x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

International appeal

Home & away Vicki LeFebvre was born in the US. She moved to Abu Dhabi a year ago with her Belgian husband, Etienne, a helicopter pilot. They live in an apartment in Khalidiya.

VIvki LeFebvre, with her dog, along the corniche in Abu Dhabi.
VIvki LeFebvre, with her dog, along the corniche in Abu Dhabi.

I've lived in quite a number of places. I grew up mostly in the south, in several different states, but also in Anchorage, Alaska, where my mother had a job. Then in 1986, a few years after Etienne and I were married, we moved to Germany with the US military. We had four postings to different bases in Germany over 13 years.

We came to Abu Dhabi towards the end of 2007 when Etienne was offered an interesting job here. There were other options on the table, but we felt this would be more of an adventure, as we had not lived in the Middle East before. It might be our last move before we settle down for good.

We don't feel tethered to any one place. We've moved around so much we don't have the same deep geographic roots that others have. If I had to define where home is, I would probably say some place in the US, though I'm not sure where. However, the prospect of splitting our retirement time between the US and Europe is also appealing, which suggests that my feelings about home are ambivalent.

My sister has lived in two homes her whole married life, houses just five miles apart from each other. That inevitably gives her a sense of place and stability that I haven't had. I certainly don't believe either way is better than the other, but it does mean that she and I will have different view on what constitutes home. I don't have an attachment to any physical structure or place in the way that she would have; when Etienne and I say "home", it refers to something other than the house or apartment in which we live. It's about where we are together (and where our dog is), where we come back to every night. Travelling allows one to consider home to be any one of a number of places.

None of this makes me less American, even though the distance over the years has enabled me to view the US more objectively, to see ourselves as others see us. I feel very protective of my country, although I don't necessarily gravitate towards my fellow nationals when we are out of the country merely because we come from the same place. My friends come from all over the world - they are people with whom I have interests and values in common.

I probably feel more influenced in a way by the local culture here than in other places we have lived. However, it is a very private society, which means that the expats tend to stick together; as a result one probably makes friends more quickly than in other places. The downside of this is that we are perhaps a bit cut off from Arabic culture, whereas we would like to learn more about it.

I feed a number of cats outside our apartment building every day and this has brought me into contact with some local people, which has been positive. I think they've been surprised to see someone taking care of the little strays and I hope that in this way I've passed on something about our culture.

What I miss most about living abroad is contact with my family. What I miss least is the uniformity of the culture in the US - I like the diversity we are experiencing here.

The most surprising thing about Abu Dhabi has been the pace of life. We didn't expect it to be so busy ... to say nothing about the driving. On a day-to-day basis there's not a lot we miss as we get excellent cable TV stations and pretty much everything we want at the stores. But what I do long for, in the city, is rivers and rain - real nature.

Wherever we've lived we've tried to make our house a home, as I believe our home should be a sanctuary for us, a place we can settle spiritually, even if it is temporary. We arrived in Abu Dhabi with just a couple of suitcases so have bought everything here. I've tried to incorporate local style into our home, with Middle Eastern rugs, artefacts and so on - including our own little majlis.

In our experience, the adventure of moving to a new country far outweighs any negatives. The new friends we make, learning about new cultures and ways of doing things, for example. Actually, Abu Dhabi has been one of our easiest moves, I guess due to the fact that we've moved so often before, that so many people here speak English ... and that life here is comfortable.