#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.

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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.

On your marks…

Hang on a minute while this relocation thing turns into a full time job. God, if I thought moving house last year was an effort, it pales into insignificance in comparison to moving countries. With eight weeks to go I thought I had everything in the bag, but the horrible realisation that I’ve only scratched the surface is beginning to dawn. I did the entire ‘leaving Dubai’ bit in about two days. I forgot that the ‘arrive in London’ bit would be slightly more daunting.

Let’s take the house hunting to begin with. I thought I was organised. I’ve been looked online for months, since the whole ‘we might be going to London’ thing reared it’s ugly head. I know the market inside out. So you’d think it would be a quick job to put together a list of places to view when I go to London next week for my recce.

How mistaken you would be. I’ve just spent the best part of two hours tonight emailing and conversing with estate agents about viewings next week. Prior to that I spent a full week researching the houses I wanted to view, and another afternoon over the weekend printing out the particulars, seeing where they were on a map, and figuring out how far each one was to the school and the station, to make sure the men in my life are fully catered for. It doesn’t matter to me where the house is; at the moment I can’t envisage when I might leave it.

For starters I have no friends. I mean, I do, but not the sort that pick your son up from school if you need to, I dunno, work or something. Not the kind that live just around the corner, who will take your little cherub for the afternoon so you can get some unpacking done, do the housework, or sit rocking gently in a corner lamenting the state of your unmanicured nails. I leave all those friends behind in Dubai. And to get new versions I need to wait for school to start. And probably join the PTA, dammit. (Sobs. Stamps feet.) So I have to accept that I will be doing most of this on my own. Which means I need to be in control of the entire move. Which means I have to organise it. Everything, from the container packing to the paperwork we take on the plane; from the cat boarding to new uniform shopping; from dawn ’til dusk everyday this task will be mine, to sort, order, plan and plot, all while I entertain my lovely little boy.

Because before any of that making friends stuff happens we have the summer holidays. Which, due to an early finish in Dubai and a late start in London, are approximately ten and a half weeks long. TEN AND A HALF WEEKS. WTF am I going to do with a five year old for TEN AND A HALF WEEKS?? With no toys until the container arrives? Whenever the hell that is. So I have the summer to plan as well, on top of the move. Where shall we go, what shall we do? How do we get there? Do we need tickets? I comfort myself with the idea that it might be nearly three months before I have any time to myself again, but at least I can order wine online to be delivered to the house on a regular basis. That’s always assuming my new sim card arrives for my phone and I can get on the internet in the first place.

Maybe we can get in the car and drive somewhere exciting each week, to keep things interesting. Drive? Oh hang on, that would require a car. Back we go to the internet for more research. And a couple more mornings spent test driving various models of small SUVs and MPVs and what the hell is the difference anyway and will any of them will fit in the parking space outside the house that I haven’t found yet? If it doesn’t have a garage or off street parking. (Heads back to check each house on the list for parking – another hour).

Anything else? Leaving dos. Must organise dinner/drinks/coffee/brunch/lunch with everyone. Not too soon though, or they’ll want to do it all over again before we go. I didn’t want a big do with everyone but I’m starting to see the attraction. One do, one date, one time. Hey, does anyone want to organise a leaving do?

What about a cleaner? And a babysitter? When does the container arrive again? Shit, the insurance forms. Don’t forget to fill those in. And the cats. A trip to see the cattery and pay the deposit is another nice little trip to eat up half a morning.

FOR SALE: Yeah, let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the woman who wanted to buy my guest bed and came to the house and used the bathroom and came out after five full minutes saying ‘I’ve opened the window’. EWWWW. And left water all over the floor from the bum hose thing. And then didn’t buy the bed. Let’s talk about the toys, the furniture, the bits and bobs, the Dubai wardrobe of shoes and dresses, all too good to throw away but such a friggin’ hassle to sell. Let’s talk about how I’m driving the books to one charity, the toys to another, the boy’s clothes to a third. Another day or two just for distribution. Does anyone want to buy a bed?

And somehow, in all of that, I’m trying to find time to make the most of my last few weeks. But time is leaking away and so are the people. They have their own thing going on, they don’t want to hear about me leaving. I know, because I’ve been there too.

I feel like I’m in between worlds – neither here nor there. I am terrified and sad but I don’t have time to be terrified or sad and no one is interested in me being terrified or sad anyway. I’m excited but I don’t have time for that either, and I keep thinking that being excited is a bit of a fool’s errand, given I’ve got all of the above to get through. I’m not alone, I know; I’ve read several articles doing the rounds at the moment that are kindly being sent to me at every opportunity with titles like ‘The Dark Side of Repatriation’ or telling me things like ‘make sure you leave well, rather than leave happy’. I’m not ungrateful. But just trying to figure out what that means took me the whole of yesterday morning. Personally I think I’ll just be leaving knackered.

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…

Wanderlust

Meanwhile, in real life, I’ve been a bit preoccupied. Apologies for the prolonged literary silence. My MA is ramping up to the final hand in date, and quite frankly blogging has had to take second (or third, or fourth) place to writing an essay on narrative in memoir (more interesting, it turns out, than I thought), trying to get over the writer’s block and finish my book, (still working on that) plus quite a bit of performing thrown in. And that little thing called parenting. And dealing with the rather catastrophic decision to move into a new house four days before flying to the other side of the world for nearly two months. (That had just a bit of fallout to manage. Turns out boxes do not unpack themselves, the garden won’t ever grow plants in it unless I actually get it landscaped and we own a sh*tload of stuff we really don’t need)

But things seem to be calmer this week*. I have managed to create distance between me and chaos, which was a difficult parting of ways but not entirely impossible to execute. I have a small list of things still to accomplish (little things, like the final 35,000 words of a book to write), but what I really need to do is wrap my head around the business of being in Dubai again. I feel like I haven’t quite got the hang of being back yet, even though it’s been nearly two months since our summer hiatus. It’s almost like I’ve been too busy to acclimatise. I turn up to stuff and nod and smile in all the right places but feel a little bit uncommitted to the idea of life being here, of this being ‘it’. I’m surprised at myself and honestly, fairly confused as to why I’m feeling this way. Maybe the displacement from our home has left me unsettled – yet I love our new house, so I don’t think that’s the problem. More likely it’s the influx of new people who’ve arrived with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure I no longer possess. I feel a bit jaded, and groundhog day-esque, like there’s nothing new for me here. And yet that’s not true either – I have a life filled with theatre and writing and friends where, a few years ago, there was nothing. I love what I do and I love my life here. So what is the problem? It’s not homesickness per se – in fact it’s almost the opposite – dare I mutter it’s just a feeling that I might have nearly (nearly – I’m aware it’s awesome here) had enough of being in the same place.

Nomad’s curse. That feeling of wanting the next adventure, of seeing the next new place. I don’t get itchy feet very often but I feel like I’ve got them bad right now. I feel a need to see the world again, to be surrounded with the hum of a new city that’s alive with different faces, different ideas, different histories. I’m stifled; my frame of reference has shrunk to school drop offs and pick ups, negotiations with workmen, parties and play dates. Creatively, emotionally, this isn’t enough. I need to find somewhere or something new to fall in love with; to inspire me, to feed my soul and create new energy within. I need to change something before the routine becomes a rut. But I’m about fifteen years too late to just grab a rucksack and hit the road. So instead, I’m resolving to unplug the laptop, pick up my camera and a notebook and take myself to a corner of Dubai where I haven’t been before or at the very least, haven’t been for a while.  And then I’m going to write about it. It’s the best I can do, to shake things up and maybe quell the urge for something new. I need to see that there is a life outside of my bubble, to observe and listen to a wider world, even within my own city. I hope that it will quiet the wanderlust that is lurking, and allow me to see there is still plenty on offer here, if only I reach out to grab it.

Failing that, I’m going to have to steal the family air miles. Don’t worry babe, I’ll be back by Sunday…

 

*I wrote this on Monday. By this morning (Wednesday), the boy had been sick off school, given me his germs, and the gardener has just put an axe through a pipe in the garden, creating a rather picturesque mud lake and possibly cutting the water supply to our house. I’m currently waiting for the plumber to turn up and charge me a small fortune to nearly fix it. But not quite. That would be too easy.

On the road…again…

It’s a funny thing, this expat life. We are 4 weeks into our world tour and have just under 3 weeks to go, now (mainly) staying put in the same beds, and although I’m happy to be here, and the sun is shining, and my little boy is content, I’m a teeny, tiny bit homesick. For Dubai. Ironic? Rather. Here, in no particular order, is why:

1. I miss routine. School, work, social: I miss it all, for a variety of reasons but mainly because routine gives purpose and order and a kind of contentedness to life you don’t seem to get from living out of a suitcase for 2 months

2. I miss my quiet time. The bit where I come home from drop off, put the kettle on, and go upstairs to write for two glorious, uninterrupted hours. Or sit watching TV with a glass of wine when I’m home alone and the boy is in bed. It is a serious situation. I’ve even taken to doing the ironing just so I can get half an hour of time to tune out.

3. I miss my friends. I haven’t spoken to an actual peer, i.e. a person who shares my day to day existence for a month  except via the odd Facebook comment. It’s tough, not talking to the people you usually share the minutiae of life with. They are either sighing with relief or miss me too. (It’s debatable which).

4. I miss my bed. My glorious, comfortable bed. My bed in my bedroom, with my bathroom, and my wardrobe with all my stuff in it, with floors that don’t creak and walls that block out anything quieter than a fighter jet and air conditioning and occasionally containing a husband.

5. I miss exercise. Not that I ever do a lot of it, but I miss the idea that I could just pop to the gym whenever I wanted. I seem to lurch from one mealtime to the next while we’re away, so much so that I’m starting to feel absolutely sick of food. And as a result of relying on eating to fill my days, the relatively svelte bikini body I’d accidentally acquired due to stress appears to be disappearing amongst lunchtimes out, afternoon ice cream and mid morning muffins at the coffee shop as a substitute for any other kind of ‘routine’.

6. I miss pedicures. This is admittedly not going to win me any sympathy, but I would really, really like to get the dead skin filed off my feet and for someone to make my toes pretty again and give my feet a nice rub. If they could see about doing my hands and thread my eyebrows as well, that would be brilliant.

7. I miss my son. He’s here, with me, but he’s not the same little boy we have at home. He’s spent a lot of time feeling unsettled, disgruntled, and fed up with the lack of normality in his life. We expect so much of him with all this travelling and it’s really not very fair. I feel so horribly guilty for putting him through this upheaval every year. It’s the worst bit about living away.

8. I miss my kitchen. I want to flick through a recipe book, to shop and cook and serve a meal without getting halfway through and wondering if there is a can opener, or not being able to work the grill. I want to not eat lunch if I don’t feel like it, or eat 4 chocolate digestives with a cup of tea because they’re mine and I can if I want to.

9. I miss privacy. I’m surrounded at all times. I love everyone, they are my family; but I miss having precious hours of my day to sit and muse in silence in front of my computer, or to wander the shopping mall deep in my own thoughts, or sit in a car by myself singing, or not to have to put a bra on as soon as I get up in the morning for fear of running into a male relative on the stairs.

10. I miss myself. I’m on the road. I have no time to write, no chance of getting on stage and worst of all, I left my hairdryer in Dubai. I love seeing everyone, but I don’t feel truly like ‘me’ while I’m away from my home. Ironically this is exactly how I will feel all over again when I leave the UK and return to Dubai in three weeks.

And let’s be honest: I’ve got all year to enjoy my life in Dubai, but only a few weeks to make the most of this one. As a result, I’m enjoying every second of being home, before I go back there. I hope you are all having a great summer too.

Ruby x

Seven signs it’s summer in Dubai

1. Due to lack of fresh air and sunshine, your face has taken on a greyish, putty like consistency usually reserved for when you’re lying on the slab at the undertaker’s.

2. You don’t decide what to wear based on what you will sweat least in, just what will show the least sweat.

3. Your spare room is hosting a plethora of open suitcases containing jumbles of new clothes for the holiday bit of your summer in the Med/United States/Cornwall (delete as appropriate) and a collection of ancient light jumpers and jackets for cooler days in the UK that, for the eighth year in a row, you wish you’d replaced during the spring sales.

4. If you have to walk outside for any reason, you track shade like an overgrown scorpion.

5. You avoid going anywhere with a small child who can’t (or won’t) get in their car seat within the 30 second window you have to get their seatbelt fastened before you melt onto the pavement.

6. Your child actually says things like ‘can we turn off the television and go outside to play?’ And you actually say things like ‘no.’

7. You tell all the newbies that ‘it’s not as bad as last year’ because your sunglasses haven’t fogged up and left you staggering around blindly in the car park at drop off yet, and despite the fact that your mascara has slid down your face and landed on your cheekbones by 8.30am, you’re somehow convinced it isn’t.