Desert Safari in The Auto Rickshaw!
That pretty much sums up my life as an Expat in the UAE. I've been here for more than 7 years, yet I still dream of the Chennai roads and Marina beach. I still can't believe 2007 was 10 years ago. Being someone who does not know how to ride a bicycle or a scooter or a car, I was always that pillion rider in my friends' Scooty or traveling in an auto rickshaw to commute to college and work. I recall that time when my classmate made a very witty comment in Tamil about this "Tamil naatlaye scootyku driver vecha mudhal aalu nee thaan", meaning I was first person in the state of Tamil Nadu to have a driver for even for a scooter! :)
There were many struggles that I had to go through to take an auto ride-from bargaining the rates to managing the irritating stares through the mirror. But there is something that I really love and miss about taking the auto rides. I was born and raised in Chennai and I never really lived anywhere else outside except for a brief period of 2 years at Trichy for my higher studies. I used to sit back and enjoy the morning auto rides to school and work and just loved the walk to my institute. The auto rides made me enjoy the flavours of the city I grew up. I always used to take the corner seat of the auto to have a better view. I often reminisce thinking of the Egmore Museum through the flyover, the lush, green areas of Nungambakkam surrounding my school, the Marina beach road, the full stretch of C in C road which is still intact in terms of the number of trees and so on.
The auto rides also gave me a sense of being independent for a novice like me who did not know to ride a bike or a car. That is something which I am still not able to achieve, and I have a remote hope that I will be able to do it some day, in sha Allah.
It was roughly 1 AM, 30th of October, 2009 when the plane I took from my hometown landed at the Dubai International Airport. I remember the hollow feeling in my stomach when I saw the TV screens flashing details of the next flights from the DXB airport, showing Chennai as one of them. I realized that I have come way too far from my beloved family, from where I belonged. My father didn't want to come to the airport. My mother was all tearful. My brother acted like he wouldn't miss me. I remember waking up the next morning, staring at the clock: I just made a resolution to myself. I must quickly get pregnant and run away to my home in Chennai as soon as possible. I am not exaggerating even a little bit.
I remember that first day of being all alone in our studio apartment in Deira, when husband left to work. I started listening to an online Tamil radio channel from Chennai (alhamdhulillah, I am totally out of music now-that is a different story to tell) just to make myself believe that I am not too far away from home. My clock in the laptop was not changed to the current timezone. It still showed the time in India. I used to keep Google Talk on throughout the day, even when I am not talking with my mother, just to make myself virtually live in my home. That was my state when I first came to Dubai, as a newly married woman. My husband was very busy with his work, and I was battling the feeling of loneliness through all these means.
Most of my friends and relatives who would come to visit me as a new bride would say, "don't worry Faiza, you will no longer feel lonely as soon as you have a child". And so I got pregnant, became a mommy, and a mommy ever since. If any of you were to ever ask me what was the best moment in my life, I would say without hesitating for a moment that it was during the time I was pregnant, especially with my first child. I was so happy being a pregnant woman, carrying another tiny life in my womb, and I was even happy that I was nauseating. I used to pause for a while seeing that bump when I walk past a mirror in a mall, and walk like a tired pregnant woman, just because I was pregnant. I know, sounds crazy, but that's how I was.
Weeks passed and the countdown started, I was so excited to go in to labour and I wasn't complaining about the excruciating pain too. I delivered a beautiful baby boy in my hometown Chennai, all normal and everything. But I was never prepared for being a mother. Never, really. I still remember that butterflies-in-the-stomach moments whenever I used to see my son as a newborn. I was afraid. In fact I was paranoid about everything! Subhanallah! I was depressed after giving birth, I didn't prepare myself to see the sudden shift of all the love and attention going to my sweet little newborn, including myself. Alhamdhulillah, I came out of the depression after sometime. But I evolved into a totally different being. I became that mommy bear, putting my babies first before everything else. Sometimes I was full of love that would overflow, the other times I was going crazy.
The hometown that I loved became so distanced suddenly. I was dreading going back home thinking of the flight journey (I know, I know-there are millions of moms travel all the way through the globe-4 hours journey is nothing). The beloved auto rides became so scary, thinking of how-could-the-child-be-safe-without-a-seat belt. From the time I moved to UAE and until last year, my every visit to Chennai was only filled with baby obsessions. All I was thinking of feeding/nursing/diaper changing, etc. There was a moment when Sharjah seemed home and Chennai so distanced. I never imagined this would happen, but it just happened.
So, my children are growing up and son started school. Daughter is also growing up-that she can spend some time with her grannies without me at least for a while. I realized I was getting too immersed in the business of being a mommy forgetting that I am a daughter to my parents as well. I needed back that love and lots of pampering as a daughter, and as a granddaughter too!
I really had a great time going back home during last summer, where I felt like I was back again, with my sanity. I left my kids at the love and care of their grandparents and explored a bit of the city catching up with my good old friends from school and college. We spent our Eid with the family, lots of weddings and parties and the kids enjoyed everything-from the crows to seeing ants, trees and so on.Those were the happy times, Alhamdhulillah. Being away from family, moving and packing up is something that really pull me down, but honestly, the last summer was really a great time for a lot of self reflection for me.
I terribly miss my family, my home, the fresh air, the filter coffee and of course the auto rides! I still get small doses of nostalgia once in a while whenever I come across a beautiful picture of the city through facebook pages like My Chennai.
I know I need to get back to work, get back to my home and I was indeed very happy to come back to my home in Sharjah after the great vacation back home. I know this sounds strange, but I am sure I am not the only stranger here!
So here I am, the expat mommy and a wife, who is cruising through the dunes of the UAE in the auto rickshaw!