is over, not just for the ones of us who are going. While the show must – and will – go on (even I am not big headed enough to think I am irreplaceable), it will never be the same. I feel terrible that I’ve played a part in that – guilty, that I’ve betrayed them in that way. Sorry, my friends, so sorry.

I stood, for a while after the show was over, and watched as audience and performers mingled, and chatted and laughed together. I hugged a few people. I cried quite a lot. I said some goodbyes – to people I’ve taught, people who taught me, people I’ve worked alongside, people who I don’t even know but who’ve been to see the shows and know me, if not by name then by sight. I sat in the front row for a bit, taking it all in. Then I knew what had to be done – the moment I’d been dreading. It was a terribly quiet moment; a contrast to the raucous but comforting noise all around me. I found my friend and stage partner, Erik, who’s also repatriating. I could see he was as lost as me. ‘Come on,’ I said, ‘it’s time to go.’ I knew he felt the same; he didn’t want to leave either; it was just too final. But in true improv style, without saying anything else, we held hands, quietly walked the few paces to the back,stepped through the curtain, and with a deep breath, left the stage.

And just like that, the adventure was over. There were drinks, and more tears, and speeches, and more giggles, for hours after, and I know life here, with them, will continue for a few weeks yet. But leaving the stage – saying that goodbye – was the end of something truly wonderful. My time here is something I will remember and cherish forever.

It’s pretty much how I’m thinking leaving Dubai itself will be. A glance back at my lovely friends, the knowledge that I have to leave them to their lives, their conversations, to each other – that I have to let go – and step over some invisible threshold (let’s call it the doors of an A380)  quietly, without any fuss, into the next chapter. It all feels so wrong at the moment, like I’m not ready; I keep feeling that there must be some way of making it last.

But there isn’t. I realise, now, what people mean about leaving well vs. leaving happy. I’m not going to leave happy. Oh no. I’m going to be devastated – I already am devastated – and no doubt my poor husband will cop the worst of it for a while to come. But I believe I am leaving well. I’ve jacked in the idea that anything – work, writing, packing, planning – is more important than just spending time with people until I go. Not just any old people, but the ones that I want to say ‘I love you’, ‘I’ll miss you’, ‘I think you’re an amazing friend/mother/person’ to; friends I want to keep, even though we are miles apart; friends I will treasure in the future as much as the ones I am returning to in the UK after so many years.

And as much as I am clinging on to life here right now, when the time comes, I know I have to go without regret. And I will. I have no regrets. What a phenomenal and special journey this has been. And continues to be. I am so glad I had it – so thrilled to have experienced all of it, even the bad bits, but especially the good. I feel strong even though I am sad; I know things will be okay even though I am scared; I know I want to go as much as I want to stay. I’m older and wiser than I was when I left home and I know that great things lie ahead and this isn’t the end of life by far. It doesn’t stop me feeling sad, but it helps to know I’ll get over it (eventually). I think this is what is meant by ‘leaving well’.

So with four weeks to go, I embrace it all, taking in every moment, loving every part, before disappearing quietly from this, my wonderful stage.