Tony Sexton teaches English at the Ruwais Refinery. I was born in Ireland and I was told by a fortune-teller at the Grand Temple in Bangkok that I could be happy anywhere except the country I was born in. That rang true, because although I still love visiting Ireland, even as a kid I fantasised about being abroad. That dream came true as a young adult and I have lived abroad all my life. I am a teacher of English language, so it was an easy dream to realise.
I started my career at a private school in Switzerland and hated it. The place was all about making money. If a boarder broke a school rule, such as staying up after lights out, the punishment was that their parents would be charged an extra 400 Swiss francs. I felt claustrophobic in that place and couldn't wait to go somewhere a bit more relaxed. Rio de Janeiro sounds pretty glamorous, but I found the reality different: lots of hard work for meagre pay, galloping inflation, a high crime rate and I was robbed several times. It was fun for a while, but soon I longed for a bit more spending money.
I got the spending money when I landed a job in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and despite the initial culture shock, I stayed for 17 years. I enjoyed the sociable, hospitable atmosphere of the expat community and made lots of friends. Life there was fun, but finally it was time to leave. When I did, I closed a huge chapter of my life behind me - the saddest moment in my life was saying goodbye to people I loved when I left. I missed the Middle East more than I'd imagined was possible when I was back in Ireland - the fortune-teller was right - and I was over the moon to get a job in Abu Dhabi after nearly a year back home.
I love Abu Dhabi for the ease and simplicity of life here, all the more because I can only stay in the city at weekends. I kept my apartment here when my work required me to move to Ruwais, 240km away. That's when I really began to appreciate what the city offers. It's where I can meet my friends, go out, maybe go to the cinema, and just soak in the atmosphere of a buzzing urban environment. I have always loved painting and drawing, and almost took up the offer of art college in Dublin when I finished school. I read English and French at Trinity instead. I often wonder how different my life would have been had I chosen to make art my career. However, I do paint, and I've had exhibitions in Jeddah, which were well received. I intend to have one here soon and in the evenings I'm working away on mainly abstract work, which is a new direction for me. I particularly enjoy portraits because of the challenge of capturing a personality. When you are working on one, even from a digital image, you get the sense of the person actually being there. When you set the picture aside for a while, the person is staring at you from the canvas saying: "Well, when are you going to finish me?" It is a bit weird, but also gratifying.
My days are regular as clockwork out in the desert: work, paint, eat, sleep. Just a few days ago I bought a treadmill because it's become too hot to go out for my daily walk. My other gesture to health and fitness is eating a bowl of chopped fruit with my morning muesli at my desk at work (you've got to start somewhere). Four years ago I lost 10 kilos and built up lean muscle over a six-month period. The result was life-changing but unfortunately not permanent; now I'm back where I started. You really have to be motivated to keep it up; finding the motivation is what I find hard. I'm just a natural floater, taking things easy.
If I have one regret, it's that I'm not more focused, more driven. Maybe somewhere there is a Tony Sexton who is like that. It would be interesting to meet him and see how different his life is from mine.