Living with one foot out the door

Monday, March 16, 2020

Selfie at the Fossil Dunes, Abu Dhabi
I was reading an article last week and I came to the sudden realisation that I've been living temporarily, or as they say, living with one foot out the door. That is to say, although we've been living in Abu Dhabi for a year so far, I haven't really admitted or committed to it emotionally or geographically. I still tell people I'm "abroad," and I'm still working UK hours. I do everything in terms of what's going on "back home". I have one foot firmly planted in the whirling sands of the desert, enjoying the spectacular sights and new experiences that you get here, but equally, my other foot is already out the door and on its way back to England.

I haven't updated my blog at all with what's happening here because I've been so worried about being judged for being away while still running my business back home - nevermind that I'm still working especially hard, while my very capable mother-in-law keeps things going on-site. Whatever will people think? What will people say when they think I'm off swanning overseas in perceived luxury (I know that's what I thought of before visiting here), when the idea of here is so very different. I'd also been worried about why it was worrying me - just for good measure, I suppose. Where's home? Where's here?

So in all of this quiet worrying, we've still been living life. I've been quietly enjoying things like visiting the Fossil Dunes (that's the picture, above) just outside of Abu Dhabi. We got a bit lost on the way there, and ended up driving around the camel racing track which is smack-bang in the middle of some dunes and is barely contained. We waved to the riders and admired the long eyelashes on the happy camels. We finally ignored the SatNav and just drove straight over the dunes to arrive at our destination. Oh, how things are different.

The other thing that really struck me, while being here, is that people often ask - so where are you from? It's the first thing a taxi driver will ask you, and we get a lot of taxis as they're often a quicker and cheaper form of transport than anything else. It's also one of the first questions that they ask you at school, while the parents natter over the watercooler while waiting for the children to finish school. So where are you from? Often, people try to guess based on your accent. No, I'm not Australian. No, I'm not Syrian.

It's a loaded question. I'm from South Africa. I was born there, I grew up there. My family is there. But home seems to be England, where I've spent the last ten years. Ten! I don't know how that happened so quickly. That's where my two children were born. Where I met my WI family. Where we bought a house. I've felt conflicted when answering that question, as if saying that I'm from England is somehow betraying my family in South Africa. But practically, it's just giving someone a frame of reference for the following conversation. I suppose I've just really not set aside the time to process and understand what this means to me, or to consider why it's having such a profound impact on my sense of self.

And really, it hadn't occurred to me before this that living this way - struggling with this dual-heritage but now displaced diasporic lifestyle in a temporary setting - has the potential to be really unhealthy. I hadn't quite realised the extent of the impact it was having on me personally, and also on my family. It's a silly thing, surely? Everyone here is from somewhere. Everyone here has a home that's elsewhere. Yet for some reason, it's quite a big thing to me.

The one thing that is really quite marvellous about living as an expat in the desert is that there are shops, restaurants and social activities to represent just about every nation. We were so excited to see that there is a Waitrose here where we'd be able to get our favourite British foods and ingredients. We were doubly excited to see that it also stocks a number of our favourite South African goodies that we haven't had in years. There - in Waitrose - the three nations coexist so happily. Yes, you can buy Ouma's rusks and Mrs Ball's chutney in the British supermarket in the middle of the desert. It's a wondrous thing.

And so - I suppose, I want to share these things with you. I want to tell you about the spice markets, and about the old fishing dhows that meander down the waterways. I want to tell you about sandstorms, and navigating yarn shops where the owners only speak Arabic so you have to use hand signals. I want to tell you about how delicious moutabbal is, how we're using up buckets of sumac and that time when I accidentally bought laban instead of a bottle of milk because they looked the same and there wasn't any English on the signage.

So, I hope that I'm back. I hope that you'll join me for the short time that we're here before we embark on our next adventure - although, we're not sure where or when that will be. I left a part of my heart back in our home in England, and quite a large part of it in the tiny but beautiful shop we run in Westcliff-on-Sea. There's another big part back in Cape Town with my family. Even so - there's still a bigger part right here with me in the Arabian desert. I don't know if those holes ever fill up, but I think that embracing what we're doing right now goes a long way to healing the hurts and making way for new adventures.

You Might Also Like