So this is the year we finally leave Dubai. In the same way that a cross-dressing 70s swingers Tupperware party seems like a splendid idea three weeks in advance, the time to make good on the lip service now approaches like a swarm of killer termites.
For so long I’ve talked about leaving the Middle East ‘in 2007’, but you know, it was YEARS away. I would say: ‘I’m not spending a decade in this place,’ but then I’d only been here a couple of years. Maybe three, or was it four and a bit?
Now 2007 is upon us; our departure is imminent; and I’m absolutely terrified.
It’s hard to believe that nine years ago a 25 year old Me rocked up in the UAE toting a family sized bottle of SPF 370, a rucksack and a truckload of enthusiasm. I was so green about the gills people occasionally thought I was afflicted with mould. The world was my oyster.
In fairness, I totally underestimated the effort it would take to digest said oyster. People tried to warn me. They said, ‘but you’re leaving all your friends!’ I’d respond, ‘Meh. Friends come and go. I’ll make new ones. People are interchangeable.’ [Of course, I was wrong: people AREN’T interchangeable, as I discovered when I tried to find another hairdresser.]
The loneliness nearly killed me – seriously, one day I actually had to run away from The Light. I’d failed to anticipate the sheer exhaustion of setting up home in a new country: making friends, settling into a new job with 6-day working week, buying a car, finding and furnishing an apartment. It was a phenomenal shock to the system.
So in theory, moving to NZ should be easy. After all, I’ve had two practice runs (three, if you count the time I moved to Dublin to live with the nuns). Since I’m not doing it alone, there is not the same imperative to bribe strangers to be my friend. Husband will share the workload of wrapping up our life and tying up the loose ends. Should I be crushed in a freak accident involving a van, a leather sofa and a burly mover called Hamish, Husband can alert the ambulance services (i.e. less risk).
Yet it doesn’t matter how many pep talks I give myself in the bathroom mirror: I’m still dreading it.
Much as I despise the place, I have lived in Dubai for over a quarter of my life. As I get older I find that I like routine (next I’ll be preceding sentences with ‘in my day’ and taking up gardening) (last week I changed my computer accessibility options to ‘disabled’ for the bigger fonts) (at least give me credit for knowing where to locate the Accessibility tab). I like knowing exactly where to find pickled peanuts in Spinneys, cycling to The Lime Tree for my soy latte, playing tennis with Husband in the evening, or cooking dinner in my kitchen. Also, this is where Husband and I met and, for better or worse, it is our home. We have been so happy here.
But whereas before, moving halfway around the world was a madcap screwball adventure, now it is a tedious chore fraught with anxiety. When I think of the preparation that needs to be done – getting our affairs in order (and I’d like to know: exactly when did we become equipped with AFFAIRS? We’re too young to have affairs!) – I feel quite panicky.
There is not much I will miss about this city, but those things include: the beach in the mornings, swimming in The Gulf, the muezzin call to prayer, barbeques in the garden, sunshine in winter, and most importantly (not to make the same mistake again) our friends.
And yet I will not miss the smog, the roads, Ramadan, the transient nature of this place, the casual discrimination that passes as normal, the disregard for human life, the hypocrisy, the summer, the cockroaches, the way every little bit of emotion and kindness is censored while gore-smeared violence is presented in all its glory.
According to weight, the bad far outweighs the good. I am sure we will settle into NZ and wonder why we waited so long. But I’ll be sure to spend the interim fretting about it