Coming from Doha, entering Abu Dhabi I feel like Dorothy clicking her red heeled shoes to change life from black and white to colour. The landscape is a lot greener a nice change from the monotonous beige of dusty Doha.
Choice of accommodation for expats across the Middle East falls into three categories, a stand-alone house, a compound or an apartment, often company owned and used mostly for hunters living alone and sending every brass dirham back home faster than a hare in a hunt. The stand-alone houses tend to be relatively large and often don’t have a swimming pool, as they are largely occupied by Arabs, for whom the novelty of having an outdoor pool has long since worn off. Having lived in a stand alone in Doha I can confirm that the term has two meanings the house itself is unattached to another and is not part of a community, estate or compound. The second meaning is that the inhabitants also “stand alone” in that without the support of a community or accessible neighbours, life in a stand-alone can be isolating and end up with the occupants writing details of their life story for weekly publication in order to reach the outside world. Thus, moving to Abu Dhabi I decided to live in a large compound.
Prior to my immigration to the Middle East I had expressed revolt to living in a compound. On hindsight it was possibly the word “compound” that was the deterrent and not necessarily the conditions. The industrial sounding word does not lend itself to the often beautiful man-made, landscaped, well-serviced areas, which at home are called housing estates.
The search for the perfectively appointed compound began and agreed upon and despite me having viewed the website and online photographs many times, they still hadn’t prepared me for the sight of entering the gates of compound and our new home at Sas Al Nahkl, Abu Dhabi. Mount Oval on speed. That is if Mount Oval had a heated/chilled outdoor swimming pool, state of the art clubhouse with everything from sprung floors to squash courts and fully equipped gym and leisure facilities. The top notch Spinney’s supermarket, brioche café, barbers, beauty salon, dry cleaners, chemist and crèche were all housed under the central amenity area, all built in the same architecturally sensitive construction. The labyrinth of walkways and housing areas, consisting of varying shapes, storey’s and sizes, provided the perfect backdrop for the elite housing area and the Porsche and Maseratis parked in the shaded driveways sparkled like diamonds in a ring. Doing in the school run in my Asics and Mitsubishi Lancer I began to feel the first nibbles of peer pressure, as I took note of my well heeled and immaculately manicured neighbours. Living in Abu Dhabi’s, Wisteria Lane would prove a challenge and keeping up with these desperate housewives could become a full-time job!
Embracing my new post, I made my way to the clubhouse to attend Zumba, wearing all my new Nike gear, which was more tight-fit than dri-Fit, signing in I noticed, a surname on the list above, “Mullally”. I make enquiries and sure enough she was Irish, she wouldn’t be attending Zumba today, she had other arrangements. Irish and haphazard about fitness, this could be a match made in heaven, I scanned the list again for her zone and house number, taking the initiative, I too dodged Zumba, grabbed a packet of Jaffa cakes from the stash of goodies brought over from Ireland and headed straight for Jackie’s, looking forward to meeting someone Irish and having a natter while scoffing a few biccies over coffee.
Two ding dongs later, Ami Yong, answered the door and called for Ms. Jackie. In a puff of glamour, Jackie appeared at the door, smart, short, navy dress, red heels and long flowing hair. She looked like she hadn’t had a biscuit since 1988. The Eva Longoria of Dublin 6. She was just dashing out for lunch, she told me, as she smiled wryly at the baby-chewed box of the Jaffa cakes. We made arrangements to meet for coffee as she slipped on her oversized sunglasses and hopped into her gold coloured 4 x 4, speeding off, she called back, “by the way, welcome to Abu Dhabi, see you soon”, I replied under my breath, “shoulda gone to Zumba”.