Al Ain has been very good to us and for us. I had started, at an earlier stage, to do some reflections on the UAE and had intended to do some more. I am going to endeavour to get it all down today. These are 'Cheryl's Reflections' - Ron will have his own, and they will be different because we have expereinced this place quite differently at times.
How do you start to reflect on 2 years of life? Perhaps the way to go is to start with any regrets! If I get that out of the way first I can end on a positive note as is my custom. So I ask myself the question - 'What has been the downside of living in Al Ain?' and I have a few things to say about that!
- I have missed my family and my friends back in Australia more than they will ever know. They anchor me. They are strength to me to be able to do this expatriate life. I look forward to their emails and SMS messages. I love SKYPE! I think sometimes they have forgotten me but inevitably the ones that matter most pop up from time to time with a short message or a call, a note on Facebook, a card for a birthday, a chat in a chatroom. It can be lonely living overseas when the people who are dear to you are thousands of miles away.
- I have really missed our children (both mine and Ron's) and I think that has been more about not being there for them watching their lives each day and being integrated into their important events. It is a high price to pay and one that saddens us from time to time.
- I am not there for my Mum who is getting older and this pulls on my heartstrings at times. I am blessed that she is well and that she supports me in what I am doing here. My sister has been wonderful with keeping in touch and providing news and family links that have been really important.
- I really wish it didn't take so long to meet people here. Everyone is here for a purpose and they are getting on with it and so their lives are very bound up in their work. This makes it difficult to interact with people. In the last 3 months I have met some wonderful people I would love to have known better but it is now too late to develop those friendships as geographically it becomes impossible to get to know them better! I will be even more determined in Nanjing to ensure I am meeting people frequently. You meet the most interesting people working as expats - they have a similar approach in a sense and an adventurous spirit so we seem to 'click' with many that we meet.
- I regret that I didn't get to know as many 'local' people as I would have liked to. My experience is that Emirati culture, generally speaking, is closed and exclusive. It is so different to what I am used to with divisions between the genders and formalities and customs that are so contrary to my way of life. I tried but found it very difficult to become close to any Emirati, male or female. There are a few notable exceptions to this and they were people I worked with who treated me with respect and friendship at work and I reciprocated as best I could. I was invited to events and into homes and was treated magnificently as a guest. The one true exception at a personal level was my friend Ameera Al Khabi with whom I felt like just one of the girls. I deeply Appreciate Ameera's generosity and friendship. This is one of the downsides of being an expat - you never really quite fit into the local scene, always a visitor. Your difference is a barrier. And the truth is I was not comfortable trying to be like the local people. Their religion, culture, customs and traditions are special and belong to them and they do not rest comfortably with me. This has been a learning for me as an expat - I can only be what I am and I need to be who I am. As an expat I will always be an observer as I just don't have the history and experience of the locals. However this will never stop me from trying to integrate as much as possible.
- And perhaps the last regret is that we do have to move on and that means leaving some good friends behind. Moraig and Brian, Lizzie and Mark and many others. Some from Ron's work, some from mine.....the list goes on. It is hard to say goodbye because the reality is that where we are going is so very far away that the chances of getting together again are quite limited. However, as with friends left in Australia, we will stay in touch and catch up when we can. The world is a small place now due to the internet and fast convenient travel.
And now that the regrets are out of the way I will focus on what has been good about being in the UAE and in Al Ain.
- What a marvelous adventure we have had! For me it is firstly about the people and we have had some of the best people come into our lives since we started on this gig. There are now 80 entries on this blog since we arrived in the UAE and most of them mention our relationships with people and the wonderful times we have had with them.
- The places we have visited from here have been - Turkey, Oman, the Musandam, Egypt, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, Italy, Thailand. We have visited all the Emirates - Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah and Um Al Quwain. We have stayed in very flashy five star hotels and travelled thousands of kilometres in planes, buses, trains and cars!
- Al Ain has been a haven away from the faster paced life in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and yet we have been just a short distance from these two exciting and interesting cities.
- We have experienced living and working side by side with people from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria, America, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the Phillipines, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Libya, Ireland, England, Wales ... and so many more I can't think of them all. The UAE is a truly multicultural, though intensely culturally and economically stratified, country.
- The call to prayer sounds 5 times a day and it is so routine for us now we don't even notice it anymore. We see muslims going to their prayers at the mosque or just pulling over on the side of the road to pray in the sand and the sun.
- We see the traditions associated with costume and events and we now understand them and can appreciate them for what they are and what they mean to those that practice them.
- We are convinced the worst drivers in the world are here in the UAE. Large 4x4s travelling at nearly (and sometimes more than) 200klm/hr on the highways are a terrifying reality here. So we are glad to have survived it and we now look forward to what we are told are even worse (but in a different way) drivers in China!
- And we have survived living in the desert.
- Some of the different things here to home - the shamals, the sand, the wind; the heat (hottest was nearly 60 degrees), the lack of rain and subsequent dryness that burns you; the date palms, camels and goats; the bedouin and farmers; the magnificent dunes, forts and palaces; the opulent Emirati housing; the labour camps; the oases and the falaj systems; women in Burquah, abbayas and shaylas, and men in khandoora, ghutra and egal;... and so much more.
- We have felt 'at home' here for 2 years. We have not seen any violence or heard about much at all. We have felt safe and secure in our home, on the streets and in the community.
We have loved Al Ain and will speak very positively of the time we spent here.
Soon we are off to China via London and a few weeks in Aus. Life is good, exciting and another challenge is looming on the horizon. Let me at it! I can't wait!