Recently I have been in correspondence with two women who are preparing themselves to pack up their lives and begin anew here in Abu Dhabi. I had offered my advice to answer any questions they might have about living and working here. They had the typical questions: what to wear so as not to offend the locals; the availability of essential services, like how to find a good hairdresser and the cost to get manicures and pedicures; how one gets around town; access to money and paying for things; things essential to sanity like gyms and alcohol. I loved that I was able to give some advice and hopefully make their preparation a bit easier. It made me think a lot about how far I’ve come since I stepped off that plane almost eight months ago. How different things are from when every single thing I had to do was new and confusing and exhausting. And while I can give them advice (from my point of view of course) I want to somehow express to them how their own inner strength and moxie will pull them through when everything seems so foreign. So difficult. So just plain strange and weird life here is.
Even though I haven’t met them, I know that they have some character ingredient that will pull them through. I know this because something in them made them able to say “yes” to the challenge of coming here. Even though on some level they are surely scared shitless.
I can’t tell you how many people responded to my delivery of the decision I made with “you are so brave. I could NEVER do that.” For me, the decision to come here was not an exhaustive weighing of all the pros and cons. If I had started down that path I likely would not be here. Coming here required giving up of so much that was good and comfortable and known for…. what? I wasn’t sure. In fact, after I agreed to relocate “for the good of the company” is when I really started to panic. “What have I done?” “I just agreed to totally stir up my life that I worked so hard to get it as good as it is?” “Am I flippin’ crazy?” I told those people who said “you are so brave” and “I couldn’t do it,” “I told myself I can do anything for a year or two.” Inside I was saying “oh God, what have I done?” Have I really screwed up and set the course to disrupt the trajectory that was working pretty well as is? A very little morsel inside of me was glowing with the possibility “I could reinvent myself. Start over with people I don’t know in a setting I don’t know and be anything, anybody I want to be.” Just today as I am writing about that is when I am remembering that.
Since I’ve been here I’ve been so invested in just trying to figure out how to survive the everyday: learning how to do everything from making a phone call to what to wear; how to deal with the tremendous culture shock of living in a place so completely different from where I became who I am; adjusting from the closeness to friends and family, giving up the ability to spontaneously pick up the phone and invite a dear friend over or arrange a night out with comfortable friends. Yes since then I’ve been too busy to think about reinventing myself. On that front I’ve let myself down. I am still my combination of false bravery and self doubt that makes me appear confident on the outside and shaky on the inside. I still feel protected by a God that loves me and looks after me knowing all along that I am so unworthy of that care. I am scared shitless a lot of the time. I often don’t find the energy I wish I had to be a really brave, fun loving, confident, joyous person I thought I’d reinvent myself to be. Things instead are brewing at a deeper level. I have stirred things up and forced myself to live life at a deeper level. Because of the needing to learn everything anew. Because things don’t come easily. Because it is often very lonely and isolating I have to knit together parts of my soul that maybe need a little mending. I have needed to ask some deeper questions about how to do this thing called living.
What I’ve always liked about travelling to a foreign country is that it causes me to be very conscious of everything around me: the smells; the sounds; the air. I love to observe others in their lives without the emotional attachment of someone who will stay. But to take that on for a longer period, knowing that you won’t return to “normal” for a very long time is hard. Very hard. And I have this fear that when I return I won’t be able to find “normal.” In fact I so don’t want to face THAT fear that I don’t want to write about it.
I just got an email from a dear friend (one who has become dearer since I moved here: she’s faithfully followed me every step of the way with support and encouragement that has surprised the socks off of me!). She and her husband are in the early stages of exploring a similar life altering journey. She has so many questions about the practicalities of pulling off something like this. And while there are so many questions about the “hows” I read into her questions the big one. The “why?” The answer is in the response to that little ember that is glowing about the possibility of reinvention. The challenge of giving up what is comfortable and familiar in the hope that you will find something more. The something more is not about the potential to save money or make money. It’s not about the pride in having a passport with more stamps on the pages or having great stories to tell when you get back. It’s about what you find out about yourself when you don’t have the answers. It’s about the struggle and the new relationships you will form. In her case it will be about the lives she touches. But more importantly, it’s about changing her own life and touching the parts of her own soul that don’t get touched and mended in the daily grind of what is familiar. It will be an adventure she could never fully anticipate or plan for. But she would go with the same knowledge of her Father who protects her and the support of people who love her.
After I had said Yes to this and was in the panic stage my “sounding board” very wisely said “you know you don’t have to go. You could say ‘no.’ What’s the worst that could happen if you changed your mind?” Admittedly I’ve lamented that a few times since. “Why didn’t I say ‘no’?” But honestly, I know this is good. It is just for a few years. The glowing ember is being fanned. I am reinventing myself whether consciously or not. I am sure I’d be sitting at home with regret if I had turned down the opportunity.
Just last night, in the middle of watching a movie, my flat mate said “I just had that consciousness of how far we are away from everybody.” That happens. You go along for a while doing what you do to live and then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere you have this flash of how very far away you physically are from your family and friends. Though you might be in touch, even on a daily basis, it would take days and miles to actually get back to them. That is a sobering thought. Can outright panic you if you let it. And then calmness arrives from out of somewhere and you are again assured that all is well. You will be fine. And you go on with the everyday practicalities of living and working in a foreign land while underneath things are mending.
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