Life has been sort of a whirlwind lately. I must admit, it felt like we had the rug pulled out from under us. We assumed our next year would look a certain way, and then all of a sudden, everything was going to be very different. Within 9 days we sold our vehicle and all of our furniture, packed our life back into 8 suitcases and 4 carry-on’s, canceled our visas, cleaned and moved out of our apartment, and began the official exit process for leaving ADEC. The stress and anxiety of those days, along with the nausea, loss of appetite, and “efficient, anxiety-induced” bowel movements turned out to be quite a 10 day cleanse…
There were a lot of complications in that time, but I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, there were a couple of days where we didn’t see the details coming together in time for us to leave together as a family, but God, who knew this was coming, paved the way for us, and we have been blessed to see how he came through for us. Two really huge pieces in particular were reminders to us of God’s faithfulness. First, all of our government paperwork came through before the Eid holiday. Miracle! If you live in the UAE especially, you will appreciate that having Etisalat, AADC, and ADCP come through with your promised paperwork BEFORE the day they promised, is an act of God. And secondly, Dwayne got a job back in Chilliwack less than a week after getting word of the end of his ADEC contract. I cannot describe the peace this brought to our family during a time of tremendous upheaval.
With those things behind us, we moved into a hotel and phase two of leaving. We spent our last 6 days saying goodbye to the people who had loved, supported, and accepted us in our new country. During this process of celebrating and mourning, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what this two year experience has meant to me. I was leaving sooner than I expected, but I couldn’t deny that my life had been transformed. And instead of leaving with regrets, I felt I was leaving with a pile of gifts from this beautiful country. Ten parting gifts from the UAE:
Travel is an amazing way to see the world, but settling down and making a new country your home is an unparalleled way to expose yourself to a different culture. The things I’ve learned about Arab culture in general, Emirati culture in particular, and the multitude of other cultures I’ve been exposed to in this unique little country have expanded my understanding, tolerance, and appreciation for different world views. I’ve come to love different foods, different customs, and different perspectives.
2. Culture Shock
While this might not sound like a gift, we all know that life difficulties are the things that grow us into more mature and empathetic people. I have a whole new respect for people who have left their countries behind and forged a new life in a new land.
3. The Desert
In my first year in the UAE I dabbled in the desert, but in my second year, while preparing for the Women’s Heritage Walk, I had a love affair with that gorgeous terrain. I spent a lot of time walking dunes, and I will forever be grateful for the life, beauty, friendship, and reflection time that I found there.
4. Spiritual Growth
One might not expect that a Christian moving to a Muslim country would list spiritual growth as a highlight of their experience, but this has indeed been like a mountain top in my faith journey. This was due to a combination of factors for me. First, I found myself worshiping with the most incredibly diverse church family every weekend and the richness of that is one of the most significant things I will take away with me from this country. Secondly, I met weekly with a prayer group who loved and challenged me and caused me to go to new depths in my relationship with God. Third, my whole time in the UAE was like a roller coaster of joys and pains, which caused me to lean into God in a way I never had to before. And finally, although the Muslim faith is different from my own, there was much about living amongst them that taught me more about what I believe and why it is so dear to me.
By the time we return to Canada, Inshallah, we will have visited Oman, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Thailand, England, Croatia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, not to mention the multiple stays in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which are amazing cities in their own right. We did all of this as a foursome, which is a gift I will always treasure.
6. Slower Pace
I’ve said this in earlier blog posts, but it is one of the big takeaways for me. Life in Al Ain is the opposite of busy, driven, and hectic. Leisure time is celebrated. Relationships are savored. When you walk up to an Emirati at a place of business, you smile, exchange peace, take a moment to ask how they’re doing. Nothing is urgent or rushed. There is always time for courtesy. I’m less uptight here and I hope to keep that gift with me, wherever I go.
7. Smaller Living
This is not a gift specific to the UAE, because, in fact, Emiratis live pretty large. But, as a benefit of expat life, we discovered how content we were in a small apartment with no garage, no yard, no basement, and no storage room. Our space was sufficient for us, and although we made it comfortable and homey, we never felt the need to keep buying. We simply didn’t have the space for more stuff. This is a gift that has already altered our thoughts on returning to life in Canada. Stay tuned for more on that this fall.
8. Spectacular Sites
The UAE is a tiny country that makes a big splash. The world’s biggest mall, fastest roller coaster, and tallest building are actually some of my favourite things about Dubai. They are worth the visit. But my favourite site in the country is, hands down, the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. I never got tired of seeing these places and I’ll miss driving by these worldwide attractions on a regular basis.
9. Family Time
Circumstances in this tiny window of time in our lives meant that the four of us got to spend every afternoon, every evening, and every weekend together. Partly because of the slower pace and smaller living, and partly because of homeschooling and Dwayne’s job, we often found ourselves together, sharing our big and small thoughts, playing and working in the same space. We had time to talk and look one another in the eye and we never felt like we were running ragged. One of my favourite gifts.
We became friends with people from dozens of different countries and learned things from them all. But it’s not what we learned about them or their cultures that we’ll miss. It’s just the simple, most beautiful thing about living anywhere: having people to love, who love you back, is the greatest gift in any country.
There are lesser things I’ll miss like fresh dates and hummus, year round sunshine, and regular camel sightings, but these are the big ones. Ten parting gifts that don’t fit in suitcases, but ones I will carry with me for the rest of my life.