I have never said goodbye to visitor without feeling a sense of guilt and gratitude
Having family and friends visit me allowed me to see Abu Dhabi in a different light
It was one of the most serene experiences of my life. There we were, walking along the marbled floors of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at 5 in the morning when a cool breeze wafted through, creating a gentle ripple through the mosque’s water features.
“This is the kind of stuff that inspires poets,” my friend Rahman said. I merely nodded and took a deep breath as the gratitude that he had visited washed over me.
Funnily enough this wasn’t my initial reaction when I got the call announcing his unexpected arrival a few weeks ago. It was the middle of a busy working day when he phoned telling me he’d be arriving from Jordan at midnight for 12 hours before leaving.
“And as you promised, you will take me to the big mosque for the dawn prayers,” he reminded me.
I disguised the deep sigh within and said I looked forward to hosting him. After I put my phone down my mood turned sour as I silently raged at the intrusion.
“I don’t have time for this,” I said to myself. “I work so hard that I just want to stay home with a pizza and watch a Chuck Norris film. I can’t be bothered playing tour guide after a 10-hour working day.”
I know I am not alone in feeling this way at times. I see it in the faces of my colleagues who complain about hosting friends or family.
“I just feel like I have to be ‘on’ all the time,” one told me recently. “It’s like being a performer and I have to pull out something bigger and better each night. It exhausts me.”
Before you start getting on your high horse about how heartless we sound, let me just say we are well aware that we are blessed to have loved ones visit, especially considering some people here don’t see theirs for years.
In actual fact this column is more about gratitude, because invariably once the initial thoughts of playing host fade and my pad is filled with friends and family, I become energised by the company and enthusiastic about having them around. No matter how short the stay, I always begin to appreciate what I have more and the city I call home.
My walk with Rahman under the brilliant purple sky at the Grand Mosque is something I wouldn’t have done on my own, but the push he gave me was much appreciated afterwards and helped me see something I hadn’t realised about my own city.
I find I often see food differently when I have those closest to me visiting. After eight years in the capital it appears I have forgotten the global struggle involved in trying to find halal restaurants that aren’t Turkish or Lebanese, a struggle that is very real in Australia, or so I have been told. A different friend enlightened me on this recently as we ate at the Abu Dhabi institution, La Beaujolais.
“Look at you,” my friend said as he teased me. “You are eating a halal roasted duck like it was nothing. Bro, some of the brothers in Oz would kill to have that.”
Other blessings are not so apparent. In recent years I have grown quite attached to Yas Mall, but not for the obvious reasons. I have become attached to it because of the unexpected role it played in helping my younger sister overcome a health obstacle.
Two years ago she visited me after a leg operation. She was using crutches and the plan was to speed up her rehabilitation with frequent walking. Yas Mall’s multitude of nooks and crannies were ideal for that, and twice a week we would hit the mall for some epic walking sessions.
Not only was it instrumental in getting her back on her feet earlier than expected, it also resulted in much-needed weight loss of a few kilograms for me.
Each time my visitors leave I often experience a deep sense of guilt over my initial reaction to the news of their arrival.
This is mixed with a deep gratitude that they have enriched my life and allowed me to count my blessings – that’s what friends and family are for, right?
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