x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Move to Europe will be shock to system

With the family moving to Europe, it will be a shock to the system to a child who has always know the warmth of the Middle East.

Fie on mortals who can cram their possessions in a matchbox and people who can flit from place to place with nothing more than a laptop and a fold-up toothbrush. I envy these beings (although I must admit I have only ever read about them and have never encountered one in the wild). We are leaving the UAE for good and the process of whittling things down to a few suitcases and a box is arduous and time-consuming.

They must be childless folk, these people who can travel light. For while I can look at a pile of stained and threadbare T-shirts and without an iota of regret cast them headlong into the bin, with Astrid's belongings it is different. Emotion trumps reason. There's all manner of things that must be packed up and transported halfway around the world because to give them away and buy new ones at the other end of the journey would be insensitive and perhaps even a tad cruel.

It would be like plucking a creature from its native habitat and transporting it to a different hemisphere without bringing any of its favourite leaves to chew on. The delicate, imaginative ecosystem that has evolved over the past two years would be damaged, or even destroyed.

The current debate revolves around a large, purple, plastic rocking horse. Astrid loves this toy, but it is huge and bulky. Admittedly it was bequeathed to us by some people who were themselves leaving the UAE, but I sense that while the rocking horse's time was on the wane with their daughter, with Astrid it is still very much in the ascendence. We've approached this horse from many angles: perhaps we could make a careful incision and fill it as the Greeks did at Troy - though with things rather than people - perhaps we could cut it in half and put it back together at the other end; perhaps we could suck the air from it and re-inflate it at our destination. Why don't we just post it? We probably will end up doing that, or wrapping it in cling film and putting it in the belly of the aeroplane.

This process of going through possessions is part of a wider issue about the concept of home, which I have touched on before. We trod lightly and cheaply through the first part of our time in the UAE, buying cheap furniture and making do with a scant number of items. ]

This attitude made it feel as though we were camping. When Astrid was born, we were forced to alter this approach. We did more and bought more. No doubt it has been a good thing. We have engaged with this city more fully thanks to Astrid. We have, in short, made it our home.

The Hague in the Netherlands is going to be very different. It is, I imagine, going to be quite a shock for Astrid. The most obvious difference is the weather. Astrid has grown accustomed to not wearing many clothes, to going swimming outside almost every day and to feeling hot more often than not.

The other differences are more subtle, but equally important. From the friendly and enthusiastic greetings she receives almost everywhere she goes to the sample chocolate biscuits lavished upon her by the bakers in the supermarkets, the culture of open affection and devotion to children has been one of the most memorable aspects of our time here.

For many reasons, this attitude does not exist in many parts of Europe. I am sure we will miss it, along with a great many other things we haven't noticed yet.


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