x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Repeat it until you believe it: the UAE is my home

We are now expats, hyphenated Canadians, a nurse, a journalist, a wife and husband. But wherever we are, Abu Dhabi will always be the place we established our marriage.

I convinced my fiance to spend all of our savings on our wedding. I convinced our parents that it would be good for us to start new careers and a new marriage in a city we had both never seen. They believed me. Heck, I believed myself. I left her to plan the wedding and I came to Abu Dhabi to pave the way for my soon-to-be bride. It was, as many people said, a creative way to sneak myself out of colour co-ordinating the flowers with the tablecloths.

When she was deciding who would sit next to who at the wedding, I was knocking on every door on the Corniche, looking for available flats. "Are you serious, $4,000 a month for a two-bedroom?" All of a sudden my monthly salary fell into perspective. I went home 10 days before the wedding, still convinced that this would be a new chapter where my wife and I would find our own identity as a couple, establish our independence and enjoy an adventure. In hindsight it was the biggest risk we ever took, but it has been the best decision we ever made.

Days after our wedding, we flew to Abu Dhabi. I had no place for us to live. We would spend our first month of marriage in the home of gracious friends whom I only met hours before I returned to Canada for the wedding. Our life here was a blank canvas. Stroke by stroke we began to adorn it with furniture, friends, stories and everything that made us a family. I was the breadwinner and she was the "domestic engineer" at first. We had date nights, a grocery budget, telephone bills, a car payment, chores and those serious talks that married people have.

I could no longer go out and spend $2,000 on a watch, not that I ever had before, but it was the principle of it. Everyone knows that a watch is to a man what a purse is to a woman. Not quite. Marriage was a full-time job that we became better at the harder we worked at it. We were finally settling in. But did we make the right decision to come here? Then came the time to renew our lease. Do we stay or do we go?

Then there were quarrels over where the laptop should sit when it's not being used, the placement of the shower curtain, and picking up dust bunnies - all the pithy things involved in fusing two lives under one roof. We didn't have our parents or friends to run to when we were angry at each other. We only had each other, which forced us to find our own solutions. We did, and we became stronger for it.

When we felt homesick we found satellite images of our Vancouver houses on Google Earth. There is dad's white car in the driveway. There is the cherry tree. There is the swing in the backyard. We toured the neighbourhood virtually and felt closer to home. We called home, emailed home, dined at food chains from home, until we realised that this is our home. Abu Dhabi is home. Repeat it, until you believe it.

Abu Dhabi was the middle ground for our cross-cultural marriage; she, a Canadian and I, an Egyptian. It is here that we found a mix of both cultures. I can eat my foul and felafel and she can have a burger and fries. I can watch a football match at the shisha cafe and she can sign up for the Terry Fox run. We could hand-pick the best of both cultures and call it our own. We debated our identity and then found it together. We are now expats, hyphenated Canadians, a nurse, a journalist, a wife and husband. But wherever we are, Abu Dhabi will always be the place we established our marriage.

We may have come here for other reasons, but it's here that we became one. myoussef@thenational.ae