Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 September 2019

UAE expat view: How being home for the holidays is like travelling back in time

When you're an expat you can often look back at home with rose-tinted glasses, but it's not long before you're yearning for the dynamism of Dubai

The pace of life is slower than that of Dubai's in Selina's hometown in Cyprus. Getty Images
The pace of life is slower than that of Dubai's in Selina's hometown in Cyprus. Getty Images

This festive season, I have travelled back in time.

I am sitting in my parents’ kitchen in Cyprus, surrounded by memories of my childhood. Perhaps because it is Christmas time, everything around me feels like it is infused with an overarching sense of nostalgia.

Outside the window is the ­wildflower-covered hillside where I used to walk the family dog – who, after 13 years of loyal service, passed away three winters ago, and now lies buried at the end of the garden. These days, when we pick wildflowers, it is to place them on her grave, to tell her that those walks, and her ever-steadying presence, have not been forgotten.

In the mornings, I come downstairs to find my mum frying eggs, freshly delivered by a withered old man on a ramshackle motorbike from his farm a few kilometres away. He stays for a few illicit cigarettes, making us promise not to tell his equally withered but no less formidable wife. On the kitchen table, a fruit bowl, the same one that has sat there since I was a child, overflows with produce that is organic by default, not design.

The Wi-Fi in this rural pocket of Limassol is indeterminably slow, so every time I send an email, I have to nestle up against the router – and I am reminded of days past, when, with a brand new Yahoo account to my name, I used to sit in my dad’s study listening to the clattering sounds of our modem as the dial-up internet slowly connected.

Looking north from viewpoint, Pissouri hilltop village, viewpoint, Cyprus. Getty Images
Looking north from viewpoint, Pissouri hilltop village, viewpoint, Cyprus. Getty Images

In the evenings, I re-read books that I finished years ago, but still sit on the bookshelf outside my old bedroom, their plots now long-forgotten. The same paintings look down on me from the living room walls as I lounge on the well-worn sofa, cuddling the cat.

When I venture out to meet friends, I call my parents to let them know I am safe – as if I am 17, not 37, and in my 20th year of living away from home. My mum spoils me, wakes me up with a cup of tea and does my washing. I spend hours watching rubbish TV with my best friend, who has known me since our first day of kindergarten, age 4. We giggle away as if we are still ­teenagers. I am regressing, and it feels wonderful.

I play countless games of Scrabble with my dad. This was the conduit that first taught me to play with words and, after nearly two decades of doing exactly that for a living, I am finally able to beat my thesaurus-like father. Sometimes. We used to play squash, as well, but have both opted for more sedate endeavours this holiday season.

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Read more of Selina's thoughts:

Our smartphones are turning us into holier than thou vigilantes

From Dubai to Abu Dhabi: some lessons learnt on a long commute

Let’s not be blasé about the range of opportunities Dubai has to offer

Missing out on family milestone events. Is this the real expat tax?

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Across the country, shops have been closed for the past few days – capitalism is no match for Christmas spirit in these parts. Even in Limassol’s only mall, all the shops remains resolutely shut. Popping out for a bottle of milk necessitates a 20-minute drive to the only “periptero” in the vicinity that, in a Scrooge-like rebellion, has decided to buck the festive trend. I need to sort out some finances, but all the banks, not to mention government offices, have called it quits for the holidays.

The pace is slower here. The days linger and last. It is the epitome of relaxed, lazy Mediterranean living. It is the anti-Instashop, anti-AI-­banking, anti-mega-mall experience. Everything (except the driving, which has a kamikaze-like edge that is all too familiar from my hours spent on the UAE’s roads) feels like it couldn’t be further from my Dubai existence. It is easy, when one has been away long enough, to look back at one’s home country with rose-tinted glasses. It is easy to forget why you left in the first place. You remember all the good bits and block out the bad. Today, Cyprus’s quiet, laid-back charm, sketchy Wi-Fi, closed banks and rolling hills feel like the perfect antidote to the relentless hustle and bustle of my life in the UAE.

All of the things that drove me mad when I lived here now offer welcome respite. But give it a few more days, and these things will no doubt start to grate. The place will start to feel restrictive, as it did before I left a decade ago, and I will long for the dynamism of Dubai. This nostalgia-­infused idyll is perfect for the holidays, but it is no longer my reality. It is a place I will always come back to, but is not really home anymore.

Updated: December 28, 2018 01:52 PM

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