You know you’ve lived in Dubai too long when…

Several people ‘shared’ this link on Facebook this week, about the fifteen signs you’ve lived in Qatar too long. Several of them could easily apply to Dubai and a few of them could probably apply to many expat experiences, but just for the sheer hell of it, and to celebrate the seven year mark, which we reached sometime last week, I thought I would do my own list, most of which I can honestly say has happened since then.

You know you’ve lived in Dubai too long when:

1. You are intimate with the footprint of Mall of the Emirates to the point where, if a shop closes for renovation, you will trawl backwards and forwards for twenty minutes thinking you must have lost your mind completely to be making such a rookie error in not locating it instantaneously.

2. You completely miss your turning off the motorway because you are still navigating your way to Dubai Media city by sighting of the now-demolished Hard Rock Cafe.

3. Your three year old insists on using an umbrella to shield him from the six drops of rainfall at school drop off, and you are inclined to agree with him.

4. It’s 40 degrees outside and you haven’t put the air con on in the house yet

5. You can’t remember what a Marks and Spencer ready meal looks like, but you do know you miss them

6. You’ve stopped tracking the exchange rate, and converting dirhams to pounds/dollars is only used in case of emergency when the dirham figure sounds too scary, e.g. hotel reservations, school fees, shoes.

7. It’s been two weeks since your last mani/pedi and you are actually, truly distressed by the state of your feet and hands.

8.  Your three year old asks you what you are doing with the maid’s things when you get the ironing board out. Then asks what the iron is.

9. You are not surprised when the first item on the news is not the Boston marathon bombers, or an earthquake in China, but a sales report on the latest high rise development in Old Town.

10. You are not surprised by anything very much.

11. Moaning about the quality of driving is what other people do while you sip a latte and thinking about trading in the car for a faster one.

12. When the following things are exciting:  Fresh vegetables like kale, which you haven’t seen in nearly a decade; the opening of interchanges that have taken four years to complete; summer clothes arriving in the shops before Easter.

13. When the following things are not exciting: Fountains, Afternoon tea, Barasti, fast cars, Dhow cruises, suntanning, gold anything.

14. You don’t think it’s weird you haven’t been to a liquor store to buy a bottle of wine since 2006. You don’t think it’s weird that you can’t without your passport, a license and a letter from your husband saying it’s okay.

15. ‘Fresh air’ is described as anything below 30 degrees that doesn’t smell sulphurous or contain 95% sand.

Former Hard Rock Cafe Dubai - demolition

What did you do with my signpost? (Photo credit: Danny McL)

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Friends and farewells

I’ve been really lucky in the past seven years. Whilst I’ve said goodbye to a few people here and there, friends have tended to drift in and out of my life as circumstances have changed, rather than be ripped from my side and onto a plane, never to be seen again. However, my time has come. This week sees me saying farewell to my oldest (okay, second oldest) and best friend in Dubai, and I am so very, very sad to see her go after so many shared years.

Good friends – really good friends, that know you and understand you  and are committed to you – are hard to come by in expatland. That’s not to say she’s been consistently brilliant – sometimes she’s been downright lousy lol… But like friends anywhere, that’s not always the thing that matters. Our friendship is about our similarities, our personalities, who we are, who we have grown into. Our shared love of laughter and honesty and housewifery skills bordering on Stepford territory. Our tendency to bury our head in the sand and close up the doors in times of personal crisis instead of asking for help or support. Our mutual experience of arriving in Dubai and making it our home. The importance, above all else, of our children.

English: Glass of White Wine shot with a bottl...

I suppose I’ll have to drink the damn thing by myself now… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I admire my friend and am proud of the woman she has grown into during the time we have known eachother. She has made wonderful friends and a beautiful home and ‘kept it real’ for her children, who are the least expat brat-like kids you will ever meet. Her Dubai journey is a different one from mine, but no less arduous. Despite the many things that have shaped her in the past seven years, in many ways she leaves as she arrived – a willowy, determined, vivacious woman who can’t take her liquor. She has never deviated from her Aussie down-to-earth no-BS attitude and is always the person who will make me laugh, make me feel comfortable, make me feel loved.

We were talking a few weeks ago about leaving (trying not to cry) and the thing she fears most about going home is not fitting in. Ironically the very thing we feared when we arrived in Dubai. Only I think going ‘home’ is worse, because as much as we haven’t changed, there are ways in which we have, irreversibly, far more than we realise at the time. I can see the attraction now, of moving ‘on’ rather than ‘back’. We are simply not the same as when we left and it’s hard to start over in a place where your brain tells you, you shouldn’t have to. Things are the same, yet different. We have seen and done things our family, friends and neighbours will never see, and we have done it alone, often without their support or guidance. We have coped with stress of being away from all that is loved and familiar, beyond the realms of many people’s imagination. As someone with childhood friends who have inexplicably ended up scattered to the four corners of the earth at one time or another, I can say with some confidence that expats the world over share this common experience, this perilous journey; to have to make your home somewhere else in the world, and then go home again. (Or not… It is never an easy or obvious choice.)

My friend will leave for Brisbane next week. And I will eventually leave for London. Of course we always knew it would happen and have often joked about who would manage to get out of here first. The chances of us seeing each other again are slim, although I hope that we will. If we do, it will be different again. Our lives will move on and we will make new friends in our new homes and reacquaint with old ones and we will use these new relationships to cope with the struggle to reintegrate. But no-one can replace the good friends you make as an expat, which is what makes returning home so daunting – on that side of the journey, they won’t be there to meet, or make friends with. And often, other expats are the only ones who ‘get it’ – who understand just what you are feeling – on the way in, while you are there, and, I’m pretty certain, on the way out as well.

So I can only wish for her what I wish for myself one day: that the landing will be soft, and that one day in the not too distant future she happens to meet a friend of a friend who suggests a glass of wine in a local bar; they talk and laugh and the company feels like putting on a pair of old shoes – familiar and comfortable. She once wrote me a card which said “you made it ‘home’ for me”. Well ditto, my lovely friend. It won’t be the same without you. x

Keeping up with the Janeses

A friend of mine showed me an hysterical email this week from her son’s new ‘Class Rep’. I am using ‘hysterical’ in both senses of the word, because firstly, the woman who sent it clearly has some major issues, and secondly it made me laugh uncontrollably that someone has worked so hard to conform to a stereotype that they’ve actually gone one further and become one.

The email went something along the lines of being terribly upset at the rest of the mums in the class for not all committing to attend a voluntary social function, insisting that it was insulting to her as organiser and had destroyed the spirit of the team. Despite the fact that the other mums who said they could go are still going, she has refused to attend, in the process alienating herself and making everyone else feel really awkward and slightly incredulous at the childishness of it all. It’s four weeks into the school year and she’s throwing her toys out of the pram and calling people names. I can only imagine what she’ll be like by International Day.

I’m rather thankful that I don’t run into many of these VIMs (Very Important Mothers). We live a relatively small development in Dubai, that appears to have mostly escaped infection, and due to my inability to be socially fully-functional I’ve successfully managed to befriend a total of zero of these horror show alpha-mums during my six years in the city. Even better, my son goes to the local school that no-one has ever heard of and is American curriculum anyway, so I’ve successfully swerved the typical (mainly) Brit-expat-mum nightmare of early morning fashion parades, pushy class reps and competitive parenting – the ‘Jumeirah Janes’, if you will – in favour of a far more laid back approach with mums who just want to create a community without all the pomp and circumstance and designer maxi dresses.

The term ‘Jumeirah Jane’ was coined many years ago, essentially to describe the non-working expat wives and mothers who hung out in coffee shops along Beach Road and relied on each other for support in the days when it really mattered – when it was a small town and people needed each other. I believe they gave themselves the name. It has altered over time from a rather catchy and fun definition into something of a blanket insult to all mildly unpleasant expat wives who don’t work, get their maid to bring up the children, and then bitch about it over coffee. I hate it when people label me as a Jane. Which has been known to happen, although I’d like to think once they get to know me, they see I’m just not committed enough to the cause to be a fully paid up member. But before anyone says ‘I think thou dost protest too much’, I guess I’ll admit I’ve been around long enough in Dubai to have a little bit of Jane rub off on me. But it doesn’t sit with me easily, and when I recognise it in myself I run my head into the nearest wall at high speed so it doesn’t happen again. Jane is the devil’s work, a beast to seduce even the most normal of women into ridiculous behaviour. It is a constant battle to resist the call of the honey highlights, neutral toned designer wardrobe and french manicures and remain with ten slutty-red painted toes planted firmly on the ground.

Anyway, as a bit of fun to stretch the poetic muscles a little, I put together a ditty in honour of the Class Rep who Shall Remain Nameless, because I think she, along with a few other horror stories I have heard of late, has managed to epitomise for me the spirit of the modern-day Jane, and has served as a reminder once more as to why I will never succumb to Janedom  – or VIMming for that matter. Enjoy.

I’m Jane, I’m a VIM, and I live in Dubai
My husband’s in oil or construction
I’m blessed with four children, a dog and a maid
And with Harvey Nicks and Bloomies to raid
I don’t have much time for a job I’m afraid
So I simply meet friends for luncheon

I’m Jane, I’m a VIM, and I live in Dubai
I have poker straight yellow hair
My forehead’s been smoothed and my arse has been sucked
My boobs have been lifted, my tummy’s been tucked
I’m regularly sanded and waxed and plucked
To look just like the others, so there.

I’m Jane, I’m a VIM, and I live in Dubai
I’m dressed just a shade less than mutton
My sunglasses perch on my head at all times
My iphone is poised to snap fashion crimes
If you see a white Prado it’s probably mine
(But my K-middy accent is put-on)

I’m Jane, I’m a VIM,and I live in Dubai
In a villa that’s been in ‘Ahlan’
My jewellery collection is big on the bling
No Karama for me, my Birkin’s the real thing
I bake cupcakes and daily I go to the gym
I’m a totally friggin’ perfect woman

I’m Jane, I’m a VIM, and I live in Dubai
I am fabulous, witty and rich
I have friends by the dozen to call on for tea
To play status games with surreptitiously
(I am sure that they secretly want to be me
Even though I am such an old bitch)

I’m Jane, I’m a VIM, and I live in Dubai
My career is to be a good wife
With no credit card limit I cannot complain
My identikit friends keep me reasonably sane
I’ll put up with Dubai ’til we move yet again
To the next tax free bolt hole in life

If it ain’t broke…it’s not Dubai

Last September, upon our return to Dubai, our coffee table melted. Literally sank to the ground, in a sort of Wicked Witch of the West moment, crying “I’m melting! I’m melting! Oh cruel world!” Well, ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, our coffee table wasn’t well known for it’s Wizard of Oz impressions (although as a small aside, I am – to such an extent my brother in law calls me the Wicked Witch of the Middle East he is so funny ha bloody ha). However – back to the point – it really did melt. We’d been back a matter of days, and one minute it was fine, all smooth glossy black glass and shiny legs, and then I heard a creaking sound from the kitchen and came out into the living room to find the mdf base the legs were bolted to had been slowly dissolving during its five years of service and the table was gracefully sinking to the ground with the legs folding up underneath it. I took it as a sign there and then that we had been in Dubai FAR TOO LONG if our furniture was falling to bits.

Margaret Hamilton as the Witch in the 1939 fil...

If my brother in law is to be believed, this was me at school drop off earlier this morning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The year before was pretty special too. The air circulation machine-thingy had stopped working and so although there was air conditioning there was no ventilation in the hallways or bathrooms. Obviously there was a touch of mould here and there…and OMG on my HERMES handbag and ALL my suede boots and shoes…it was a disaster of epic proportions that I have never fully recovered from. And, despite being sent to Paris for some R&R at the Hermes Home for Sick Handbags, my lovely little black number has never been the same since either.

Every year we come home from our summer trip to find something has gone wrong in our absence. It’s hardly surprising given how long we are away for, although it always amazes me that so much can still break in a house whilst it’s not being used. This year’s list goes something like this:

– Oven ignition not working on the grill and intermittently on the top gas rings, new front panel required

– Handle of tumble dryer broken off in my hand (of course my sheets were in there) and requires replacing, unless the maid can replicate my spanner-prising technique for the next year until the whole thing inevitably breaks down next summer

– Front door swollen and stuck, door has also dropped a few millimetres making it almost impossible to lock or unlock it. Other doors that have swollen and won’t close or open include the ensuite bathroom in our room and my son’s bedroom door i.e. the two doors we use most in the whole house.

– Shoe cupboard showing signs of mould again – but this time only one casualty, a pair of wedge platforms c.1996 that I only keep to remind me of why the 90s were a bad fashion decade. So no biggie.

– Car requires four new tires. Immediately. Oops. Ker-ching.

– Several toys appear to have completely run out of batteries despite not being touched in months although I am not sure I am hurrying to fix them

–  Living room rug covered in stains and ripped up by the cats so badly it needs replacing. This was true before the summer too but coming back and seeing it after some time away made me realise how totally gross it really looks

– Our mattress has two distinct his and hers dents in it. I moan for weeks on end about wanting my own bed and come home to find it’s really uncomfortable. Brilliant.

So it’s a month of expense and boredom waiting in for repairmen that never come and trawling the shops for replacements to stuff I didn’t want to replace. Yippee.

Still, looking on the bright side, I haven’t found any spiders yet.

Better late than never…a half year review

Well actually the year is nearly three quarters over but the end of the summer and the start of the school year seems like a good time to take stock and make sure there is still time to get the outstanding things done before the year end.

I am feeling pretty good about life actually. Almost to the point of smug,  but I’m not smug, I’m going to be 38 in a week for goodness sake and that is NOTHING to be smug about…no, really I’m just thankful that I worked it out finally this year, how to be an expat and a trailing spouse, and a mother, and not go crazy living in the sandpit.
The trick, I have discovered finally after a mere six years of trying, is to adhere to the Expat holy trinity :
1. Keep busy
2. Keep making new friends
3. Keep making the most of it
 
 
Keeping busy has always been the seemingly easy bit, but it would appear that historically I haven’t really been busy at all. I’ve been shopping, which is not the same thing. Now I am hurtling towards the start of a masters degree which will eat up most of my time whilst my son is at pre school, as well as spending my evenings in the pursuit of dramatic excellence. Inbetween times being the most excellent mother and wife of course. I am so fearful of this new version of busy I have (shock horror) started to think things like “when will I get my manicure done?” and secretly worrying I won’t have time for the gym and the occasional coffee in the sunshine, but my husband has reminded me that the hours will expand to fit it all in and I live in hope that he is right. I may have to compromise on Internet browsing and shopping trips but that is probably no bad thing. (god I sound like a spoilt brat).
As my son will be starting his new school in a few weeks I will no doubt be kept busy with this as well. And it will certainly be a time for making new friends. I will have to work hard to overcome my ‘do I really have to be endlessly nice to perfect strangers in the hope of finding one or two I actually like, AGAIN?’ issues, but I remain confident I can add a few new mummy pals to my depleted post summer collection in time for the cooler weather and a myriad of playdate opportunities.
Which leads, of course, to number three: keep making the most of it. We have a while left yet in the old girl that is Dubai before we pack up our kit bags, but it’s fair to say the majority of our years here are (hopefully) behind us and the majority of the hard work of baby/toddler parenting is also (hopefully) drawing to an end. So it’s time to get on with that bucket list.
Our son is three and the variety of things we can do with him grows week on week. Trips to the beach no longer require a flotilla of nappies, specially prepared lunches and endless toys. A bucket and spade, money for a hotdog and a towel are pretty much all that is required to spend several hours on the sand, which instantly makes the proposition a whole load more attractive. Going for brunch on the weekends has become a walk in the park since he stopped napping and figured out the iPad, and weekend evenings have become a far more relaxed affair since he proved able to stay awake without morphing into the devil child by 6pm. I am already dreaming of the moment some time in November when it will be cool enough to picnic at the polo or enjoy a pizza whilst watching the sun go down over the warm waters of the gulf – pleasures denied for the past few years but that I would dearly like to take advantage of before we leave this amazing life behind.
And the sand. The glorious sand. We have visited the desert a lot in a kind of sanitised 5 star hotel fashion, which i have little intention of giving up of course, but this Christmas time I hope we will be able to really make the most of living right next door to it and partake in some carolling, Dubai style, around a campfire amongst the dunes. In fact the build up to Christmas should be altogether alot more fun this year and I am looking forward to a much more relaxed time than the past few years when the business of having a small toddler has stopped us from taking part in many of the festivities.
There are so many things we simply haven’t done yet. There are waterparks to visit and zoo trips to be made and parks to be played in, amongst the beach/pool/desert activities that will fill our winter time and make us glad to be here instead of freezing in the dark damp of those dark satanic mills. We can go to watch the dolphins leap and see the king penguins waddle around the ski slope, and maybe even brave the Olympic ice rink to see if we have a future figure skater on our hands. And hopefully we will get some visitors this year to share all this with us, to make us make the most of it even when we are tired from all the keeping busy and making friends bit.
I guess it goes back to what I wrote at the start of the year. If we can just set aside the annoying bits about living here and be happy about it then it’s a good year done. So, September, and my return to Dubai, do your worst. I have my three laws of expatriate survival and my Q4 2012 Bucket list and I’m ready and waiting to come and get you.
 

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…