One of the biggest sacrifices of living abroad is the fact that one’s children will not experience an Irish upbringing. Living in Abu Dhabi and sending your child to an English speaking school sees your precious Aoife or Aonghus cast aside all their Irish customs and traditions and merge with over fifty other nationalities in a single mono-culture. No excitement in togging out for underage G.A.A. matches, no selling tickets for the fashion show in the local community centre and no picking blackberries off the bushes on their way to school, all the everyday things that become part of the fabric of child rearing in Ireland.
With an obvious lack of Irish culture and a dwindling grasp of reality, Irish expat children all the over the Middle East have forgotten their roots and assume that life inside the controlled bubble of an expat teenager in Abu Dhabi is reality. No crime, no behavioral issues in schools, no visible signs of underage drinking, no outward appearances of the effects of recreational drugs in a community and no smoking out the back of the PE hall during morning break, aahhh that chokingly glorious fag that had the power to pivot your reputation from geek to god in just two pulls. None of that for our expat brats, no siree. Instead our Aislings and Aodhan’s are mollycoddled in the lush surroundings of private English Schools and the memory of their cupla focal as Gaeilge and life for a teenager in Ireland has diminished in the length of time it takes to download a politically correct movie on their ipads.
So three weeks into my sojourn from the banality of life in the Middle East and keen to exploit every avenue of Irishness and expose my multi-cultural children to the traditions and habits of Irish life, I heard news of a local disco that sounded like just the crash course I was looking for in order to create a complete picture of an Irish childhood and plant same experience in the memory bank of my children. The underage disco was taking place in a country venue, thirty miles from the city and three and half thousand miles away from the bubble of security in Abu Dhabi. A trip to Penneys, ensured that my little loved one had a pretty dress and matching shoes for the occasion. By that evening the excitement was rising to dizzying heights, “the first disco” is a biggie in any girls book and it was proving of monumental significance in my little girls summer. Pretty as a picture she stood in front of the AGA and posed for a few family photos we all ooohed and aahhd at the beautiful little belle and in her floral summer dress and pink pumps, a clean face and smidgen of lip gloss were the accessories and we were off to collect her old school mates, I brought the camera, I didn’t want to miss the chance of such a sweet photo. The four girls who started school together and already now at the tender age of thirteen they had taken different paths, two staying on the local secondary school, one opting to attend a more hoity toity city school and my baby in Abu Dhabi. Reunited at the local country disco, their first stepping out, sweet, and just the kind of event I had been trying all summer to orchestrate, maybe they could walk home and pick some blackberries on the way.
Nothing on this earth could have prepared me for the sight of the old schoolmates. They were lined up like two dollar hookers outside the front, complete with pole dancing platform shoes and leather bra tops. I squinted with effort to see the faces of the happy go lucky school girls behind the false eyelashes and layers of makeup, but I failed to recognise the faces that I had known for years, those innocent schoolgirls were gone and instead stood four gangly thirteen year old gazelles with spindly legs, standing shakily in too small hotpants and too big high heels.
The scene at the disco was like a cross between, Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Shameless, as the groups of girls hobbled in, one more orange than the next, tainted and painted with cheap fake tan and walking ten steps ahead of the pale smooth faced teenage boys who pucked each other amicably for entertainment. Watching one lusty looking lass shoving her blackberry into her bra, my Maeve Binchy image of rural Ireland crumbled there and then. Bring back the Abu Dhabi bubble.