Six months ago, we made the decision to resettle in the UK - and after a whirlwind few weeks, registering our children at schools, finding somewhere to live, and waving the contents of our UAE villa off onto a shipping container, we could call ourselves bonafide repatriates.
After nine years living the desert, my emotions have been all over the place since we arrived back on home soil. One minute I’m wailing into my coffee after catching sight of my much-loved beach bag in the back of the wardrobe - and the next, my heart is singing with the joys of winter as I watch the children cuddle into their grandparents’ arms to listen to a story.
It’s been a crazy, wonderful, difficult, beautiful, tear-filled six months - so when Baby & Child asked me to tell them about the things I missed about being a UAE expat (and the things I have been delighted to wave goodbye to), I knew I was the girl for the job.
The things I miss
1 - My friends
It isn’t the big, flashy events that I miss. It isn’t the parties on yachts or the brunches with camel riding and live singers crooning away in the corner. No, I don’t miss any of that. I just miss strolling into my friend’s kitchen and hearing her coffee machine whirr into action. I miss hearing our children rush around together, so close that they could be cousins. I miss hearing every little detail of what has happened in their lives, as our babies crawl at our feet. It seems surreal that I stepped out of their lives when we boarded that flight home - and now I have missed six months of their news and their kids growing taller. Not having these friends a short drive away has been the single hardest thing about our move home.
2 - The warmth
When I was a Dubai expat, I missed wrapping up warm every winter. Even the thought of frosty mornings and snow-heavy clouds were enough to prompt a serious dose of homesickness - so it’s ironic that now the tables have turned, I would do anything for the chance to warm up on a Dubai beach. I had forgotten quite how cruel winter mornings could be; from mustering up the strength to climb out of a warm duvet, to the feeling of numb toes as you stroll across the kitchen floor to flick on the kettle, to the torture of stepping out of a warm shower and drying your skin in sub-zero temperatures. Slippers are, quite literally, the new flip-flops.
3 - The culture
I once had an argument with a tourist at a wedding in Dubai, because he announced to our entire table that Dubai had no culture. I told him to head to the Creek and jump on an abra. I told him to haggle in the spice souk. I told him to head to a camel race and soak up the atmosphere. I told him to drive to any street in Jumeirah and wait for the call of prayer. I told him to head into the desert at sunset and stand there in the dunes as the sun dipped below the horizon. And all these years later, I’m glad I stood up for Dubai that day - as these things are amongst the most precious memories I have of that city I called home. In fact, a few weeks ago, I heard some Arabic music in a kid’s cartoon - and my eyes pricked with tears.
4 - Our nanny
It’s a huge cliché for a newly repatriated mum to say she misses ‘the home help’ - but for me, it isn’t just about missing having somebody around to clean up after my feral kids or do the laundry. She was part of the family - and I miss her, rather than her first-rate cleaning and childcare skills. Thinking about the way her face lit up when she saw the kids in the morning, or the way she kissed the baby and told her she loved her, or the way she sent me endless messages when we were away asking for photos as she missed them all so much kind of breaks my heart now. We keep in touch, but it obviously isn’t the same - and I feel strangely jealous of the family she has joined (as lovely as they probably are).
5 - The home delivery
Nobody needs to phone the coffee shop downstairs and get a skinny latte delivered to their door - but when you have a newborn baby and haven’t even managed to get dressed for three days, it is pretty helpful. And the same goes for when you realise you’ve run out of nappies and have had to fashion something for the baby from an old muslin until the shop down the road delivers a pack. Or when your husband gets home from work and looks in the fridge, before promptly declaring it is the perfect night for a home delivery. And yes - as shallow as it all sounds, I miss all that. I now live in a sleepy village and when I rang the local Chinese takeaway to ask if they did home delivery, they laughed at me. Keep me in your thoughts, readers. It’s hard out here in the real world.
The things I don’t miss
1 - Being away from family
This is the obvious one, of course - and the very reason we took the decision to move home. Because now that we live down the road from most of our family, I definitely don’t miss those heartbreaking phone calls when the kids wanted to reach inside the phone for a cuddle from their grandparents, nor starting the countdown to trips home at least a month before our departure, nor always being the one to miss engagements, and hen do’s, and weddings, and the chance to hold newborn babies while they were still actually new. In nine years of being away, I feel like we missed so much - but we can make up for it now with trips to Granny and Grandad’s for tea after school and Sunday lunches with the crispiest roast potatoes and the whole family crammed around the table. Sometimes we feel so lucky that it feels like a dream.
2 - The constant flights
I always knew that the next long-haul flight was just around the corner. And before I had children, that was OK. I quite enjoyed the chance to pack my bag, sit back and watch films at 42,000 feet, and arrive in a different country and climate mere hours later. But since having kids, these flights invariably included apologising to fellow passengers for flung bread rolls landing in their laps, several nappy explosions per flight, and a squabble over who got to eat Mummy’s dinner chocolate. And that was before I had to deal with the 3am jet-lagged starts at the other end. I became a bit of a pro at flying with kids towards the end, but knowing I can sit still for a while and store away the suitcases fills me a huge sense of relief.
3 - The driving
The roads are definitely not something I am missing. In fact, as I tootle along winding country roads to take my children to school in the UK, I am still surprised when the car behind doesn’t fly up behind me. “They’re keeping a safe distance?” I think. “I do hope they’re OK…” My road rage these days comes in the form of tractors creeping slowly in front of us when I’m running late for the school drop - and that usually abates when the driver concerned dons his hat to apologise as I move past. And you can’t be angry at a man that dons his tweed cap. You just can’t.
4 - The grocery shopping
I got used to supermarket shopping in the UAE in the end, but it did take me a while. Buying fruit and vegetables from one store, nappies from another, meat from another, and general cupboard stocks from another. I became a shopping ninja - but there were still times when I was simply too tired to drive around and settled on a 35 AED cauliflower because I needed one for that night’s dinner. The day I accidently purchased 95 AED strawberries was a serious low point though (I seem to remember having beans on toast that night to repent). Six months since moving home, however, and the supermarket aisles are still like Aladdin’s cave. I am regularly found shouting at my husband from the baby aisle: “THESE BABY WIPES ARE 75p A PACKET! SHOULD I BUY 10?” So no, I can’t get a double-shot skinny latte with soy milk and my name scrolled on the side of the cup delivered to my door in a matter of minutes - but I do quite literally jump for joy when I spot 50p cauliflowers. And for now, I’m definitely not arguing with that.