Ladies Who Do Much More Than Lunch

There was a moment, maybe a minute, in Abu Dhabi this week where I wondered if my self perceived spirit of adventure was perhaps a little reckless. The seed of doubt was planted by my mother while speaking on the phone that morning, me in a taxi on my way to the airport, her in my hometown of eight thousand people in rural Australia.

“Just be careful” she warned.

“Of what?” I was perplexed.

“Well… you know” she almost whispered into the phone “you’re on your own, you probably need to be a bit more careful.”

I giggled. There was my mother, in South Australia, on a day where it was predicted that two tornado strength storms were about to approach the city nearby. A day where the entire state would lose its electricity supply.  There was my mother, telling me to be careful. I was heading to the Australian embassy in Abu Dhabi to put in a passport renewal application and meet a group of women for lunch. She was about to sit in the dark for several hours eating cheese and crackers with my Dad while the wind and rain rattled through the region.

Yet somehow, even though I’ve lived all over the world, and knew what I was doing was completely safe, there was a moment when the self-doubt arrived.

Abu Dhabi feels different to Qatar. There’s more green, and it somehow feels more open, easier to manoeuvre; but it was a new city for me, my first time there, and while there were similarities of being in another Arab country, I didn’t have the right tools. After my appointment at the embassy I was going to meet some new friends, women I’d spoken to online, through the Facebook page, women I’d never met in person. The nerves began to kick in.

“Do you have Uber here?” I asked at the Embassy reception desk on the 8th floor.

“We did, but I don’t think its working any more.” I was told through a wall of glass.

I found the app, pushed all the right buttons, nothing happened.

I approached the glass again. “Is there a number I can call for a taxi?”

“Yeah, but we don’t have a lot of luck with taxi’s, you ring them and they never come”

“Shall I perhaps ask the guy at reception downstairs?”

“Probably”

I double checked google maps as I made my way down in the lift.

I was already late and it was going to take a long time to walk, even more so in 40 degree heat.

I asked at the main reception of the building.

“Taxi?”

“Just stand on the street – one will come”

And it was then, while I was standing out in the middle of the road, unsure of my bearings, with the realization that I was clutching a bag with my husband’s, mine and my daughter’s passports that I should probably be a bit careful when choosing which random car to get into. This wasn’t where the nerves came in though, it was the lunch, I knew I’d be fine when I got there, but it was the walking in bit that always provided the nerves.

Sixteen years of expat life, of walking in cold, “Hi, my name’s Kirsty, I’m new.” Yes, it gets easier, but the nerves never go.

I don’t need to finish this story right? You know how it goes. I got a taxi, I found the restaurant. The women I met were amazing. They were my tribe, my people. They exchanged numbers and details between themselves, they gave support to those who were new, they talked about their challenges within the expat world. “I’ve been here for five weeks and no-one has invited me to anything. I’m still waiting to be accepted to certain Facebook groups. I’m finding it really hard here.”

My favourite moment though was fifteen minutes in, when the gorgeous Fiona burst into the room with a beaming smile and a hint of nerves “I just made a last-minute decision and got in the car and came!” It was that moment that made me emotional, a little teary. All of these incredible women who had no idea how incredible they were. Gillian, who I’ve interviewed for the podcast, who was once based in Yemen before being evacuated as mortar was scattered through her compound, looked me in the eye and said “I was really nervous about coming here today”

“This made you nervous?” I giggled “but the Yemen thing? That was a piece of cake.”

This evening one of my best mates in Adelaide will drive my eldest child, my first baby, to the airport. She’s coming “home” and we are all just a tad excited. She’ll be flying on her own, she’s 16.

My sister messaged me this morning “I just can’t get my head around her flying on her own”.

We both then talked about how much Lizzie has grown this year. The confidence she’s gained from going to boarding school. How at the beginning of the year we were both so worried about if she was happy, comfortable, or settled. In the past nine months I’ve watched her make an entire new network of friends, girls who grew up on farms, in cities, and in international locations. She now has a learners permit and shares the driving when we go to Granny’s house. She has mastered the public transport system, she now heads into the city to meet friends via train or bus. And tomorrow morning I will stand at arrivals and watch her stride through the gates with a suitcase full of washing, an urge to shop, and chocolate for her siblings. I could not be prouder right now.

Some of us choose to take ourselves out of our comfort zone, others are pushed. Whatever the situation, it’s undeniable that it’s how we realize our strength, what we’re capable of if we try.

I have a new contact in my phone. A new whatsapp buddy, his name is Pradeep. He picked me up on the side of the road in Abu Dhabi and found the restaurant I needed to find. Later he came back and took me to the airport.

“Where you from Madam”

“Australia”

“Ahhh, you’ve come a long way”

I hope so.

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