It’s the time of year when the weather is just about perfect. Warm sunny days of comfortable temperatures anywhere between 23 and 28 and fresh nights, the temperatures never going below 16/17. It’s these few months of the year that make the unbearable Middle East summer months bearable. It’s also the months for visitors, like ants to a picnic; they start to come, thick and fast. This week saw the arrival of my sister-in-law, complete with her two under four and four cases all over 35kgs, cases not kids.
Her maiden voyage to the Middle East since my compulsory emigration of three years ago, I was pleased that she finally had the opportunity to witness firsthand the sacrifice I was making every day, just to keep our family together. Having lived next door to each other during the boom times, it became obvious after the burst when one of us relied on the private sector and the other relied on public, whose door would remain open, mine was firmly shut punctuated only by a few inconsistent tenants. Being in a pensionable government job she was able to stay. I was looking forward to the fortnight, the cousins would meet and she would return home feeling as sorry for me as I was for myself.
The first days didn’t go as well as I expected, the sun beamed in the cloudless sky, warming the bones of our cousins who incidentally had never felt real grass, owing to the persistent rain, broken only by an odd shower of hailstones or sleet. They all played happily in the back garden from dawn to dusk and afterwards they feasted on a plate of barbequed pony or whatever. They then slept the sleep of the happy beneath the hypnotic hum of the cooling A/C. It was difficult to portray my hardship in these circumstances but there was time, she would see that life in Abu Dhabi wasn’t without its trials.
I tried to highlight the loneliness that living abroad brought but between the constant flow of visitors to the front door and Skype ringing loudly in the background it was difficult to get the time to explain fully how the isolation felt. After one week of varying the itinerary between shopping malls and the beach I felt I needed to point out the monotony of same and how lucky she was to still have a job in Ireland. When I learned that after Government levies and pay-cuts she was back to earning what she earned in 1978 or something like that, I let that particular argument rest.
I raved about how I missed home cooking as we all too often end up eating out or on the run to accommodate often conflicting daily schedules. However I lost the argument too, as she stood wide-eyed at the range of options in the foodcourts of Abu Dhabi and mentioned how she appreciated eating out these days, having a diminishing disposable income, shoes for the children now takes precedence over a Friday night curry.
As a last ditch effort, I waxed lyrical about the benefits of an Irish education, I pointed out the frustration of living in a rental property when our home was idle, spoke at length about the horrendous heat of summer and how dehydrating the A/C was on our skin.
The friendly game of ping pong came to a close when she clarified a few points for me on living in Ireland today. After paying the child minder, she has Eu. 150 Euros a month to call her own. With car tax and petrol on the up and her car park space becoming a deductible benefit, she is now forced to cycle to work in all conditions. Her kitchen extension plans are on hold for the foreseeable future at her house once called “Wood View House” could now be renamed, “Negative Equity Lodge”, the children’s allowance is being means tested and if it wasn’t for the air miles her husband had clocked up on his six weeks on, two off over the past three years in Azerbaijan she wouldn’t be in Abu Dhabi at all. If I was keeping score, she would be leading ten nil. I kept quiet and hoped to God she didn’t notice Nurshami washing my car outside or I’d have no hope of a comeback.