Sunday, July 01, 2007

They're Gone!

Ten months after they arrived, they left. And I feel sorry for myself. More sorry than usual.

It finally happened, and now the whole thing feels like a strange dream. My darling wife and children got on the plane to Manchester last night after a horrendous check-in queue and an over-weight luggage trauma. I was able to stay with them through the check-in, and it's just as well. I had to take 6 kilos of stuff back home with me. I said goodbye to them just before passport control, and the little girl started crying as I bent down to kiss her on the head. So we all had a go in the end. The boy had had a cry during our last ever meal as a family in Dubai; the wife had blubbed a couple of nights ago; and I was set off by a song on the radio on the way to the airport. Even the boy's teacher had a cry on his last day at school.

It's not like anyone's died or anything, and this separation is only for a couple of weeks, but it's like I said before - goodbyes are painful. It seems to get harder every time. I think what has made it even worse this time is coming back to the half-empty villa, with little reminders sinking their teeth into me as I look round; a bag of toy bricks here; small, empty beds there. I laid awake for a long time last night, feeling like I was i strange bed in a strange house. The lack of a night light shining through the gap in the door from the passage made me feel on edge. Coming back from work today was hard as well. I drove up to the villa, parked the car and opened the door. Instead of children running to hug me, I was greeted by utter silence. The lack of a TV to just turn on and fill the void doesn't help either.

Luckily, I don't have to stay here long. I've been given a house to look after for someone who is away. They have a telly at least, and there are no memories there.

I don't know why I feel so utterly saddened about it. I think I'm sad because I feel like I've failed. We decided that we can't stay here as a family and make any money, which is primarily why we came, but I can't help thinking that we should have tried a bit longer. The family enjoyed it here, for all its faults. My wonderful son had a fantastic year at his school, winning an Achievement Award and scoring really well in his SATs. I worry that he won't get the same standard of education back in the UK.

But then I remember when I suggested (almost half-jokingly) the return to the UK. My wife and my son were so excited at the idea. I know where their hearts lie. I just hope this taste of another life has given them the appetite for further adventures in the future - maybe when things are a bit more settled and secure. Maybe when I get on top of my health problems. Maybe when hell freezes over, eh? Always the optimist.

Like I say, it's been an experience for us all. And life is about experiences. Or is it about vainly trying to delay the inevitable? Or is it about experiencing as much as you can before the inevitable?

Dubai has been an eye-opener. It wasn't what I expected at all. I never expected the wafer-thin facade to slip away so quickly, as I realised that behind the malls and hotels and beaches, there really isn't much here. The shallowness of the place and the people, especially the Western expats, has really surprised me. I never expected to get so infuriated and frustrated at the bare-faced hubris of the driving, the completely shameless incompetence of the customer "service" provision or the obstinate incongruity and ignorance of the general public. I never expected four to five months of intense heat and humidity that bears down on you with the density of treacle, rendering even breathing a labour-intensive task. I never expected to see fleets of white buses that they wouldn't transport animals in ferrying Asian men from their frightful labour camps to building sites and back. I never expected the colonial-style pecking order to be so utterly enshrined in the way of life. I never expected my feelings to be so mixed, because on the flip-side, there is a lifestyle of luxury and privilege available. If you have the right money and the right background.

A good friend asked me a question before I moved here, and now I can see where he's coming from. He asked. "Who are they building it all for? Who is going to live there?" From a small desert settlement, this metropolis has materialised like a mirage from the barren sands of the Arabian desert. In thirty years, less time than I have been alive, this city has flourished in the most inhospitable of places, and it has only just started. The scale of the construction taking place or proposed to take place is truly staggering. The infrastructure is being added or altered as an after-thought. I don't understand how it can be sustainable. The power and water requirements for what is already here are staggering; the UAE being the one of if not the biggest consumers of resources per capita in the world. It just doesn't ring true. The powers-that-be have amazing visions of vast cities full of vibrant culture and a lifestyle to aspire to, but as I've heard said: In dreams begin responsibilities. I hope it doesn't all fall down round their ears, but I just sense that the place doesn't have enough backbone, enough foundation. It is all built on sand, after all.

I'm leaving Dubai shortly, and this blog has been a place for me to vent my feelings and record my life here. It was all my own opinions from my own perspective. I hope it has informed and entertained those of you who have stumbled across it. I might start a new one when I get to my new location. Who knows?

Bye for now.


LadyBanana said...

I have read your blog regularly through Google Reader and I have really enjoyed it.

Good luck with wherever you go next and I hope to bump into your next blog, if there is one!

Aaron said...

Hi littejimmy - a very touching post and one in which many ways I can sympathize with you on. I honestly wish you the best of luck in whatever you choose to do and godspeed back to your family.

All the best



Hi little Jimmy in August I will be in the same position as you in 2006, I am starting a teaching position for 2 years, I have read your blog every week and found it enlightning. I feel for you as I feel your illness has in many ways spoilt your time there. I hope you and you family find somewhere you can all live together. Get back to the gym and release some endorphins, try boxing GREAT stress relief. Julie

nzm said...

All the best back in Blighty.

I've really enjoyed reading your blog and enjoy your writing style - as I once mentioned in an email to you!

We've kind of settled in Melbourne now, moved into an apartment last week and have got all our furniture shipped from Dxb.

Dubai feels like a dream now, and although we loved it, we're also loving Melbourne - the trams and public transport, the ability to walk outside with dying of heatstroke - we're even enjoying the winter weather!

You can't feel that you've failed, although we still think that we do have unfinished business back in the UAE!

Look upon it as experience - what you've learned during your time in the UAE makes you a wiser person!

If you start another blog, make sure you post the URL here so that we can come over to comment!

Michele (nzm)

Mushood said...

great blog.

stillill said...

Thanks, everyone.

I might even write this whole thing up in the style of a book. Fill in some gaps, so to speak, and maybe offer a perspective on life in Dubai.

Anonymous said...

LJ - I do hope you come back and continue your writing. It has been great reading about your highs and lows and pure honesty about Dubai etc. Your last post moved me so much. Wishing you and your family much happiness back in Blighty.

secretdubai said...

I never expected the wafer-thin facade to slip away so quickly, as I realised that behind the malls and hotels and beaches, there really isn't much here.

I honestly feel that there was more here six years ago, when I arrived, but you are right in that there is even less soul beneath the ever expanding glitzy veneer these days.

I don't blame locals for resenting expats, I would in their circumstance. I just wish they would realise that most of us didn't want this five star shopping tourism shit any more than they did. Yes - it's there to attract foreign tourists - but most of us expats that came to Dubai never came for that. We even came to get away from that, from western consumerism, to get a taste for something different.

And what did we get?

Bit by bit the heritage was chipped away, old buildings knocked down for new, beaches destroyed and turned into luxury resorts, until there's so little left here that is authentically Arabian. I'm not expecting every local to go back to living in non-AC windtower houses driving camels instead of Landcruisers.

But I do wish they had at least been able to hold onto things that needn't have been lost, such as open, wilderness beaches, the Jumeirah fishing village, those kind of things. They're gone forever now. And it certainly isn't the choice or the fault of expatriate workers here.

bros said...

This is truly lovely and very close to (my version of the) truth.

I moved to Dubai in 2000, at Twenty two, being the 'partner' of one of the Brits Abroad, with his penchant for five star hotels and imported sports cars.

And now when people ask me about dubai, I always reply the same way

"It was fantastic for the first year, the second year was bad, the third year was awful and the last six months was a living nightmare."

People could not understand how I was so miserable, but then, it is easy to look at the bird in a gilded cage and say how beautiful and lucky......

because of course, you are not the bird.

I am very glad I lived in Dubai, it made me realise what I do and don't want.

At the moment in time when I picked up a designer hand bag, tried it on, then looked at the price tag of (then) $750 Aus Dollars and thought "that's reasonable" when I doubt very much my mother had eared that much that week, I knew it was time to get out.

IMHO - it is all too easy to caught up in the ex-pat life, and if you are not careful you end up being unable to function in "the real world".

You are very brave to have decided to go home, I applaud you.

Good luck in all you do.

Mohamed said...

I'm a UAE national who lives in Canada. I'm married from here too. Your farewell entry/speech captured everything I HATE ABOUT MY HOMELAND. I just wish this shopping festival would end someday and I could go home to my good ol' sandy Abu Dhabi where I used to sit under that funny looking tree on the way back from elementary school for shade. I never asked for the Internet City or any of the Burj's for that matter!

inmotion said...

You will be missed .. very much so.

Mme Cyn said...

You'll be missed. I hope you keep bloggin,whereever you end up.

I agree with much of what you and Secret both say, and I hate to sound like my Grandmother, but "Life is what you make it". Yes, Dubai is soulless and charmless, but if you look for it, you can have a good life here. And I don't mean the $750 handbag (how much?!? for a BAG?!?), I mean the cuttlefish on Martini Rock and the blue skies over the Mussandem. Camping in the desert in the winter time, swimming in the Hatta pools, watching the exotic birds in the garden, searching the Gold souk, the Blue souk or the Naif souk for the perfect present for somebody, taking an Abra cross the creek for a roast chicken dinner or shwarma in a little street-side cafe on the other side of the creek. Look for the good and you'll find it.

I hope your next spot suits you better.

Anonymous said...

LJ what an amazing and emotional post, I can only say well done you have done what so many others are scared to do, you gave it your best shot and now are making a new life for you and your family out of the "Dubai Dream".


Well put

Ehsan said...

I found this blog this morning. Read through the entire archive while irritably having to deal with a distraction called work.
It was/is a fantastic blog.
I wish you all the best !!!

Biker BT said...

Hey...nice blog which leaves us all thinking! Right said -"as I realised that behind the malls and hotels and beaches, there really isn't much here."

Change is only permanent in life. Good luck and keep blogging !


Anonymous said...

Wow - such insightful comments. I am Canadian and have been here nearly two years, and CANNOT wait to leave. Honestly, I realize how lucky I am to have come from such a great country, and to be able to leave here whenever I wish and go pretty much anywhere. I also realize that there are great things to do here, and I have done or are doing them. I get it, I get it, I get it, la la la la la! That said, I seriously worry about expats who LOVE it here and want to stay as long as they can. It tells me more about them and where they must have come from than anything else. I for one would not have been able to make it without Secret Dubai, the beach, and the 7,000 or so black-market DVDs littering my apt.

Mohamed's comment summed it up... "I just wish this shopping festival would end someday and I could go home to my good ol' sandy Abu Dhabi where I used to sit under that funny looking tree on the way back from elementary school for shade." Isn't that the kind of simple pleasure that we all *truly* value in life? Surely it is worth much more than a ridiculously overpriced handbag the size of my (also ridiculously overpriced) apt. in The (pretend) Greens...

Anonymous said...

hmm .. let me guess .. most of you must have lived in jumeirah and all those kind of places... so i can understand where u are coming from. I have been born and brought up in Dubai. Fortunately, my parents were never over zealous and we still call our 2 bedroom apartment in Karama .. Home. I am Indian, I hate the exploitation and commecialization of Dubai. But trust me, you CAN / COULD have seen Dubai in a different light if you had tried. That way, Karama, Deira and Satwa rock. Life is simple bcause the streets are filled with middle / lower class people (at least in Old Karama) . Twenty year old white 3 storied buildings still exist. People ply their trade. Life is hard, reality is grim. But thats the life i cherish .. Don t really give a crap about dubai' s greatest malls and shit. Just in case you did not get my point ... here it is ... Dubai' s commercialization sucks and so does its sucking up to all other countries but there is a facet of Dubai that still exists. The point is most westerners live in the places that are built to cater to them. You drive your vehicle. I use public transport.. sit in a bus with labourers. Therefore you should not really criticize Dubai.... you always had an option ......

Oman said...

so sad you have left - hope you make it to Oman

ynotoman said...

home is where the heart is - hope yours is a happy one