The sound of crickets chirping fills the village air with song, as the sky makes one final change of colour from twilight blue to midnight black. The evening is warm, still and calm, and feels as welcoming as one of my mum’s tight hugs. A slight, cool breeze gently envelops me, giving a brief respite from the summer heat, and I feel an overwhelming sense of peace and calm shower over me.
I’m sat on my grandmother’s balcony – the same balcony from which, upon turning off all the lights, you will witness a sky blanketed with millions of striking (and, frequently, shooting) stars. The marble floor feels warm beneath my feet, and the smell of corn on the cob slowly cooking on the charcoal whets my appetite. The familiar laughter and excruciatingly loud voices of my family – mum, granddad, grandma and sisters – are soothing and comforting.
I’m finally home.
With one swift stamp in my passport, my life as a resident of Dubai came to an end this morning. A mere three-hour airplane journey later, and I’ve been transported not only through space, but also through time. Sitting here, I feel strangely numb – the type of welcomed numb that is usually experienced after the first few sips of a strong Long Island Ice Tea. The familiarity of tonight’s scene makes it extremely hard to believe that the last five years actually happened. Nothing here has changed – the summer of 2012 feels just like the summer of 2007 did, and even the ones that preceded it.
Only, on closer inspection, we’ve all changed. My grandparents are older, softer, and even wiser. My little sisters aren’t little anymore, as they start to navigate their way through the complex, and often painful, labyrinth of adolescence. My mum, as loud and lovable as ever, gets more maternal with the passing of each day.
Then there’s me. I’ve changed. Yes, this scene feels exactly as it did five years ago, but while it’s easy to believe my life in Dubai never happened, the person I am today is proof that it did. In half a decade, I have changed – in many ways dramatically, and in other ways more subtly – and as I sit here, in the warm embrace of my family, I can see the changes clearer than ever.
I liken living abroad to being shown your reflection in the mirror for the very first time – only this is the reflection of your personality. Being outside of your comfort zone and away from your family forces you to take a close look at your every feature, from the very beautiful to the very ugly. A lot of the time people do not like what they see, and choose to reinvent themselves.
Other people just bury their head in the sand and tend to ignore it all, while the enlightened few choose to use this as a period of self-discovery. I have to say that I’ve done a bit of both – I’ve spent time ignoring the parts of me I didn’t quite like or understand, but I also went through periods during which I strove for change.
Living in Dubai in my twenties was an emotional rollercoaster; in your teens you’re still discovering your identity, whereas once you hit your twenties you have a good idea of what your strengths and weaknesses are, and what you need to work on. This often gives rise to great conflict and confusion, as the different parts of your personality battle it out to establish some sort of inner harmony. Trying to do this in a foreign country amplifies the effect tenfold.
For me, it has been a between battle the strong, confident Andrea I’ve been trying to become, and the timid, deeply insecure Andrea that I’m trying to leave behind. Slowly but surely, over the last few years, I’ve found myself making steps – baby steps, but steps nevertheless – towards this stronger me.
Making the decision to leave Dubai is proof that I’m at a point in my life where I’m ready to leave the old me behind, and embrace this evolved and slightly more enlightened version of myself. Setting off to travel the world as a single female isn’t easy, but I feel it will push me to my limits and help me test drive my new-found inner strength.
I’m sad to have left, but if five years in Dubai have helped me to overcome many of my fears, I can only imagine how much stronger (and hopefully, wiser) I will be once I finish my world trip. During my last few days in Dubai, one final series of events showed me how far I’ve come, and how I’m ready to embrace change like I’ve never done before. And for this I’m excited and terrified in equal measures.
Yet, despite all the change, the one thing I know for sure is that at the end of each and every adventure, I can return here, to my family, and be reminded of how far I’ve come, and how much I have to thank each and every one of them for the person who I am today. It doesn’t matter how many exotic places I visit, or the amount of fascinating cultures I experience, it’s these people right here that taught me the most fundamental and important life lessons, and it’s with these people right here that I will always feel happiest.
Home, after all, is where the family is.