Lately, Mr T and I have been questioning whether our living quarters – on the 65th floor of a luxurious high-rise on Reem Island – are the best option now that we have a baby. Our lease renewal is coming up and the landlord is insisting that we decide if we’d like to stay on for another year. Would we, now that we’re parents to a bundle of energy? Once upon a time, there would have been no hesitation. Our current lifestyle, in a centrally located building with a Waitrose, a pharmacy, cosy cafes, a fair trade coffee counter, delicious eateries and a great day care for Baby A, is right up my alley.
But now that we’re parents, are Mr T and I ethically and morally bound to provide Her Dictatorship with more space by moving to the Abu Dhabi suburbs?
The question has driven us to consider between city and country living. And to give each option a fair chance, we decided to head to Al Reef for a bout of exploration. It made sense: Al Reef means “countryside” in Arabic and colleagues who live there have nothing but good things to say about this community of villas just beyond Abu Dhabi International Airport – relatively spacious villas for a far more reasonable rent than we currently pay.
With the exception of my shopping trips to Dubai or fancy dinners at the Fairmont or Shangri-La, I rarely head beyond Sheikh Zayed Bridge. I felt like we were going on an expedition to the unknown where God knows what might befall us. I brought enough food to last Baby A two days. I packed three spare outfits for her. I slathered the two of us in sunscreen and brought hats. I insisted Mr T bring bottles of water in case we got lost and we were left stranded with nothing to break our fast. I made him programme Al Reef’s co-ordinates into his phone’s GPS app. I called no less than two friends to double check the directions. And we were off.
Here’s a disclaimer: I’m a city girl through and through. I can’t function without a high-end mall in the near vicinity. I get debilitating bouts of hay fever when I’m near greenery. Nature freaks me out. Every time Mr T gets that distant look on his face when he imagines us living in a villa with an outdoor space, a lawn, maybe a baby pool for Baby A to splash in, and a barbecue on the side for grilled dinners, I have to remind myself to breathe. All I can think of is how I’ll get hives every time that lawn needs mowing, how easily insects will find their way into a ground-floor home compared to a 65th-floor apartment, how a sandstorm might bring the desert into my home, or how I’ll be the one tasked with cleaning the barbecue. Country living would not be good for this marriage.
But still, I had to be fair. So off we went to Al Reef, which, incidentally, happens to be 35km out into the middle of nowhere. Far, far from civilisation. Trepidation set in. The image of Baby A giggling on a tricycle in a safe neighbourhood no longer held any appeal. She can ride a tricycle in our building’s lobby – what’s wrong with that?
“I’m a city girl,” I announced to Mr T, who knows this already. Giving up my city living for Baby A to have a backyard is one parental sacrifice I’m just not ready to make.
One change at a time, thank you.
Hala Khalaf is deputy Arts&Life editor at The National
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