RAD (Repat Adjustment Disorder)

So, hey, Happy New Year.

Is it too late to say that now it’s nearly February? Well, I am anyway. January, much like December, November, October, September, and most of last summer, seems to have shot by me at the speed of light. I keep wondering why it feels like my feet haven’t touched the ground since the clocks changed, and yet IT’S STILL WINTER.

It’s been winter here for a very long time. I’m not going all British on you and complaining about the weather; far from it – it’s been unusually warm here for the time of year and there’s only been a couple of dark mornings scraping ice off the car windows so I really am not complaining. Also on Saturday I sat in a beer garden, outside, with only a blanket around me, and my fingers didn’t start falling off from frostbite until nearly two hours had passed. So no, that’s not what I mean.

What I mean is the dark. And I don’t mean the dark nights. Living in Dubai, it gets dark pretty early all year round. We don’t have those blissful European summer nights spent sipping rose in the half light at 10pm. But even on the shortest days of winter, it actually gets light. And this is what I’m struggling with: the lack of light. Anyone that knows me will know I loathe the house we moved into in London specifically due to the lack of light. It’s north facing, or wrong facing or whatever; basically I have to have the lights on in my kitchen, living room and office 24/7/365 in order to see anything at all. This has produced many days of procrastination over sitting in the house writing, because dark rooms doth not a creative make. Not this creative, anyway.

So in order to live a more fulfilling life in a hundred different ways, I’ve focused on getting out of the house, out of the dark and into the light I sometimes see lurking outside the windows in the grey distance. Meetings, breakfasts, brunches, lunches; nights out, days out, weekends away; working and writing and dragging my laptop around with a general sense that if only I am not sitting in the dark, I will not procrastinate, and I will get on with things.

Which made me a very busy person. In between laundry loads and grocery store trips, parenting and house keeping, I tried to fit in running a business, producing and directing an improv show, editing my old book, writing a new one, plus a million other projects and social functions, all with as little contact as possible with my desk. And to balance it all, to be efficient and charming and creative and funny and logical and entrepreneaurial and a good parent, IT’S NOT POSSIBLE. I’ve written a thousand times about ‘having it all’ and I think we’ve all come a long way since 2012 or so and know that not only is it not possible, it’s totally undesirable. And so, as the year came to a close, I took my foot off the accelerator and realised that I’ve been doing way, way too much in order to stop remembering I left another life behind. In doing so, I’d created a life that was super busy, but didn’t leave me time to find meaning in any of it. I’d created Repat Adjustment Disorder: The bit where you forget to be you.

So it’s a new year and I’m in (slightly) better control of things. I’ve stopped running around networking for jobs; the work will come to me and I will do that work, but I’m not going to hunt it down – not for the time being, anyway. The improv show is nearly up and running – first performance 10th February (eek!) – so the time that has taken in planning, casting, rehearsing and administrating is diminishing at a rapid rate. The first book is done and submitted. The new one is waiting in the wings. Instead of escaping my hell hole of an office I’ve resolved to tidy it up (it’s a total shit tip which hasn’t been helping) and on sunny days – or days where it’s not raining – take a walk to get some fresh air, and take time off from the rest of life to enjoy the limited daylight on offer.

So far, it seems to be working. I feel far calmer. I have whole days where I come home from school drop off, turn off my social media and email, and sit down to write. It all feels far less lonely than I was scared it would, and I think that’s in large part due to the fact that I don’t need as many people in my life as I thought I did. Repatriation is part planning, part panic – just the same as expatriation, I suppose. You cast the net wide and say yes to everything in fear of being left alone crying in the car about having nothing and no one, and it leaves you with no quality time, no time to figure out how you want to spend your life or who you want to be. Putting the breaks on everything, taking time to be alone, and realise that I’m not lonely, has been the best thing I could have done.

I suppose this post isn’t really about much in particular. I don’t have a point, in the strictest sense; I just felt like sitting down and writing and sharing with you where I’m at. I’m sure lots of people who haven’t just moved countries feel like this too. But so many people have voiced how in awe they are of how much I’ve done, of what I’ve achieved since we returned. And that’s been nice, to have people say that. But also, it made me realise it’s not normal. And sometimes it pays to be a bit more normal. There’s hitting the ground running, and there’s doing it at a speed that won’t just graze your knees, it will obliterate you entirely if you don’t stop in time. There are benefits I’m reaping from fast tracking myself these past six months, but it’s time to put on the brakes a little and start to enjoy the moment.

And with that, it’s time to go for a walk.

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Expat to Repat: Moving forward, not back.

We moved out of our house in Dubai on 11 June. Since then we’ve stayed in seven different beds, living out of our suitcases and trying to hang on to some semblance of sanity despite the incredible strain of leaving, then arriving, and all the in between. Anyone who hasn’t done it – there is just no point in trying to explain to you how completely emotionally and physically draining this period of displacement has been and expect you to appreciate what the hell I’m talking about. It’s beyond stressful – beyond feeling, even, in many ways. And yet, because we’re somewhere we’ve been before, it’s a constant battle not to beat myself up about not being ecstatic, or even comfortable with being here for large portions of time. Although I know this is where we are now, I’ve accepted we have left Dubai and I’m okay about being in London, I’m not really sure what happens now to turn it into my actual life, or how long that might take. There’s no explaining that feeling.

I’ve had so many people say things like ‘look on the bright side, you’re home now’ or ask me things like ‘how does it feel to be back?’ and the answer is, to these questions and the many like it: I’m not home. I’m not back anywhere. It’s SO foreign. It shouldn’t be – but it is. I’m somewhere that I know, that is familiar, sure; but we’ve been gone so long, changed so much, and become different people in the time away that I can’t possibly say that we are ‘back’. And it isn’t home either. Home can’t just be switched on like a tap. It takes an enormous amount of time, to make the place you are living into the place you call home.

The bright side I can look on, is that the journey is over, and we are living in the most gorgeous part of London that I already love. The weather helps, of course, because it’s been mostly splendid since the container arrived and our stuff was tipped, jimmied and jammed into the new house. We’ve been here for 2 weeks now, and I’m sitting in rather idyllic conditions, up on my roof deck, with a view of the London skyline silhouetted against perfect blue skies. My shoulders are a bit burnt from a morning at the park, and from our picnic on the common yesterday, and I’m wondering when is a good time to have my first glass of rose. I’ve got a baby sitter sorted for the next few weeks so that DH and I can go for dinner, I have a few play dates lined up to get us out of the house and I still can’t quite get over the fact that in a minute I’ll order my shopping online and it will arrive sometime tomorrow. I’ve booked tickets for shows, seen my sister for drinks and in a shock move my mother called me on the phone this week because it wasn’t going to cost her 27p a minute. I spent half the call trying to figure out the time difference before I realised there wasn’t one.

I’m incredibly tired, but I don’t feel as stressed as I was, even though I know I am still very, very stressed – I know that it’s going to take more than a few days to undo the past three months. Little bits of it keep popping out now and then, when I just want to be left alone for five minutes so I don’t ‘go postal’ and I pretend to go to the toilet just to put my head in my hands and scream silently at the mirror (it’s been a VERY long school holiday), or when I can’t get the TV to work properly, or when I look at the rest of the boxes I haven’t unpacked yet and I can’t actually bear the thought of touching them. I’ve only really lost the plot once and broken down in floods of tears wailing that I want to go back to Dubai. And I had a bit of a meltdown about getting the car out of a tight spot earlier. But mainly, I’ve been okay, not too sad, not to glad, just sort of waking up each day waiting to see if I veer one way or the other.

Repatriation is hard – harder in many ways than leaving in the first place. I’m scared to recommit to friendships in case I get rejected, yet I’m desperate to reconnect so I don’t feel lonely. But its hard to fit in where once we didn’t have to. Relationships that have been nurtured on the foundation of twice-yearly visits for nearly a decade can’t turn back into weekly coffees, dinner parties and drinks in town overnight. In fact, that will never happen, because everyone else’s life is already ticking along quite nicely, and we are just a small change to their matrix. We’ve been gone too long to be anything else. Not that people aren’t happy to see us, but after the initial welcome home I know that we have to find our own way, and not imagine that we can go back to the life we had before.

So it’s inevitable, that this relatively peaceful part of re-entry won’t last. I know that the enormity of moving hasn’t hit fully, and that there will still be moments when I feel ten times more lonely than I do now, and I’m going to wish more than once in the next few months that we hadn’t left Dubai. The weather will get shitty, probably way before school starts again, and I’ll be driving around in the rain cursing and trying not to cry because I’m lost and can’t work the sat nav, and then DH will come home and I’ll yell at him for something that isn’t his fault and tell him I hate it here, hate him for moving us back, hate his job, hate my lonely, rotten, wasted life…you get the picture. It will, of course, be code for ‘I’m missing my old life, where I knew everything and everywhere and everyone, and all this is strange and new and I don’t know how to do anything, or where anything is, or who to be anymore.’ When you move abroad, it’s called ‘Culture Shock’. When you return, it’s called ‘sort it out, FFS’. And I will sort it out. Time will make these things fade and disappear, eventually, and I just have to accept that. Experience tells me this, and wraps me in a sort of comforting blanket of expattiness, that I will get through; that we will survive. (Gosh I sound so dramatic. It’s the stress, I’m telling you).

And as long as I remind myself of this once in a while, that life will just take time to form into the thing we want it to be, I think things will be okay. Embrace the old, but explore the new. It’s scary, but we’ll get there. It’s just another step forward, another adventure. It’s fine. I’ve done it before.

I think it’s time for that glass of rose.

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.

New Girl in a Small World

I’m standing like the proverbial spare one at a wedding, clutching my iphone and gazing intently at the screen to hide the fact that I’m feeling just a little bit redundant and a tad insecure. People chat all around me, clutching babies and laughing and asking how the holidays went. Yep, it’s my son’s first week at a new school, and I’m back to a social square one. I don’t know the system, I don’t know the teachers, I don’t know anyone. And it’s a parent assembly today, so everyone is gathered in the foyer waiting to be allowed in to see their little ones show off their Easter hats and wondering if they did a good enough job with the eggs and straw and feather boas. (They did, by the way. I think I’m going to have to raise my game in the creative mum department). I hover near the mum I met briefly at drop off yesterday, who’s chatting to a larger group; I keep hoping she’ll notice me as I don’t really feel brave enough to just go and stand with them. I give myself a mental slap. Seriously. I’m nearly 40 years old, I’ve lived here for eight years, I go onstage every other week in front of complete strangers and I’m still as bad at making friends as ever.

But I’m saved from having to chastise myself any further because – magically – she does notice me, and introduces me to the crowd standing around. I instantly forget everyone’s names, except all the dads appear to be called Ian which is a result. But I warm to all of them and the tiniest bit of confidence begins to flow through me. I chat, briefly, and we establish who belongs to which child, before we are ushered into the hall for assembly. I sit next to one of the women, and we start to ask the usual questions. Our conversation feels strangely comfortable for two women who’ve never met before. ‘Where are you from in the UK?’ I ask. Turns out her hometown is about 20 miles from mine. Honestly, you can take the girl out of Essex, but you’ll always know when you meet one. It’s a humour thing, I think. Well I hope it is, because I’m just about to crack a joke. ‘You don’t sound like you come from Essex,’ I say. ‘Neither do you’ she replies and we smile. I suggest we can both relax and ‘get our Basildon on’ and she laughs, and suddenly – just like that – I’m not alone anymore.

Being at a new school is good for me – it makes me feel like I just arrived in Dubai all over again and reminds me to be a better, kinder person to the ones who are really new to the whole expat business. I might feel lonely for twenty minutes of a new school run but the rest of the day is filled with calls, emails and meetings with the friends I’ve made over the years here. I remember when the school run was the only part of the day I spoke with anyone, and how important it was. And it still is. I’m excited to add to my circle of friends at a time of year when traditionally I’m saying goodbye to them, excited to fill a bit more of my life with new company, to get to know them and become friends. I just hope my little boy settles in too, and isn’t left standing too long in the metaphorical foyer either, before someone helps him find his feet. But something tells me he’ll be just fine.

 

Eight years an expat. (And counting…)

We’ve just celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. My friend’s baby just turned eight years old. It can only mean one thing: we have been here eight years.

Eight years. Who would have thought it? Not me. Not some of you, either, if you’ve been reading from the start. But it appears that you really never do know what life is going to throw you. So, from the happy place I find myself in lately, what pearls of wisdom do I have to share about my eight years of life in Dubai? There’s many to choose from but here are a few of the more important ones:

1. A trip to the supermarket will only ever yield a maximum of 82% of what you have on your list.

2. The rate at which you anticipate bad driving rises exponentially over time. This is represented by the following equation:

Road Rage + Bad Driving = Anticipation to the power of 100
Time

3. Do not underestimate how painful bare legs on a hot car seat can be.

4. Wearing sunglasses in 80% humidity will result in bodily harm.

5. Lipgloss and sandstorms do not go well together.

6. Shopping is an art form.

7. Boredom is the nemesis of the Trailing spouse. Do not get sucked in. Find something you love, and you will find yourself.

8. People leave and you will feel abandoned. But you will get over it. Get over it.

9. Don’t kid yourself. It is a little bit like being on holiday all the time.

10. To quote the great Bill Bryson, once you’ve left, you’re gone:

‘There are things you just can’t do in life. You can’t beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you until he’s ready to see you, and you can’t go home again.’

Spare me the drama

Three years ago I was a completely different person. I was lonely, depressed, desperately homesick and, save the odd coffee here or there, completely friendless. I sat at home with my one year old son and tried not to cry quite a lot, wondering how I could make things better and failing to come up with any ideas. It was a very low time in my life and clearly something had to change. With my husband’s support, I revisited an idea I’d had a few years’ previous, and signed up to be part of the Desert Monologues, run by Drama Dubai. An old hand at musical theatre, I’d never done ‘straight’ acting before, and didn’t know what to expect. It was six weeks of workshopping followed by a performance of my very own four minute monologue, playing a knife wielding crazy lady who had murdered her husband for laughing during an argument. I loved it.

Fast forward three years and once a week, sometimes twice, I leave behind my studies, my parental responsibilities, and all the other every day stresses and skip into rehearsals like a very theatrical Bambi. I have been lucky enough to take this exciting journey at a time when the cultural scene in Dubai is really beginning to take off, and as a result, I’ve performed in a play, appeared at the Emirates Literature Festival, the Sikka Art Festival, and Short + Sweet Theatre festival. I am in love with improv’ theatre – from theatresports, to long form, to musical improv (my current squeeze)…anything goes, I can’t get enough. I am surrounded by people who make me laugh – big belly laughing – and they are my kind of people, from all walks of life, who love every aspect of being up on stage just as much as I do.

Six months ago, the owners of Drama Dubai, Kemsley Dickinson and Tiffany Schultz, did something brave and inspiring. They walked us into a boiling hot, dilapidated office space and told us they were going to turn it into a theatre. Into our theatre. The Courtyard Playhouse. I am so proud to have been part of this story, and I’m so excited for what it is about to become – a performing arts space that’s as unique as the people that will fill it.

It’s nearly finished; there are a few things that still need to be done – lights, dressing rooms, and some decent washrooms – and so a crowd funding campaign has been launched to raise the money that’s needed for the project to be completed. Click on the link and watch the video (you will even get to see me in it!) and if the mood takes you, donate what you can to support.

Being an expat often means you are detached, uncommitted, and uninvolved in the society outside of your immediate home, school, and work life. You don’t always get involved like you would at home. I spent a lot of time being that way, and I can say, hand on heart, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much of it. I am immensely grateful to Drama Dubai for handing me a lifeline even if they didn’t know it – and know that I will always carry the most amazing memories with me of this place because of the people I have met by doing all of this, and the experiences it has given me.

If you love theatre, even if you only love watching it, please think about helping enrich our city with something unique and inspiring. Click on the link and grab your wallet, tell your friends, share this post. Be involved – play your part.

That is all.

faye2

A little ‘me’ time

Firstly, apologies for the radio silence. Things have been a little hectic due to visiting relatives, theatre performances and the small matter of a 4000 word short story to write for my degree portfolio. Not to mention the PTA obligations, Sports day, International day, and the various overseas train smashes concerning future schools, renting houses and sick family to manage.  Blogging has been beyond what time has allowed. And so when it came to dress making, I figured it was time to outsource.

I have a perfectly good sewing machine at home, I just have no inclination to do anything more complicated than table runners and cushion covers. On the tourist trail to Bur Dubai a few weeks back, I came across a particularly spectacular bolt of patterned silk (well they said it was silk) for a mere £7/m in the fabric souk, and decided to get a jump suit copied I’ve been wearing almost non stop since I bought it nearly three years ago.  For Dhs 250 (about £40) I will have a brand new swishy silk pantsuit to play in, made to measure and cheaper than the original one. Tick in the box for supporting the ‘local’ (chinese) economy while I’m at it.

Having visitors, especially first time ones, often opens my eyes back up to what’s around and gets me out of my self imposed local living rut. Going down to the creek always reminds me where we are, that we aren’t just in this little bubble, that there is a lot of other real life to see out there. Of course it’s full of touts trying to sell me pashminas and boat rides but if you get past that you can really enjoy just being part of the city, haggling for fabric and riding the abra alongside every other creed and colour who is crossing the creek for one purpose or another.
Somewhere lurking near the opposite end of the expat spectrum, during my blog hiatus I was also part of Dubai’s first Short+Sweet theatre festival. A great initiative to encourage local people to write, direct and act in a series of 10 minute plays, it was a spectacle of good, sometimes great, and some downright awful entertainment, but it was ours. Five years ago or so there is no way the city could have even conceived of hosting a festival like this, and it is really exciting to be contributing to the arts scene and (hopefully) changing it for the better. This weekend was spent performing and at and participating in the Emirates Literature festival, another fantastic example of how much things have moved on in the past few years.
And so that’s the end of my excuses; why the dog ate my homework etc. I now have three glorious weeks of relative relaxation, or two weeks of holiday and a  ‘reading week’ as its called in university circles.  I’m looking forward to it: gym, spa, vacation in the desert, and maybe even a trip to my beloved but much neglected mall. The year has certainly got off to an intensive start but it’s been incredibly satisfying too. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so full of ideas and optimism for the time ahead.
It’s also fair to say I’m knackered. Pass the wine someone…