x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Happiness is peace, tranquillity, birdsong?and a place to park

There is something to be said about living in isolation away from the bustling buzz of the city.

There is something to be said about living in isolation away from the bustling buzz of the city. It can truly be peaceful and can help to reawaken senses and thoughts dulled by the tedious demands of everyday life. Things that you may have forgotten or put on hold forever are suddenly fresh in your memory, and you are reminded of the more central things in your life.

Also, parking is not a problem. One of the greatest bonuses in living in communities or compounds outside the city is the abundance of space - something slowly becoming a luxury these days. I saw a lot of this space when I spent the weekend with friends in Rowais, in the western region of the Abu Dhabi emirate. Before I headed out, people were telling me how I would get bored there as Rowais was in the "middle of nowhere" and there was nothing to do, etc.

Well, the drive there was quite boring, I have to admit. But it was amusing to see what kind of cars were on the road and what they were doing. For instance, two new white BMWs, one with a Saudi licence plate and the other with an Abu Dhabi one, were having a race - doing a lot of dancing and zigzags between the trucks and lorries driving along the highway connecting the UAE with Saudi Arabia. I wondered if they raced all the way to the Saudi border. Who knows? Anything is possible when you are surrounded by desert and you feel unwatched. I didn't see any flashing lights from radar machines as cars sped by, although that doesn't necessarily mean that they are not recording.

After a drive that seemed to go on forever, I arrived in the Rowais complex close to the Abu Dhabi oil refineries, and was delightfully surprised to find a greener than expected residential compound. It was similar to the ones you find in the other Gulf countries, where the walled-in compound of identical villas has all the main facilities provided, such as a market, a clinic, a bank, a recreational centre, restaurants and sometimes schools.

Sure, there isn't much variety or choice, but the place is comfortable and everything seemed to slow down. You could easily become a hermit, as no one would bother you - there aren't many neighbours. "Do you like it here?" my friend asked me over a plate of freshly baked home-made bread and pools of honey. "Yeah, it is peaceful," I said. I had forgotten how nice it can be to just sit in a garden and listen to birds. I know it sounds lame, but it is the truth. In the city I'm usually running from one building to another, and the rest of the time I am sitting in my car driving here and there.

The night before, my friend had taken me on a tour of the place. The restaurant in the recreational centre was like a blast from the 1970s with its funky chairs and mismatched colours: not the most luxurious of places, but it sure has character, and a "homey" feel to it. Of course, you could get bored eventually as there is nothing much else around, unless you want to drive over to Saudi Arabia or camp out in the desert.

The week before, I spent some time driving around the outskirts of Abu Dhabi island and discovered several "cosy" communities where people are dependent on just one or two supermarkets, and feel quite content to be away from everything. They would go into the city once or twice a week to the mall, and to meet friends and family. "It's great! The rest of the world is already over-populated and congested, and we are lucky to be able to still have this here," one of my Emirati friends said the other day.

My relatives actually looked for a spot in one of those outskirts communities, in Bahia, after moving here from London. They joke about their area not always being too well lit, but that is OK compared to the benefits of space and "peace and quiet". "Our kids are not always shopping at the mall, as it is too far," said my cousin, who enjoys that she plans her trips to the mall and that it becomes a family event.

As for me, after a few days of zero stress and demands, and a dead mobile phone because I forgot my charger, I actually found it stressful to come back to the traffic and demands of the city, where tempers run short and people are "too busy" and, of course, have no time for anything. I remembered how my Polish grandmother used to force us as kids to spend every weekend on a farm or in the forest or the back yard. She would even drop us off in the middle of an open field and let us run about for an hour or so.

"It is important not to lose touch with nature," she would say. "Keeps you sane." Given how insane things were before my trip to Rowais and how refreshed I came back, I think she was right. rghazal@thenational.ae