I have spent my life being of a completely fixed mindset and having an opinion on pretty much everything (especially subjects related to children and families). The idea of travelling, other than to beautiful resorts for short stays, never interested me. I’m not a pack-your-life-in-a-rucksack-wear-nothing-but-flip-flops-for-a-year kind of girl.
So last year when I moved to Dubai, I had mixed expectations. I knew it was full of expats, which gave me a sense of security that I would find some of my creature comforts there. However the culture of the land scared me; I had heard no end of horror stories about people being locked up for ignorant, but relatively minor misdemeanours. Obviously, being the mother of a small person with a healthy respect for authority figures, I was keen to stay out of trouble.
Fast forward a year, and I’m sat at the airport in the departure lounge with Rafferty, drinking coffee and watching him endlessly drive his die cast police cars along the benches of chairs while we wait. And I’m struck by the feeling of terrible sadness. I was obviously sad to be leaving Neal in Dubai (he’ll be commuting to visit us) but it surprised me that I was so sad to be leaving this place. And when I thought about why, it surprised me even more.
The UAE is famous for it’s rules and laws which are very different to those of Britain. The effect of those laws is that everybody is incredibly respectful. Aside from the occasional tourist, people are dressed appropriately and behave appropriately. And it’s really nice. I can’t think of a time where a night out has been ruined by someone misbehaving in Dubai, I can think of plenty in London!
On arrival in Dubai, I was really unnerved by how forward adults were with children. You walk into a restaurant and the waiter takes your child off to show the other patrons how cute he is. This would NEVER happen in the UK. And what a shame! I quickly noticed how important it is for Rafferty to feel noticed by others. To feel welcome in a cafe, not just expected to sit quietly while the adults chat, but to be engaged in conversation with others.
In Dubai, the culture towards children is different. And it’s mostly with the men- they seem to really enjoy watching children play and engaging with them. I don’t want Rafferty to grow up suspecting that every man is a threat, and I want him to grow to be a man who can enjoy children without feeling awkward.
I was very lucky to stumble across the British Mums Dubai Facebook group which was my salvation when I couldn’t find my way around at the beginning. The ladies on there are amazing at giving advice, support and a good laugh and it was through this group that I met some great friends. Inviting people to my house from the internet would never have happened in England, but this is how I met a great friend and mother of Raffy’s bestie, Stanley. I’ve also ‘picked up’ mummies in the park, Spinney’s and at parties and usually found that these people all have some strange and unexpected link to one another! It’s quite liberating to hand out your phone number and meet up with people after years of being told not to!
I will always look at Dubai with fondness and hope that I can keep up some of the relationships that I built up over there. Going forward, I’m far more interested in travelling and experiencing other cultures. Aside from being an interesting break from the norm, seeing how other people live makes me reflect on what’s important in my own life.