x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The expatriate life provides a test of true friendships

Nowhere more than in Dubai does an expat feel just how important a good friend is, far from home and without the familial safety net.

Itruly believe that life is a process of lessons, each and every one sent to test or better us for something more. This past year has had its fair share of tests but each one has come with its own lessons. Whether it is the death of a loved one or a sporting competition gone pear shaped, life's first test will always be that tough times show who your true friends are.

We spend so much time admiring strangers, from sports stars to philanthropists, scientists to actors, but really, life's greatest stars and heroes are often right under our nose.

Nowhere more than in Dubai does an expatriate feel just how important each and every good friend here is, far from home and without the familial safety net.

But yet we often don't have to look far to realise we often have it all, just a phone call away.

One week ago, I fought my first boxing match in the White Collar Fight Night event in Dubai. At 53kg and around 162cm, I was wrongly paired against an opponent who had a good six inches on me and an additional 9kg. By World Boxing Council regulations, that's five weight categories above me and according to the World White Collar Boxing Association, the maximum difference should be 2.5kg, so to say I was punching above my weight this week took on new meaning.

Needless to say, in spite of putting up a valiant effort and fighting like a lion (albeit a lion cub rather than a full-size adult), I took a beating, in which my teammate's wife used the analogy "rag doll". Until you step into that ring, take a pounding, then, after each round, get back up and go back and do it all again, it's actually impossible to realise how that feels. It definitely is no Rocky movie.

However, one week on and as my black eye is beginning to fade, I have finally begun to see the positives of the event. I had for the first time in my life overcome a significant fear. My opponent, all 62kg of her, had given me a black eye the very first time I sparred, around six months ago. Just two months ago, if someone had told me to step within a mile of her, I'd have run for it, so to think I went three hard rounds with her tells me fear can indeed be overcome, or at least managed.

On top of that, the support I have had from my friends, who watched through half-shut eyes or from behind their napkins with bated breath, has been fairly overwhelming, in addition to having them ringside ready to scoop me up as I left the fight, dazed and confused.

So in spite of it all, the bruises inside and out and the disappointment of being put into something I had such a large disadvantage on, there remains one constant - my ever-loving friends whose support got me through the 12 hours of training each week and out the other end. The bruises will go, but the friends will not.