x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

A common kindness

It takes just one second to fit into my pre-UAE life in Kent and several million times longer to slot back into life as an expatriate.

Returning to Abu Dhabi from a holiday back home in England is never easy. This time, I left my family, friends and a busy household to be welcomed by intense humidity, an empty fridge and a dead battery in my car. Being single, the loneliness struck me as the aeroplane landed and with most of my UAE friends away for the three-day weekend, that abandoned feeling was intensified.

It takes just one second to fit into my pre-UAE life in Kent and several million times longer to slot back into life as an expatriate. But one gesture was all it took to cure me of the blues. While walking home from the local grocery, my next door neighbour politely welcomed me back and asked me how I was. After telling him about my automobile affliction, he tried to restart my car with his jump leads.

This failed and he called his mechanic to fit a new battery. I told him I needed cash and I would walk to the nearest ATM but he refused, saying he would "take care of it". He ordered me to go back to my apartment while the men went to work. I watched from my window, thanking God for the kindness of this man, who was practically a stranger to me. An hour later, I could hear my engine revving. When I looked outside again, the car had disappeared. Perhaps, I thought, as someone who knows little about cars, the battery needed charging.

Another hour passed and I called my neighbour. "It's OK, I will be back soon," he reassured me. The car returned, gleaming. After my 20 days away, the thick layer of dust coating the exterior had turned my Peugeot 206 into an eyesore. My neighbour had not only repaired my car and lent me the money to pay for it but had also taken it to the car wash. In doing so, he not only helped a damsel in distress but reminded me that the UAE is full of generous people. That generosity is not defined by money but by the time he took out of his day for me.

The altruistic nature of people living here is unmatched. It started in Ramadan last year when I arrived. An Emirati family in Al Ain offered my mother and me food at iftar from their picnic after seeing we had nothing with which to break our fast. I have lost count of the number of times people have seen how lost I am in the car and offered to lead me to the destination. One considerate man even drove from Sharjah to Ajman as my guide.

These acts go a long way towards making the UAE feel a bit more like home.