Friday, September 04, 2009

Saying Goodbye....

My last week in Abu Dhabi. We leave next Friday.

So I have lived in this city for as long as I can remember.

I came here a child - since before my living memory - because my parents were looking to maintain a standard of living that could no longer be maintained where they came from. Not without indulging in corruption.

I came here because they wanted to give us everything they felt we should have. And they wanted to do it honestly.

It is difficult to really build up memories here. Because this place changes so fast. People leave. Buildings get torn down. Neighborhoods look different when you come back if you haven't seen them in 6 months.

Nothing has roots that go too deep here.

And yet I still have memories:

My first home.

The first playground where my brothers taught me to play football, set off fireworks, fly a kite, ride a bicycle and a million other lessons. The same neighborhood playground where they stood up for me again and again - and taught me to stand up for myself - taught me what family means and what it means to belong.

My old school.

The first hairdresser who ever managed my hair - the like of whom I have not found anywhere.

The little neighborhood grocery store where my siblings and I would spend our allowance buying candy and sweets.

The Emergency Room where my mother worked and the hospital where we always went when were sick.

My father's old office where I would wait after school when my mother couldn't be home to receive me and my brothers were still at school. The way his staff would order sweets for me from the canteen and give me copies of Majed magazine to keep me entertained.

The ladies beach where I learnt to swim, and learnt to drive on cars stolen from my mother and my friend's mothers.

The hospital where my little sister was born.

The women's get-togethers for coffee and sweets where I met so many of my childhood friends.

The Cultural Foundation where my parents sent us for Arabic and Quran lessons because they didn't think we were getting enough of those in school.

The Corniche where I grew up walking and running and cycling. It keeps getting wider and wider with dredging and reclamation. The old buildings keep moving further and further away from the coast line. But it is still my coastline.

The old cafe and bookstore on the first floor of the old Spinneys supermarket where -as a teenager - it was the highlight of my week to be allowed to hangout with my friends from school. Long before Abu Dhabi had any malls.

The old boutiques in Hamdan Street where my mother and my friends and I did our shopping - also before the malls. Especially the one owned by my friend's cousin - where I could take stuff home to try on and where I could borrow a dress and return it if I couldn't pay for it.

The other old boutique with catalogues where I could pick stuff and order it if I didn't like anything in the store.

I am so going to miss going to boutiques and being told I lost or gained weight and I need to try a smaller/larger size before I said anything. Or being told what is new since I was last there without having to look.

I am going to miss being able to walk everywhere. The way the city is structured so that every block has more or less everything you need within walking distance. The overwhelming convenience of life here where you could order virtually anything anytime by phone.

I am going to miss the safety - everywhere and anytime.

I am going to miss the unique mix of living in an Arab/Muslim country while still being able to immerse yourself in other cultures and ways of life, to meet people from countries you're hearing about for the first time as a matter of routine.

I am going to miss the smallness - which I sometimes got so frustrated with. The way you run into people you know everywhere - because just like people leave all the time - they come back all the time too. They leave as students and come back as professionals to live and work where their parents lived and worked - or as businessmen or businesswomen seeking out old contacts and trying to find opportunities. They leave as little girls and boys and come back fathers and mothers.

I am going to miss these occasional little surprises you get when you run into someone you never expected to see again, someone you might have never met if either if you had never lived in this city. Ships that pass in the night but you pass so many ships that the law of probability makes it likely you will pass some of them again.

I am going to miss the city where I got my first job, my second job and my third job. My first car and my second car.

The city where my first nephew and niece were born and where I first learnt how much you can come to love a small child of your own blood.

The city where two of the friends I grew up with got married and gave me one more nephew and two more nieces - the youngest of whom is named for me.

My uncle's old apartment building - the uncle I hated before that but who later became one of my best friends - and married another one of my best friends.

I am going to miss them all so much.

And much as I enjoyed the different seasons when experienced in other parts of the world, I am going to miss the sameness of the weather here. The predictability. The convenience of being able to plan for anything all year round. I am going to miss weather simply not being an issue.

I am going to miss Emaratis. Their respectfulness and generosity as a people. The way the men in government departments and the police always treat women in such a privileged manner, always letting you go to the head of the queue, letting you get away with parking and speeding violations, being willing to help anytime your car breaks down or they think you're lost or being harrassed - and then disappearing afterwards without expecting anything in return. The way they welcome you into their homes and never comment on cultural or religious differences despite being such a deeply conservative people themselves.

I am going to miss this feeling of relaxation I get as soon as I get into the airport here, the easy and smooth procedures for entry, this sense you get that everything is easy now.

I am going to miss the city where I had my high school prom, my wedding (part of it), my first married home and the birth of my child.

I am going to miss my husband's old clinic, the waiting room where I fell in love.

And his old apartment building - where I started out waiting for him in my car in the parking lot downstairs before we got married. The same apartment building which was the first place I was ever truly alone with a man in total privacy, the heady excitement of it, the sense of risk in being in that grey area somewhere between a girlfriend and a wife, in being allowed to be there but not really.

Then our first married home, the fun of choosing our furniture, the fun of moving in with him. Those early days of love.

The city where I first learnt about friendship - all the different kinds.

The only city which brought me and my parents and my brothers together in a family unit that gave me my foundation and will probably never be again.

The city where I came of age and fell in love.

One more week. One more week to go everywhere and do everything one last time.

One more week to celebrate so much.