x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

'I love Abu Dhabi for the ease of life'

This much I know Tony Sexton teaches English at the Ruwais Refinery.

Tony Sexton works on an abstract piece in his kitchen.
Tony Sexton works on an abstract piece in his kitchen.

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.