sand in my teacup

The real story

Category: A moveable life

New Year and Summer Magic

When you are a teacher the New Year is really in September. It doesn’t matter about Champagne at midnight on December 31st, glittery parties and hastily made resolutions. The New Year will always be September. And it is this way for children too, and college kids. We live in a different year where the smell of new pencil shavings and a shiny thermos signal the start of newness, new beginnings and new hopes.

My summer was magical. Really. There is nothing quite like leaving one world behind and entering a whole different dimension for a month. Leaving a world of school, paper work, crazy drives, schedules and a desert (an end of term that comes with a tiredness that sits like an ache over your whole body) and bidding farewell to the routine of life for one whole month is quite simply a gift. My children said they felt lucky because for them, going home is a holiday while for all our friends it is “just” home. How right they are. We see everything with fresh eager eyes, taste food with the taste buds of aliens descended from a desert planet. And we continuously exclaim, to the amusement of all our friends “ ahh smell that forest, taste those cherries, oh my doesn’t the lake feel cool and clean in a way I had only dreamt of.” And I realized that green does, indeed, have a smell. And walking in the woods has a sound, somewhere between a crunch and a thud, a soft spilling of thankfulness onto an ancient bed of organic rot.

To sit and talk to old friends who know you so well, so that you feel instantly comfortable, so that the laughter runs as smoothly as the wine and the nights outdoors are just chilled enough to warrant a soft wrap around the shoulders, like the hug of a friend, but no more. And the roads have drivers, who understand the rules, and the shops have people serving who understand the product and the post office still has the same man in there who sold you stamps 10 years ago, and he smiles and nods, hello.

Yes it was magical. And often I feel the bitter taste of crossness on my tongue all summer long. The grumpy sulk of “why can’t I live here all the time and why why! Do I have to go back?” But this time it was different. I know it will all be there next summer; it will all be there next year. The magic will wait. And I know what I have to do, where I live and why I stay. It works, but it works because I know that the magic is on pause and I will go back.

So now another year starts. Year two. It already sings a brighter tune than last year. We know the steps, the foibles and the slips and starts that can catch. We know the rules, the things that work and the right routes that make for smooth sailing. Already I am caught off my feet, back at work, classrooms full and heavy with potential. There seems less time to write, and time must be paid for the things that matter.

The weaving of my days.


The stages of moving: nutshell version

I am coming to the end of the first year of living and teaching here and it is time for a moment of reflection before I take off to green and pleasant climes. The desire to leave the sandy island for sidewalks, outdoor cafes, cold lakes and walks on grass beside trees has become urgent. The desert sand is fierce, we have had more than a few sand storms that whip the palm trees wildly back and forth and leave a ton of sand at my front door like a sad offering from the Beach God. The heat is punishing; it feels as if we are walking around inside an oven.

Some birds had just finished building a nest on the ledge outside my bathroom but the unrelenting winds came and blew it away. Two days later the birds are back with bits of palm and rubbish to build it all over again. Their persistence inspires me as the countdown to summer begins.

There are various stages to moving somewhere new. There is the first and often frustrating stage of learning to walk all over again, but this time in a new place with new terrain, words and rules. At this stage everything is brand new but the excitement is marred by the need to buy school uniforms, house plants and a laundry basket. Finding a doctor or dentist might come in here too. There is also the “let’s get very lost on the highway going in the wrong direction” adventure during this early phase. Wide-eyed confusion and “what the hell” expressions are tell tale signs that someone is in this first phase. Clubs are joined and non working wives attend a multitude of new comer lunches. There is an almost over eager glee to getting things done and getting stuck in. There can also be deep and dark moments of nostalgia when it hits you that you miss your old home and a hollow awareness that something is missing.

Then the curiosity stage hits where short drives are taken to see the sights, find hidden gems and start to invite new friends over. During this stage new supermarkets are discovered and if you have just arrived from Africa the delight in finding Haagan Daaz and Waitrose bread is supreme. Driving for 45 minutes to buy particular jam imported from Britain is not unusual during this stage. A one off sailing lesson might happen, clubs at school are eagerly signed up for and a visit to the Mosque is mandatory. Like stage one, this period of time tends to be very expensive as new places to eat are discovered, food is purchased out of glee rather than necessity and there is a higher than usual volume of entertaining.

Stage three finds one at an impasse where the novelty has worn off, day in and day out it is all about routine and the budget starts to dictate how often you can eat out and buy expensive jam. An amazing thing called Witopia is discovered which permits the viewing of the BBC, as seen in Britain, by tricking your computer into thinking it is in Manchester and not Bahrain. The sofa becomes very comfortable. British culture is rediscovered after some 18 years and British humour needs to be explained to both husband and children. During this phase what was once charming and “different” can become a pain in the ass but you might still be too shy to admit this to new friends as you are supposed to love everything here and complainers are shunned. The smell of tear gas and burning tires on the highway become routine. Your daughter complains that she is the only one of her friends without a pool and you can’t believe you are hearing those words coming out of her mouth. There seems less to write about and even less to photograph.  You start missing the colour green and dream about purchasing green shoes just so you can see it when you walk. The mall, that paragon of joy after Africa, becomes a bit tiresome and you figure out how to avoid going too often. The quantity of sand at your doorstop stops surprising you. You drink less alcohol because it is such a pain to buy it. (I think this one might just be me).

In stage three the reality hits that this is where you really live, it has been a year since your last Safari and the big goodbye happened. Analysis of heartfelt nostalgia is replaced by biting comments on parking and driving. New friends are valued and you feel you have started to move on.