x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A place called home

Home & away Elizabeth Pearson, a life-long expat, moved to Abu Dhabi in April with her family. As a child she spent a year in the city and she's never forgotten the way orange juice was served.

Elizabeth Pearson keeps a memory box of significant items from each place she has lived.
Elizabeth Pearson keeps a memory box of significant items from each place she has lived.

Elizabeth Pearson, a life-long expat, moved to Abu Dhabi in April with her family. As a child she spent a year in the city and she's never forgotten the way orange juice was served.

I was born in the UK and we moved to Nigeria when I was three, in the 1970s, which was quite a shell shock. We were there for three or four years, then moved to Mauritius, which was just incredible. In fact, it's the only country my mum still talks about.

When I was 10 we came here for one year, and I remember thinking it was the most sophisticated place I had ever been because you could buy orange juice in a cup, which I had never seen before. My dad's office building is still on the Corniche but other things didn't feel familiar at all - until I got lost in Baniyas, then suddenly the older part of Baniyas seemed very familiar.

At school (in Abu Dhabi), I probably mixed a lot more with local people than I do now, which is sad, but there just isn't the opportunity. It just gets more complicated when you get older. In the expat community you isolate yourself. I don't think it's a wilful disregard for culture at all, but people like to stay in something that is familiar.

When we went to Kenya, I went to boarding school because we just moved around so much. But your identity came very much from where your parents lived, and it was quite nice to be a little bit exotic. If someone asked 'where are you from?' better to say Kenya rather than Liverpool.

Looking back on it, boarding school was home. People always want to pin you down. People always ask you where you are from, and they demand an answer. And if you are not really from somewhere, people find it really frustrating, and I find it really frustrating too. It's a whole tribal thing.

The first time I was in a high-rise apartment was in Abu Dhabi. I remember standing on the balcony and seeing all the lights and thinking this is the most glamorous thing.

The sky just seems so big here. If you go out to the desert you have an entire dome of sky. It's a very beautiful light.

The lifestyle isn't as outdoorsy as I remember it. But then, we arrived just before summer, so I suspect it's all going to become a lot more out outdoorsy now. There used to be creeks on the islands, so we used to spend the day in the inlets, but they don't exist any more. And I remember being on boats going places, it was very sea-based.

We didn't have grass in my parent's house, and we used to have a rabbit, but it ran away to next door because they had grass. The first thing I did before moving in here was put grass down.

This place is beautiful when you get used to it. How easy it is to flip a perception. And the way they treat children here, it's just fantastic. And they love babies. That is quite nice after coming from the West, where it is quite stuffy, children are seen as pests. It's a perfect place to have toddlers.

Being an expat brat means that you only need a few things to click into place. At a recent party, I had a moment when I thought 'this feels like home'. And it was a real moment.

I think it changes it a bit once you become a mother. Evie was born in Sydney, so she has already had a move. What makes my home is her being there.

Most of our friends tend to be people who have had expat lives. I think because everyone is an expat, everyone is seeking normality, so you rush to normalise your friendships very quickly.

As soon as you put paintings or pictures up, it doesn't matter if you still haven't bought that shelving unit, if you don't have furniture in that room or whatever, as soon as you have got something you look at and it's familiar, you feel that you are on your way to having a home.

My dining table is very important to me because I like having people around it, debating, laughing eating good food.

We were very lucky, and we were given a house probably six times the size of our own in Sydney. I would love to change the colour scheme; it's so orange.

I can afford to be experimental. I've gone really modern. I buy all the magazines to see what is trendy. You feel the pressure because you think people are going to judge you on what your house looks like.

I always pay someone to do (the packing). Never, ever get down and dirty yourself because you have to make decisions when you pack, whereas, if someone else packs, then it gets there. Do a big cull beforehand - a lot of it is junk. You become blind to things in the home as soon as you're comfortable. So stuff, like a menu on the dresser, could stay there forever.

When you arrive, it's a panic riot, everyone is in the same shops. You have to live with this, give yourself a little bit of room.

Everything here is subtle, you have go to look for things and be aware, which you don't have to do in other countries. The other day, there were six guys in Lulu smelling the perfumes, and I just felt so sad for them. They have no wives, or they might have wives at home, so they have come into Lulu, and it's just so poignant.

I never really felt British; it's quite interesting. But I worked very hard to establish myself in Sydney and we were so happy there. That is where I worked and where I fitted in really well. It's so cosmopolitan; so many of the people there are expats.

All expats are going to go somewhere, aren't we, and everyone has a place they want to go to. Maybe people do want to keep travelling into the sunset and don't know when that sunset will be.