…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.

 

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CRASH

So, here I am, looking forward to going back to London, thinking about all the glorious reasons to be happy about it, messaging friends, when CRASH.

And just like that, my amazing friend and mentor, Moira Gemmill, was dead. She was the 5th cyclist this year to be killed by a tip truck in London, according to the BBC report. She died on Thursday, pronounced dead at the scene, her bike crushed under the wheels and that was that. As I don’t know anyone else who knows her, I found out from a newspaper article early this morning. If my husband didn’t read the paper, it would have taken months for me to find out, probably when I hadn’t heard from her after trying to arrange a meet in the summer to celebrate my return. It is fair to say I am in shock. I cannot comprehend the awfulness of what happened, or begin to process the idea that I will never see, or speak to her again.

My inspirational and talented boss who I worked with at the V&A museum for two years and have known another ten. Gone.

My funny, stylish, picture-straightener of a friend who I shared too many bottles of white wine with commiserating over the dreadful actions of the other 600-odd employees we worked with. Gone.

My long-term mentor, the woman who encouraged me to aim high, gave me my reference for my MA, who I trusted, who believed in me, who regularly asked me what I thought about her incredible career because for some strange reason she respected my opinion as much as I did hers. Gone.

All gone. There is so much sadness. I am finally coming to London (as she said when I told her, ‘about time too, missy’) and now she won’t be there. If it wasn’t all over the news, I would think it a lie. I keep hoping, stupidly, that it weren’t true. How can it be true, that my friend was run over and killed by a truck? How can she be an item on the news instead of a person sitting opposite me a few months from now, laughing and chatting and being alive? What a tragic, awful way to die. Not that there’s a good way to die. But this is a terrible, devastating shocker of a way to go.

She was in the prime of her life, with an amazing career behind and ahead of her. ‘I’m going to work for the Queen’, she’d emailed me, in January. I know she got a kick out of saying it even though she was always so super cool about everything. She was fifteen years my senior and I knew I would never catch up with her, or achieve half of what she did, but it was fun to try, and she encouraged me every step of the way. How do you replace someone like this in your life? The answer: I never will. I don’t think I could even bring myself to try.

The last time I saw Moira, last summer, she got on her bike after lunch and with a wave, she was gone. And now, just like that, she isn’t coming back.

London will not be the same without her.

Support the London Cycling Campaign at www.lcc.org.uk 

Gone, girl (nearly).

So. Here’s the thing. We’re leaving Dubai.

Oh yes. It’s quite true. The flights are bought, the packers are booked, the school is secured, and we’re gone, as of June, off to the grey skies of London town, after nine years and two months away.

NINE YEARS. This city, this expat life, has changed me so much, and been such a pivotal part of my life. I can hardly bear to think it is over. I will have plenty more to say, but I’m a little stressed, a little sleep deprived, and a lot emotional. Having spent the week breaking the news to people and trying not to get upset on too many occasions, I admit I’ve cried in coffee shops, teared up in living rooms and sobbed in the car (For sale: RAV4, one lady driver, 82,000 kms, black, 2009, new tyres, PM me if you’re interested) on numerous occasions. I’m a tad drained; I move from excited to devastated and back again on an hourly basis.

Suffice to say there are upsides and downsides. Expect more on both of these subjects just as soon as I have garnered enough energy to blog about it. But I just thought you should know. I’m going home. Or not. I haven’t quite figured it out yet…

Travelling without moving

…or, in the alternate plane of reality I appear to live in: ‘Hell, after all we’ve been through this year, let’s move house AND depart for a two month round the world trip all in the same week’.

Several people thought I was insane. Many more thought I would go insane. But against all odds, I survived, and despite a rather last minute approach to packing and a house so full of boxes I thought we’d never get out alive, I am now sitting in dear damp old London town, apparently in possession of not only my marbles, but, it would appear, all the necessary belongings required for our trip. (I even remembered my decaf tea bags and a sunhat. Years of list making and packing everything not nailed down for various long haul trips have apparently not gone un-wasted).

Our departure from Dubai for the summer draws a line across what has been the most tumultuous six months of my life. Never have I been so glad to see the back of time, to be so relieved to move on and away. There’s guilt about this as well as relief: I’ve neglected people, near and far, as I’ve buried myself in my own life trying to cope with it all – and in spending large amounts of time lurching from one disaster to the next I fear one of the worst crimes I’ve committed is that I didn’t stop to notice a lot of the growing up my son did while I wasn’t watching. But now, suddenly, I feel like the worst is over. And although I was already beginning to feel better as the list of horror got shorter and the time away from it grew longer, getting on a plane has purged me and left me feeling lighter, able to enjoy myself at last. The immediate future is bright, filled with adventures to have and memories to be made and time away from normal life that our little family unit of three badly need to have. And when we return again, refreshed, it will be to a new home, which I know when the teething pains of moving house are over, will be a joy to live in.

I understand now that it takes time to heal, to regain strength when so much happened to take it away. I appreciate I’m not there yet, but I’m on the way. Sitting listening to the rain fall outside and watching my son manage his jet lag with (mostly) good grace, I feel like I am, in this moment, travelling without moving. My heart and mind float slowly to surface to breathe the fresh air and I feel a peace I haven’t felt for months. I can look outside myself again. My summer will be filled with vibrant cities, country lanes and quaint seaside towns; culture, art, the sand between my toes, glasses raised with friends, the joy of family – and I plan to make the most of every minute, knowing the moments will pass without me if I let them. But I won’t, now; I’ve let enough of them go by.

On grief and goodbyes

I often feel like I’m not an expert when it comes to being an expat; there are so many other people out there who have been away longer, been to more places, had more difficult lives in incredibly challenging countries. But lately, involuntarily, I have become an expert on losing loved ones and coping with it away from home. (more…)

Life, death and expatriation

It’s my grandad’s funeral today. I’m thousands of miles away listening to my son having his drum lesson before going home to cook dinner and head out to rehearsal for an improv show. Just another day. And the third time I have not made it home to say goodbye to one of my wonderful grandparents. Words cannot convey how desperately sad I feel.

The thing is, I could have gone back. I could have put us on a plane and headed back for a week or so. It’s the Easter holidays and we have the time. But my son’s starting a new school and I don’t want to disrupt him before we begin. In a few months we have to undertake seven weeks of travelling across the world (other people know this as ‘summer’) and I really don’t want to ship him overseas before then if I can help it. And it feels like I only just got back from the last batch of trips, dealing with the sudden and devastating loss of my dad. (Yes, 2014 has been an excellent year so far. Not).

So instead, I’ve elected to stay. I will get home from rehearsal tonight and log into the webcast, and watch the recorded version from the comfort of my living room. It’s great in one way, that technology means I don’t miss it entirely. But it’s a bit macabre watching a funeral on an ipad; it’s not the same as saying goodbye in person, and it doesn’t take into account the complete and utter loneliness of being so far away from everyone else, of not being able to hold my sisters’ hands, or hug my mum, or just have time to reflect and raise a toast with everyone afterwards.

Worse still, no-one who hasn’t had to make the decision understands. I’m sure that there are people reading this and thinking ‘well you should have got on the bloody plane then, if you feel so bad’ – or alternatively, ‘well you get to be away from it all, so it’s not as bad for you.’ Well, this year I’ve done both – made one, missed one. Neither is ideal. Attending your dad’s funeral and then heading straight to the airport because, between the emotional toll, two return trips and the ensuing jet lag you haven’t seen your 4 year old son for the best part of two weeks isn’t exactly a choice I enjoyed making. Not being there at all this time around just fills me with untold amounts of guilt and unresolved grief that I will have to store up for a moment in time when I’m not running about like a nutter or completely dog tired and have a moment to myself to think about it all. The third way – being there already so you don’t have to make all these decisions – isn’t really in my control.

It’s the worst, most terrible thing about being an expat – being torn between two lives and knowing that commitment to either at a time like this will always, in some way, be the wrong decision. It’s been a long time since I felt this way about being here: this deep sadness that the choice we have made makes some things harder than they need to be. I know it will pass, that the rawness will fade and be replaced by small, less intense moments of regret. But for today, I think it’s okay to feel sad.

 

Best laid plans

Here it comes, lurching onto the horizon like a drunken uncle at a wedding: Summer. The time of year I have sworn, regularly, might be my breaking point on how long I can keep up this expat life. The six to eight weeks of living out of a suitcase, dealing with jet lag, the ceaseless activity of sitting on planes, trains and in automobiles;  the horrendous amount of money it all costs to torture ourselves with being away from home just to avoid the torture of being here. The grand tour planning department has opened its doors once more and I am its reluctant operations manager.

But this year there is a twist. Because this year, on top of finishing a masters degree, changing my son’s school, and figuring out what to pack for a summer that most likely includes every type of weather and setting you could think of, we are also moving house.

I’ll let that sink in a little. And then if anyone can come back to me with some valium, that would be good.

Our house will go up for sale this week after four happy years living here, to celebrate it finally being worth what we paid for it back in 2007. We will be the proud recipients of approximately $10.47 profit, which is better than nothing. I’m fine with the concept of moving, but I’m getting that niggling sense that it might be a while before I recover from it when you bolt on the fact we will most likely be moving house and then leaving for a couple of months to assume our gypsy lifestyle in the west. And – yippee! – I get to spend my time away mentally adding to the bulging list of things to do which will no doubt bug me the entire time until I can get back and do them: curtain hanging, garden landscaping, pictures to go up on the wall, shelves to put in, boxes to unpack, THE KITCHEN OMG THE KITCHEN…I was up at 5am yesterday thinking about all this and we haven’t even advertised the house yet.

And I worry, that the upheaval of the summer and moving house might send my son over the top as well. Poor little man. It’s not as though he’s going to grow up in the same house his whole life – we knew that already. But it seems particularly unfair to turf him from his room, make him camp in seven different places, then tell him we’re going home to a completely different house from the one he’s been in since he was a baby.  Also I can’t imagine I’m going to be a salad cart of giggles; moving in fifty degree heat and 80% humidity will be the least amount of fun EVER, and I’m not relishing the struggle through box loads of accumulated crap to try and find a summer’s worth of clothes, books and toys with which to bundle us off to Blighty and beyond.

Maybe I’m just seeing problems for the sake of it, though. The upside is that we will come back to a new adventure, another part of our journey as expats. I will get to go shopping for new stuff for the house because inevitably, the old stuff will fall apart in the move or won’t fit (except the sofas: I promise I’ll keep the sofas). This time, I am not moving with a six week old baby. That is just so 2009. No, this time will be different: less hormonal, more experienced. This house move WILL take three days, no matter what the movers tell me about it only taking two. I am prepared for this. I will not be packing anything myself ‘in case the movers break something’, because through experience I know that they are insured, whereas I am not. They are also very good at their job, whereas I am not. Anything we don’t want to take with us will be gifted to our housekeeper, put in a crate and sent to Sri Lanka. It will not be saved ‘just in case we need it in the next house’, only to rot in the garage after a few years. A bottle of something will be waiting in the fridge for the end of days one, two and three.  I will get the curtains put up and shelves installed and pest control round before we move in, not two months after. And then I will get on a plane, and hope that my rose tinted spectacles are still working well enough to ignore the enormity of the trip before me.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to help with the logistics spreadsheet I’m creating, do drop me a line.