x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Friendships come and go

Over the past year or so, I have contacted several friends I thought I would never hear from again.

Over the past year or so, I have contacted several friends I thought I would never hear from again. Thanks to the internet, I have been in touch with an old backpacking friend in Rotterdam, a colleague who left for South America and a school classmate who is a freelance photographer in Paris. So I was pleased this month when I saw on Facebook a picture of a friend called Jerome I had known in Dubai a few years ago.

He was one of several Filipinos I made friends with after I moved to the city five years ago. Having my first taste of living abroad, I was glad to extend my circle of friends beyond my fellow Britons. I saw him and some of his friends for coffee once in a while for two or three years, most recently in mid-2007, and later heard Jerome had returned to his home country to set up a business. After spotting his Facebook account, then, I wanted to say hello and find out how things were going.

But when I read the messages on the account, alarm bells rang. One, dated August 2009, said: "Dear Jerome ... it's been a year since you left us, but we still miss you and love you every day!!!!!" That, perhaps, could have been from a friend in Dubai who was sad to no longer see him. But another message, posted in November last year, confirmed the awful truth. The name of the Facebook page may have been Jerome's but this was not his account. It was a tribute site set up in his memory. And by linking to the site, you did not become a "friend" of Jerome, but a "fan".

I contacted someone who had left a post on the site and she told me that, a few months after leaving the UAE, Jerome suffered an infection and died suddenly, aged 28 I think. It was shocking news. I tracked down, also through Facebook, one of Jerome's best friends in Dubai, a photographer who now lives in New York. He had no idea the pal he saw every few days for several years was dead. It reminded me how transient friendships in the UAE can be. You arrive here knowing no one and are thrown into a melting pot with others who are also away from the friends they grew up with and have been seeing for years. You make friends because you have to.

In the Emirates people come and go, so pals who a couple of years ago I sat down with in Deira or Sheikh Zayed Road are now in Toronto, Bangkok and London. How many will I remain in regular contact with in five years' time? In the internet era, there is no excuse for losing touch. But when friendships are made and broken as easily as in the UAE, it often happens. I am myself leaving the UAE for good in a couple of weeks and perhaps I will lose touch with several of the friends I have made here. I hope none suffers the same tragic fate as Jerome. But even if they do, I wonder if I will ever find out.