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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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.

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.

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.

…gone

And then we got on a plane.

It was all a bit surreal in the end. The week leading up to the big day was teeming with horrific goodbyes; I think I stopped wearing make up sometime around Tuesday and by Thursday literally couldn’t speak to anyone without crying. Leaving Dubai was without doubt one of the saddest moments of my life, knowing that everything – the good bits and the bad, the adventure we’d undertaken all those years back – was well and truly over. I tried looking back over my Facebook posts for the past six months to see what I’d done to make the most of it all: BIG mistake. I’ve resolved not to do that again for a while. It hurts too much to see it all now I know it’s really gone.

In a rather inconvenient turn of events, the day before we left, the boy developed a fever. It was no big surprise; firstly, the whole city is rife with kids coughing and sneezing and throwing up at this time of year, and secondly, his school decided the best thing to do three days before the end of term, to make sure absolutely everyone left for the holidays with a virus, was to take them to a soft play area for their end of year school trip – complete with ‘make your own pizza’ activity, which involved about a fifty pairs of germ infested hands lurking about in vats of grated cheese and not much chance of getting your own pizza back at the end. Guaranteed to end in a 39 degree fever, obviously.

So instead of sitting back and sipping my champagne in First class (thanks Air Miles) gazing wistfully out of the window at the city I call home getting smaller and smaller while I sobbed into my smoked salmon canapes, I spent the first half of the flight worrying about the boy’s temperature and hoping his symptoms would ease up before we arrived at Heathrow and got taken into some sort of Ebola quarantine tent. Also, having been awake the entire night before administering various combinations of Nurofen and Calpol, plus nursing my own colossal hangover (physical and emotional) from my final leaving dinner 48 hours earlier, I was exhausted. I fell asleep before the plane even took off and in a reverse biblical moment of sorts, never even had chance to look back.

Arrival in London was, at best, mechanical. We got into the apartment we were borrowing, threw more drugs down the boy’s neck, and discussed what the hell to do with him given we weren’t registered with a doctor. This resulted in a Sunday afternoon outing to A&E, the first thing we did as a family in our new city. We sat for 2 delightful hours in a grim waiting room on what was one of the best days of weather in London for about ten years, only to be told it was flu.

The next few days passed in a haze of more Nurofen, very little sleep, a lot of children’s TV and absolutely no adult company at all from 7.30am to 6.30pm every day. This, by the way, is torture for an extrovert attention seeking horror show like myself. I tried really hard not to let it get to me but the stress and loneliness and emotional exhaustion of the whole debacle meant I knew I was fighting a losing battle. By Day Three I could hear the shrillness in my voice, the resentment, the anger at having to, I don’t know what really – cope with it all. I didn’t have the strength for it, hadn’t prepared for it, and didn’t want to deal with it. In the end, of course, I had to. My little man was a total trouper as we trekked via buses and tube trains to yet another doctor for a second opinion – where – guess what – a chest infection was finally diagnosed. Yay.

It was a miserable week. At the end of it, we got on another plane, and finally we are at a point in the journey where I know I can relax. I’m sitting staring at the Atlantic ocean now from our wonderful second (first? third?) home by the sea somewhere north of Boston. I feel more at home than I have done since our container left, and the relief at feeling like we’re somewhere familiar, somewhere we actually belong, is amazing. The boy is getting better and the sun is shining and I spent the morning wandering around galleries and shops, lunchtime sipping rose and gazing at sailboats in the water and the afternoon at the beach. I am healing. I know I am, because whereas I’ve avoided blogging all week despite ample opportunity while various episodes of ‘Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures’ has been on, today I could actually sit down to write this coherently.

I know this is the bit in between – two weeks of respite from real life, whatever that means.  I don’t know what happens next. But for now I can quietly repair and prepare myself for the coming few months, when everything will be thrown into the air again and life will undoubtedly be tumultuous. We are gone, and we are not there yet. We are somewhere in between, and right now, that feels like the right place to be.

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.

Confusion, Emotion and Perpetual Motion

I’m waiting for my flight back to London. Not THE flight; this is the one before that, where I go and find us somewhere to live. Our new home. I thought this would be the exciting bit, but the stress of this responsibility is, I now realise, of an intensity way beyond what I expected. Forget all the coordinating, the logistical nightmares, the turmoil of leaving; these are small fry. They are events that will happen, and pass, and be forgotten about over time. But this decision – choosing our home – will be the lasting legacy of this move, the thing we will all have to live with every day. It forms a major part of what determines whether the transition is successful and happy, or not. 

It’s only four walls, I know. But those four walls contain us. They will gather us together as a family, nurture us, comfort us, and give us the first taste of being grounded in our new world. For my son, it is the place he will take his first impressions of his new life from, the place that will form his memories of living in London forever. For my husband, it is the place that will make him feel all his hard work is worthwhile; that although London is not where he comes from it can still be his home. For me, it is the place I can sit in, alone, and yet not feel lonely; a place I can fill with friends and family or just enjoy the intimacy of our unit of three; a place where I know we can feel at home again in this foreign yet familiar city. 

How? How do I do this? How can I possibly predict where we will be happiest, where we won’t find ourselves wishing we were somewhere else? I remember these feelings, from a near-decade ago, when we left for Dubai. That panicky, slightly sick sensation that I might royally screw up (we did) and be saddled with living somewhere we don’t want to be (we were). I have a list of beautiful homes to look at and yet I’m terrified I won’t find the right one, or worse still I will think I found the right one and then find out when we move in that I’ve made a terrible mistake. I know, I know; we can always move again. But I don’t want to. It seems such a waste of time, energy and emotion. I just want to get it right, first time. I just want all of us to be happy.

On top of this insomnia-inducing anxiety about not cocking up, the fog of sadness about leaving Dubai is finally beginning to descend. There have been at least two incidents this week where I’ve burst into tears in an awkward public display of emotion and I’m trying hard not to make it three. But sitting at the airport waiting to board, all I want to do is cry. It all feels so ENORMOUS. The idea, the notion, flits through my mind, that in some way I’m betraying Dubai. Like some torrid affair, years of sneaking off to see London are finally turning into concrete plans to elope. I’m sorry Dubai. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve changed. It doesn’t mean anything.

What a lot of tosh. It’s HUGE. Of course it means something. It means everything.

The enormity of what is about to happen pushes down on me, threatening to crush my spirit; my determination that this will all be fine wavers like a sapling in a storm, flapping and flexing and fighting to stay upright and alive. I cannot fathom how I can possibly have the stamina to keep feeling this way for months, until it is all over and I know we are going to be okay. The worst thing is, I’ve done all this before: the goodbyes, the leaving, the learning somewhere new. The loneliness, the longing for the old life, the attempt to embrace the unknown. There are so many things to look forward to, but they won’t all arrive on my doorstep the second we touch the ground. I’ve done my research, done my reading, listened to the repat war stories of friends and friends of friends. I know that it will be a long time until we are okay.

Until now, it’s been a lot of talk. Big ideas, imagined lives, self-engineered scenarios. When I get off this plane later today, it all becomes real. Step by step, I must begin the task of converting the picture we have in our minds to glorious 3D technicolor. I’m scared, because there’s no signposts, no guides, no list of rules to abide by. Like a skydiver waiting by the door, there’s only my parachute of intuition, and the trust in myself that I will get the landing just right.

 

So I take a deep breath, and jump.