Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

Expat dreams meet reality of car parts and cat food

From daydreams about fashion-filled luggage, Christine Hinz learned of the practicalities of expat life.
Passengers enter the Philippine Airlines passenger terminal at Manila airport on August 11, 2015.  The carrier's parent company, PAL Holdings, reported its first-half net profit soared nearly ten-fold to 127 million USD, boosted by strong demand during the peak summer months.   AFP PHOTO / Jay DIRECTO
Passengers enter the Philippine Airlines passenger terminal at Manila airport on August 11, 2015. The carrier's parent company, PAL Holdings, reported its first-half net profit soared nearly ten-fold to 127 million USD, boosted by strong demand during the peak summer months. AFP PHOTO / Jay DIRECTO

The daydreaming did not take long to begin on our reconnaissance tour to Abu Dhabi as we were contemplating moving to the UAE.

By the time I reached baggage claim at Abu Dhabi International Airport, I spotted a woman who, based on her English accent, subtle tan, and inordinate amount of luggage, was obviously an expat wife.

I imagined the three suitcases piled high on her cart were filled with fabulous fashions – Pucci dresses for day and sparkling Vera Wangs for night. I imagined designer golf gear and yoga trousers with brand names only fit to be worn by people like Victoria Beckham.

I imagined that would soon be me, a glamorous expat wife criss-crossing the globe with my fabulous life tucked in a trunk – and a Louis Vuitton trunk, at that. I envisioned dazzling pool parties, epic brunches, decadent evenings in five-star hotel ballrooms. Truth be told, I may have even entertained the thought of having an occasion to wear a tiara. Yes, a tiara.

Within a few months, I had shut down my life in New York City and began to settle in to my new Abu Dhabi existence.

A year later, I was the one with the mountain of luggage at the airport, returning from an extended break from the midsummer heat of the Gulf. But unlike my daydream of the previous year, my bags weren’t full of high fashion. Instead, they held car parts. 

It turned out there is no problem getting ball gowns and even tiaras in Abu Dhabi, but suspension units for our car couldn’t be sourced anywhere in the UAE. 

That wasn’t all. There was also 72 cans of cat food, liquid concentrated chicken and beef stock, my favourite cooking pan, my oversized Starbucks insulated coffee cup for iced coffee, my cheap but oh-so-awesome vegetable slicer-dicer doohickey, an array of vitamins and health supplements, and my big fluffy winter slippers, because the air conditioning is torture on my always-cold feet.

Other expatriates on their own initial reconnaissance trips to Abu Dhabi would never have predicted any of this, but it’s the excess baggage reality of the expat housewife. 

My husband always tells me I can get everything in Abu Dhabi but that doesn’t include our cat’s favourite flavour of Fancy Feast, or stock for cooking. Even if it was available, I don’t seem to be able to cook meals as well in any other frying pan than my beloved pan, and that vegetable slicer and I go way back.

There are just things, little touchstones from home, that after being out here in the expat world you reconnect with and find you can’t live without.

And while one of the goals of leaving New York City was to get rid of the clutter, some things make me feel a bit more connected to my previous life.

There’s my favourite wool sweater, ratty fleece and ripped shorts for house-lounging, that running club T-shirt with the NYC reference that once had little meaning but now speaks volumes to others about who I am, and my most favourite dog-eared writing books.

We recently visited a couple who had lived in Abu Dhabi for seven years but whose contract was up. Their villa was filled with a heavy cloud of emotion and full of the remnants of still palpable memories of their UAE life, such as bookcases filled with travel guides to seemingly far-off places like India, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Jordan that are all a mere puddle-jump away from here.

There was camping gear for desert excursions a mere hour’s drive away, and a shisha pipe. 

At that moment, even without an evening gown in sight, it was clear this couple had spent their time embracing everything the region offered – and digging in the emotional dirt of living fully in a very temporary space.

Despite my lack of party frocks, I realised that even if my bags are packed full with mundane items like cat food tins and car parts, life at the moment is big. And there will always be baggage of some sort to deal with.

It’s not just part of the expat life. It’s part of any life.

Christine Hinz is a writer and publicist in Abu Dhabi

Updated: February 20, 2016 04:00 AM

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