x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

I now realise that there’s no place like home

There’d be no one to nag me for days at university, I had thought blissfully. Strangely the lack of nagging from an irate mother is an empty feeling.

The days leading up to my arrival at Cambridge were a flurry of starry-eyed dreams — castle-like buildings oozing historic charm, refreshing showers of rain instead of swelteringly harsh sun. I couldn’t wait to float in full evening dress to the formal dinners in Trinity College’s beautiful Great Hall, or pedal off, satchel bouncing on back, on a penny farthing bicycle or something.

University is certainly an exciting period of anyone’s life, with challenges to overcome and new things to explore. There’d be no one to nag me for days, I had thought blissfully. Strangely, the lack of nagging is an empty feeling. I also keep forgetting things, such as waking up on time, because it’s much easier to turn off an alarm clock than deal with the reprimands of an irate mother. At the risk of sounding awfully whiny and sorry for myself, I must admit that homesickness is inevitable. Family and school are missed terribly, of course. The university is a vast, overwhelming place and you meet hundreds of people every week. Old friends know and can predict with disturbing accuracy every detail of your life, whereas friendships are in the incubation period here. There are also the expected foot-stomping tantrums of a Dubai teenager. Am I seriously expected to tidy my own room?

One of my favourite pet peeves used to be the lack of cheap transport in Dubai – a car was needed to pop off to a hangout such as Mall of the Emirates or The Dubai Mall. Ah, pavement-filled England, I thought with satisfaction, where you can walk everywhere. However, no pavement can lead you to a one-stop shopping destination as varied and familiar as Mall of the Emirates. Dubai is hard to beat when it comes to malls or its delightfully consumerist society.

There’s a nice shopping centre near my college, the Grand Arcade, which just about fulfils basic needs, but you can’t spend hours getting lost in it. It’s masquerading as a mall, but then where are the ski slopes, or ice rinks, or giant aquariums?

Was I ever so callous as to dismiss the sun as too hot, or the weather in Dubai as too one-dimensional? Now it’s unthinkable to leave my room without a jacket, temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius are the norm, and it would be nice to get my strappy sandals out again. I’ll take silly-looking tan lines and carcinogenic ultraviolet rays any day. Besides, I am one of those annoyingly fussy people who prefers soft water. That’s the sort of desalinated, bottled water you get in the UAE and what I’ve grown up drinking. The distinct taste of hard water in this part of England has me composing sonnets about good old Al Ain or Masafi.

I’m feeling considerably lighter having got that resistant-to-change, spoilt-brat rant off my chest. I can’t wait to touch down in Dubai this month to palm trees that spring up in the middle of the roads overnight, strut past Gucci and Louis Vuitton stores and wake up in my own bed. In full accordance with Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, there is no place like home.

The writer is an 18-year-old student who grew up in Dubai

artslife@thenational.ae