x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Little reminders of home

For an expat, nothing beats the ritual of packing a suitcase at the end of a trip home with little delights you know are tough to come by here. We ask a few Abu Dhabi-based expats what they bring back from the holidays.

Jonathan Turner from the UK with his albums by Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and wearing his Aston villa football top. Courtesy Jessica Hill
Jonathan Turner from the UK with his albums by Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and wearing his Aston villa football top. Courtesy Jessica Hill
There's not much you can't buy somewhere in the UAE, if you look hard enough. But for an expat, nothing beats the ritual of packing a suitcase at the end of the summer with little delights you know are tough to come by here.
And unzipping the suitcase when you're back in UAE, in your own bedroom, is like unwrapping a present that you know is filled with the things you love, treats that remind you of home, food smells that evoke memories of family meals shared and sentimental items that are steeped in the culture and history of home. We asked some Abu Dhabi-based expats what they couldn't resist filling their suitcases with before heading back to the UAE this summer.
Nerisa Loyola, a maid from Taytay, Rizal in the Philippines
I always bring back a broom made from the branches of a coconut tree, to clean the front yard of my madam's house. It makes it much easier for me to clean the garden, and when I use it. it reminds me of home. I always like to pack fruit that is in season in the Philippines at this time of year; lanzone, guava and coconut, which is green in the Philippines now but here it is brown. I also love to bring century eggs, which are dried, salted duck eggs. They are preserved for several weeks in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime and rice. You can only get them here in special Chinese stores, and they are very expensive in the UAE.
Lorena Ortiz, a housewife from Ecuador
I bring back various grains - quinoa, yellow and white dried maize - and a bean called chocho. For my children, I pack Spanish books, Ecuador football tops and national flags. For me, I always pack a couple of panama hats, which are actually from Ecuador but became known as panama hats when the workers who built the Panama Canal wore them. This year we had a stopover in Argentina, where we brought home 'mate', an infused herbal drink rich in caffeine which is served in a special cup with a metal straw.
Jonathan Turner, from Birmingham in England, teaches at HCT in Madinat Zayed
This year, I brought back heavy metal records by Deep Purple and Led Zepplin. I always pack stamps and envelopes from home, so when people come to visit me here I can give them letters to loved ones back home with stamps already on them, so it's easy for them to post when they get back to the UK. I also packed an Aston Villa football top, and lots of second hand DVDs.
Diana Ghorayeb, a housewife from Lebanon
I always bring back Lebanese sweets when I'm in Beirut, as gifts for friends in Abu Dhabi - baklava, different types of caramelised nuts, and small boxes of ma'amoul, which are shortbread pastries filled with pistachios, dates and semolina paste. I also bring homemade Lebanese cooking ingredients - zaatar, crushed wheat used for kibbeh, local pine nuts and olive oil and olives from my family's orchard. The dry ingredients alone weigh about 30kg! It lasts me the whole year. I also bring locally-made ornaments and decorative soaps, because it's like taking a piece of home back with me. The only indispensable thing are my Fairuz albums. That's the only thing I packed when I first left Lebanon 15 years ago, apart from clothes and photos, and now it's still the first thing I pack. Every Lebanese person packs Fairuz cds!
Shakeel Safdar, a security officer from Pakistan
I bring back leather jackets, shoes and a wallet. It's very good quality leather in Pakistan, it lasts a long time and it's cheaper than here. And I bring cigarettes, bed sheets, traditional Pakistani sweets, fresh fish, red chilli powder and a certain type of brown sugar we have in Pakistan that I can't find here. We can get Pakistani food here in special restaurants, but it's not hygienic. Whenever I eat at hotel restaurants here I get a stomach ache. So I try to bring as much food as I can back with me. I also bring sports items; a football, cricket balls and a cricket bat.
Elaine Mazarello, a housewife from Goa in India
I bring a lot of coconut oil from home because it's not processed there, it's fresh. I use it for so many things - when the kids have colds it keeps their noses moist, I use it for baby massage, as a conditioner for hair and to soothe nappy rash. I also bring back a Goan coconut-flavoured layered pudding called bebinca. And I try to make room for ayurvedic shampoos and lotions, and books, as I get more of a variety of Indian writers to choose from back in Goa.
Editha Mtipa (known as Happiness), a maid from Tanzania
I bring back maize flour for making ugali, which is very popular all over Africa. I add water to it to make a thick dough, like porridge. I also mix it with maharage beans (like kidney beans) to make makande, a maize and bean stew popular in Kenya and Tanzania. And I bring back kanga and kitenge, which are colourful materials I use to make skirts and blouses. The kanga, I also use as a towel. I also get wooden hand-carved dolls and animals for the girls I look after here.
Virginie Gerrard, a nursery school French teacher from Nice in France
I bring back about two kilos of tins of Cassoulet: a bean, duck and sausage casserole at friends' requests. I also buy honey from the Provence region, children's' vitamins and spray balsamic vinegar, which you can't get in UAE. At my husband's request, I brought back 30kg of mechanical kit this year, including brake pads. It created great interest at customs, they couldn't stop laughing. It's harder to get certain mechanical parts here, and double the price. My parents brought a spare tyre with them for us when they came to visit. Last year, I brought back 13kg of playmobil sets for my children, mostly bought at car boot sales. And I bought a lavender spray from some street vendors at the side of a road. When I spray it in my house it's like being at home again.
Aaron Sorensen, a teacher from Wisconsin in America
I bring back a lot of educational toys that I think my kids would like, such as electronic circuit kits and hard-to-find board games, like King of Tokyo and Settlers of Catan. Most importantly, this year I brought back my own 'toys': a MacBook Air and a Kindle. As a cyclist, I tend to bring back nutritional supplements that are hard to find in UAE. My family has become experts at packing our suitcases to the limit of what we're allowed.
Mineko Maekawa, a housewife from Japan
One of the main things that we bring back from Japan is comfort food. A lot of the seasonings and sauces for various Japanese dishes are hard to get in Abu Dhabi since the restrictions on Japanese imports after the Fukushima disaster. Also, we bring back Japanese books for myself and my kids, and Japanese manga goods like puzzles, thermoses and ice cube trays that my kids like. At the moment, my children are into the character One Piece. Even though One Piece is popular in the UAE, the goods are much more expensive here.
Sally Dunlop, a swimming teacher from Australia
I buy cooking items such as red and white wine vinegar (that are great in salads), organic chicken stock cubes and sun-dried tomato purée in a tube. I also stock up on the kinds of old-school sweets (lollies as we call them) that would feature at a 1970s kids birthday party; freddo frogs, freckles, jaffas, minties and snakes. I also bought vitaweats cracker biscuits that you can't buy here; great for a healthy snack with vegemite on it. With the high cost of clothing in Australia these days, charity shopping has become very popular. St Vincents De Paul (now commonly known as Vinnies) is my favourite charity shop. I found some great clothes for my daughter for around US$1 (DH3) a piece. Two other items I brought back for my 2-year-old were my original 1970 Fisher Price School House and Tea Set.
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