Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Parting Gift

I have a plant that for two years has never bloomed.

But about a week ago, a ball-like orange flower appeared atop the plant's bushy leaves. Like a spray of fireworks in the night sky.

Now there are twelve blooms on this plant.

A parting gift? This is what I'm thinking.

In late June I'll leave this place I love, Abu Dhabi, knowing full well I may never come back and that regardless, life will go on here after I'm gone. At the risk of sounding morbid, it reminds me a little of death: that's how it is for people who know they're not long for this world and are cognizant of the fact that their loved ones will get up the day after their demise. Their favorite people will move on, as they should, despite their absence.

What will happen to my flowers, I ask myself in the middle of the night. The petunias, which have outlasted most in the city, as well as the impatiens, I will toss lest they wither and become an eyesore for my neighbors. The bougainvillea and my cycads tree,"Jameel," (forgive spelling), which is Arabic for "beautiful," will go to my Emirati friend, Manaal (not her real name).

When I see Manaal lately she asks, "How is you jameel?" and I answer, "You mean how is your jameel," and we laugh. Other things, like hair dryers and kettles, I will just give away. I'm no good at garage sales and the like.

It's not all sad and bad, though. As we get closer to our leave date, my mind is full of the smells of home: the beginning of spring, with the air cool and clean and mild after a long winter, which always make me feel a surge of freedom and energy; the evergreen trees around my New Hampshire home; the dark, wet earth in my hands when I dig holes for news plants and move others around for the coming season; the fresh air coming through the window in the morning as I lay in bed or stand at the kitchen sink washing a pot.

I am distracted and unable to concentrate lately. I flit from task to task like a fly. I give away clothes the kids have outgrown, throw away unnecessary papers, and purchase things we cannot get anywhere but here. I trade recipes with ladies from other countries and try to see friends one more time before we go. I attend the children's school activities and shuttle them to social/academic events.

When I see Manaal, I say let's not talk about my imminent departure. This is chiefly because I don't know when and if I will ever see her again. (I have this feeling in general and all the time, that we don't know what tomorrow will bring and if the people we love will be with us/alive next year).

We touch on a variety of subjects, but naturally the conversation returns to my leave date. She stops talking, looks away. Her kohl-outlined eyes are full of water. I look away too, for a moment, and then one of us changes the subject.

21 comments:

Cairogal said...

Repatriating is a tough task! I always found that as I prepared to leave a country after extended residence that I liked it even more than I thought!

Ilka said...

Ok, now I am sad after reading this post. It is hard to leave a place that you have grown fond of and of course leaving friends. How do your kids feel about the move back home?

I hate when I meet someone I really like and they move on to another country. I seem to click more with people that are not going to stay here for a long time.

A good friend of mine will spend her whole summer starting from mid June in her home country...I just can't get a break. At least she is coming back inshAllah.

elle said...

You are very fortunate to have an Emirati friend. There are very few expats who can say they have Emirati friends. I used to work with Emirati ladies, we were colleagues, never friends. I still keep in touch with one, but she's more of an acquaintance. Very sad not to be embraced by the local community.

Frances Gunnison said...

Cairogal,
Any advice for the next big challenge - adjusting back to home? It's true, if our stay was open-ended and I wasn't leaving, maybe I wouldn't be savoring every drive along the new Corniche.
Ilka,
Thanks for your compassion. Leaving friends is hard, especially when this may be IT. But the world is getting smaller and maybe I'll be surprised to cross paths with some people again. Or maybe a friendship will be renewed when someone's son/daughter attends college near us in the US...who knows.
My older children have made lasting friendships here and are sad to go.
The younger ones haven't given the move much thought, it seems. I think they will miss the freedom of the compound tremendously; back home I have to arrange play dates for them and drive them to and fro whereas here they simply open the door and go. (The flip side is that then I have to try to find them and haul them back for dinner...)
I know how you feel re losing friends: when I was a new mom in a new apartment in NYC I made great friends with another new mom who suddenly went back to work. Then for a time there was nobody (during the day, while my husband was at work) to talk to. Not easy.

Frances Gunnison said...

Elle,
I agree, I am very fortunate to have an Emirati friend. Not only have I learned a tremendous amount from her about the local culture, but I also enjoy spending time with her so much - we laugh a lot and also sympathize with each other over the more serious stuff of life.
You've given me an idea. I think I should write about making friends with locals in a new post. Will have to mull it over and put it out there.
Thanks Elle,
F.

Cairogal said...

Advice? Well, it was tough for me. I felt like I couldn't relate to many people. My whole frame of reference was life abroad. I felt like I was bragging every time I opened my mouth. One of my friends returned from Egypt the year after I did, and she said she felt like the girl in the film "American Pie." "This one time...in Cairo..." I would suggest taking a 2nd language class (I took classical Arabic for a number of terms at the local community college). You tend to meet people who've shared a similar experience. That class helped me find lots of people like me. After a few years I felt more a part of things here.

Frances Gunnison said...

Cairogal,
That's a great idea, to take Arabic, though I'm not sure it's available where I'm returning to in the US.
You make another really good point, about the fear of sounding like you're bragging about where you've been. I can imagine fearing this if I tell a story about something that happened here. Maybe it's like talking about your kids: nobody wants to hear stories about them, not really.
When I go home, I think I'll be biting my tongue a lot, unless I'm with someone I think understands what I've experienced - or wants to.
Don't know where I would have been without this blog!

Elle said...

I find even when I go home for the holidays, people don't really want to know about what it's like here. Oh sure in the beginning like 9 years ago they did, but now it's old news. I try to talk about things other than here, however the funny thing is when I do talk about here at home I refer to here as 'home'. And when I'm here I refer to home as 'home'. One thing is I'm fortunate in the fact that I've kept many friends from before we moved out here, so we have a long history and we keep in touch. People who haven't bothered to keep in touch with me, don't even get a phone call when I'm home. I can only spend energy on people who give me energy back.

Frances Gunnison said...

I have a similar attitude. I call/write/visit a new friend a couple of times and if there is no invitation/call coming back I assume she isn't really interested or maybe she's got enough friends already.
With old friends I think it's different. Usually one of the parties makes more effort and then the other is so grateful, but of course both people have to want to stay friends. Sorry if this is just drivel, I'm tired tonight!

rosh said...

Sad to hear you are moving Francis. Am sure it must be hard,I know it is, I feel it everyday :)

You are very blessed, NH is a lovely place for family and a home.

Safe Journeys, I shall miss reading your lovely posts.

Frances Gunnison said...

Thanks Rosh. As usual you've said something very kind and said it gracefully.
The mind is an amazing thing...as the move date gets closer I can recall more and more things I temporarily forgot about but which I love about home: being outside on a summer day, especially in the morning, the smell of fresh-cut grass and barbecues, etc.
Will write one or two posts once home about what it's like to be in NH after being in AD for 2 years. Then, hallas, this blog will end.

Anonymous said...

Lady,

- Six children
- A wonderful sense of blogging
- Perfect English
- An ability to emphatise
- And to make friends
- Religious & not afraid to say so
- A slim figure worthy of envy

Are you for real?
Best of everything on your move back home.

Regards,

J

Frances Gunnison said...

J: Wow, thanks for the incredible list of accolades. I don't know what else to say!

Dieter said...

Accolades, accolades...?

Well, as your neighbour I know Abu Dhabi a little bit, but - thanks to your blog - I get to learn new English words almost every day!

Accolads - sounds like Chocolates but has a totally different meaning as I just found out...

Cheers
Dieter

Frances Gunnison said...

Dieter when are you and Franziska going to do a blog in English? This German language stuff is leaving a whole lot of people out of the loop on your writing!

Anonymous said...

Frances,
Do you know if you need a visa in order to rent an apartment or villa? I think we'll have to do a tourist visa for the first month as the residence visa is still pending, but we're arriving in 12 days! I swear, if we survive the housing hunt, everything should seem like a breeze!
Rian

Frances Gunnison said...

I don't know about this. Good luck finding something suitable.
All the Best,
F.

Lilliy said...

I am sorry to hear that this blog will after a while be " Khallas" ohhh.. I will miss just browsing through and looking at least at the pictures its a very sweet blog and that I only got to know it recently..
I also understand regarding the sad feeling that comes with leaving a place you called home for a while.. I had to do that a lot since my child hood my fathers work took us every where and we got into the habit of packing from one place to the other till I settled for my collage years and then I started moving around.. its always sad to say good bye to new found friends but I have to say that now a days the internet made it easier to keep in touch.. its not as often as we used to when you are there but still..
Good luck on your move and a place you leave never really leaves you because in some way or another it leaves its print on you..
I am sorry that I found your blog only to know that after a while you wont write in it any more.. was lovely browsing through it..

Frances Gunnison said...

Thanks for your nice sentiments re my blog. I will miss writing it, but it seems that it will close sort of naturally,with a post or two from home (US)about being back in the US, having gotten Abu Dhabi under my skin.

Karen said...

I am very sad that you're leaving, Frances. I was hoping to join you at the camel beauty contest next year.

Am hoping you'll continue your blogs even when home in the U.S.

Frances Gunnison said...

Karen,
When you come to the UAE next year you must also go to Al Ain and more specifically to the Camel Market. Someone mentioned this on my blog and it is a superb idea.
If I weren't so snowed under with moving-related tasks I'd look into it for you. But since I can't, I bet there's info on the web you can access.
I will miss this blog too. Thanks for the very kind sentiments.