Abu Dhabi’s zoetrope – or wheel of life – had delivered us to very different places, the kind of career changes that often define longer-term expat life in the UAE
A chance meeting with an old friend allows us to reflect on our lives
It was only thanks to a chance encounter this week that realised I had missed my ninth anniversary,
not as a husband, but as a resident of the UAE.
Arriving early for an interview at Nation Towers on Abu Dhabi’s Corniche, I slipped into a coffee shop to catch up on some work and kill some time before my appointment.
As I did so, I was greeted by a blast from the past.
A small, slender, freckle-faced Ethiopian from Addis Ababa, Sami Geda is blessed with the most infectious, beaming smile. Nobody makes you feel quite so welcome when you enter a room, which is probably why I have never forgotten him or the time we met back on my first anniversary in September 2009.
A barista at the time, Sami was part of the team who helped to launch Abu Dhabi’s original franchise of Jones the Grocer, the Australian coffee shop and deli chain whose opening not only represented a distinct step-change in the capital’s dining options, but the arrival of a distinctly Antipodean form of modernity as flat whites joined the ranks of beloved Abu Dhabi beverages alongside Nescafé, Turkish coffee, Arabic Coffee and karak chai.
Before long, I changed career and moved away from the area, as did Sami, as I discovered when we bumped into each other again on Reem Island a few years later where he was launching another café chain, but was employed as a supervisor at that time.
By the time I met Sami this week, he was no longer in waiter’s gear, but in plain clothes as he now looks after the marketing for his employer, a management position that involves him travelling between the capital and Dubai.
As we stood shaking hands, we both reflected on the progress we had seen in our careers, children and the city we now call home, a place of change and flux that seems to telescope time, in which days are never long enough for the work at hand, years pass like seasons, and where weeks and months flicker, like the images on a spinning zoetrope.
After nine years for me and eight years for Sami, Abu Dhabi’s zoetrope – or wheel of life – had delivered us to very different places, the kind of career changes that often define longer-term expat life in the UAE.
We wondered when, if ever, would it be time for us to get off the wheel and go home. That would come, we agreed, unexpectedly and swiftly, less a matter of planning than of somebody else’s decision, or an uncontrollable, instinctive inner urge.
Home is not the word anymore, anyway, as home became a fiction around year two or three, a dream-like place on the other side of the mirror we have both travelled through and to which there is no return.