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.

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A word about home

As part of my studies this week I was asked to make a list of words that I associated with the word ‘Home’, to include personal, concrete examples that might include names, places, objects, feelings, sensory experiences, and so on. Here’s what I came up with in a five minute brainstorm:

family – Dubai – sun – city – heat – happy – sad – homesickness – London – childhood home – childhood friends – sadness – missing out – friends – irrelevant – unknown – secret – packing – saying goodbye – depressed – lonely – guilt – grandparents – parenthood – love – phones – skype – email – travel – holidays – visitors – achievement – intensity – strength – coping mechanisms – girlfriends – hobbies – time difference – sausages & mash – green – seasons – trees – walking – the pub – tube train smell – summer nights – cold – Friday club – music – independent shops – carpet beneath my feet – heating – fires – touch – hugs – absence – laughter – eccentricities – familiarity – forgiveness – joy – being together

It made me nostalgic and warm for the vague fuzzy definition of ‘home’ I keep tucked away most days.  I honestly haven’t given it much thought since we got back after the summer, but instead of sinking into a funk, I sat and mused about my friends, and wondered how they were all getting on, how their kids were doing in school, how their jobs were going, what they were doing for Halloween, Guy Fawkes, Thanksgiving, Christmas….I miss them in much more of an abstract way these days; the desperate homesickness I got used to over the years seems to be replaced lately by acceptance that time passes so quickly, it probably won’t be long in the grand scheme of things before I am back in the fold and living life alongside them. (Hey, what’s eight years or so between friends?) But still, it would be nice to feel counted a thousand miles away, to say I love you and hear it back – and to know what they’re up to this very minute. And that’s why this post is so short. Because I’m off to find out.

What’s on your list of ‘home’?

Get over it

It is no secret in our house that I don’t want to live in Dubai forever. In fact I think the blog name I picked out might have given a clue as to my feelings on the subject. However for some reason I feel the need to push it in everyone’s face once in a while, just to make sure they are still listening. Last night was one of those times, and my husband copped the worst of it.

Well…all of it.

Again.

Homesickness

Everyone gets homesick once in a while (Photo credit: Kalexanderson)

My desire to ‘not be here’ has become deep rooted over the course of the last few years. In truth, I don’t think about it on a daily basis and very rarely get homesick anymore, in fact right now I’m having a rather enjoyable and satisfying time of it – but the bottom line, when you scrape all of the other stuff away and get to the heart of the matter, is that I can’t shake the feeling that being here is a huge compromise. It is so engrained in me that I want to go home that occasionally when the mood takes me and I am feeling particularly vulnerable, or dramatic, or both, I cannot see past this to anything else. And because it is not within my control to change the situation I get really foul about the whole subject of when and if it will ever happen.

Grossly unfair of me when I flip out about it and never my finest hour. I wish I could just be okay with being here, like, really okay with it. Or I wish that I could not be okay with it very quietly and privately, so that other people didn’t have to put up with my childish tantrums and whining, and so that I didn’t use my anger as a weapon of mass destruction. But I can’t seem to do either of those things. I think I have parked it, accepted it, and am coping with it, and then I suddenly flare up again and go nuclear, usually at my husband, about the terrible blow life has dealt me because I can’t go home.

Which of course is rubbish and immature and frankly rather silly. There is absolutely nothing to say my life away from Dubai would be any better than the one we enjoy here. I think it’s just – and I’m going to copyright my new term of diagnosis here – ‘Ultimate homesickness’. It’s like an extended remix, years and years of missing out on life at home all rolled into one big ball of emotion that once in a while appears rather suddenly and lashes out at everything in a two mile radius until it is spent.

I talked before about ‘that permanently temporary’ feeling of being an expat. It is here again, and I think it is exaggerated the closer I get to summer, and returning home. It is a particularly sensitive time for me as I plan my days away from here, and realise once again that it is all too short a time to spend with the people I love and miss dearly.  However, faced with the reality of leaving our life here I’m sure I would have very mixed feelings about going. There are parts of living in Dubai that I have accepted, parts I actually like and some things I absolutely love about being here. There is actually very little I don’t like, and it mainly revolves around the uncertainty of how long we are here for, which of course is a ridiculous thing to spend life worrying about. Plan for the future, but live in the here and now, right? So I consider this post a telling-off, to myself, to get with the program and stop being an idiot. Feeling sorry for myself never got me anywhere and neither did going postal on my loved ones. Fortunately, Ultimate homesickness is rare and although brightly burning, it is very short lived. Now, if someone would just invent a vaccination…