I've done this countless times and my family is used to living continents apart. In fact, I don't remember a time when all of us have managed to stay in one place together for two consecutive years without a gap. You could say airport drop-offs no longer move me to tears.
I was wrong.
It was like a scene in a film, but instead of an airport departure lounge, our goodbyes were right across Carrefour in the busiest area of the Mall of the Emirates. Clutching the shopping bag containing regular and spicy Cheetos and Lays which my sister bought for me (trust me each bag is worth the dizzying shopping trip around a standard Carrefour which is about the same size as a wholesale Costco in the UK), we exchanged hugs and kisses and I turned my back and walked away from my mother, sister (my other sister, the youngest, has already flown back to the Philippines the night before), and my brother-in-law. I congratulated myself for not getting emotional.
Metres away, instinct made me look back. As I would expect from my mother, she also looked back at the same time. Or perhaps she never turned her back and was waiting for me to look her way again. I waived goodbye and quickly turned to my direction further away. Sadness hit me without warning and I welled up with tears. The Mr was next to me but he couldn't comfort me as the last thing we would do as tourists in Dubai was to draw attention to ourselves.
My niece and goddaughter who's turning six this year, gave me a present: torn pages from her colouring book placed in an envelope sealed with clear sellotape which she insisted her mum get for her. One page is a picture of Timon and Pumbaa (The Lion King duo); the other is an image of a shark in purple as I told her it was my favourite colour, with a baby seahorse looking up admiringly at the shark who was about to brush its teeth. The day before I bought her a Mrs Potato Head toy in Hamley's (I didn't know Mr Potato Head is married); the torn pages may be her way of thanking me and sending me off with a little bit of what she treasures. She taught me some words and phrases in a new language she's been learning in school. She introduced me to Shopkins. I Googled this as I didn't understand my niece's miniature collection of grocery shopping baskets and department store shopping bags. My brother-in-law says my niece is quite adept in shopping. Well, why am I not surprised? That's one skill passed on to generations in our family. We looked at photos of puppies and dogs we both would like to own one day. She told me I didn't need to get a tan as I was the same colour as her brown crayon.
|The Radisson Blu Dhow Cruise where my family and I had a sumptuous two-hour Lebanese and Persian dinner while cruising Dubai Creek|
Since she was born in 2010, I only missed one year to see her and her younger brother. I thought about how much she has grown from the last time I saw her two years ago. We now have interesting conversations. With the limited amount of time I spent with her this time, I felt that I would be missing out on so much if I don't see my family again this year. I was glad not to have lined my lower lids. Otherwise I could've been mistaken for Kung Fu Panda, albeit in a floral shirt dress.
|A cruising display of neon lights|
My sister booked a Radisson Blu Dhow Cruise dinner for all of us --something which we all haven't done together despite them living there for a decade now, and myself visiting almost annually for the past six years. The weather was balmy and the slight breeze made the cruise even more pleasant. Slowly cruising past the bright lights of the Old Town, I thought about how I'm always rushed off my feet back in the UK and how I desperately need a break every quarter of the year. It's always best to come home. And home is family, in whatever part of the world we find ourselves together.
I flew back to my life 3,400 miles away from Dubai, where sunny is more like a state of mind than a physical setting. It's grey and gloomy at its best, grey and gloomy and cold and rainy at its worst. The sun occasionally turns up--the kind of guest I'm happy to have unannounced and who can overstay its welcome. I'm just happy there's always something to look forward to, whether it's here, or in a place in the sun.