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  • Writer's pictureLiz Totton

When Life Hands You Bitter Lemons

When Life Give You Lemons

When Life Gives You Lemons, You Rejoice, Right? Wrong!

Prior to now, I had never really understood this proverbial phrase. After all, I love to cook, and I LOVE lemons. Why would anyone ever NOT want a bunch of lemons handed to them? I can think of a myriad things to do with lemons, none of which involve that cloying beverage which the proverb suggests you make. Until life dealt us a basket of the lemons so sour and unusable (metaphorically speaking, of course)–yes, the ones the proverb is about.

I am not entirely sure what good a personal blog, like mine, is if it’s not honest–like the good, the bad and the ugly kind of honest. The good is so easy to write about, while the bad is just as painful to go through as it is to recount. I am not sure I have ever even seen the really ugly stuff that life can throw at you yet. But, I do think that it’s often cathartic to write about it, so here goes.

What do you do when everything you imagined when you moved your family and entire life half way around the world turns out to have a very different reality? You would probably say, “Of course it does! Nothing is ever exactly as you imagine.” I would agree. I am not one to plan my life out. Anyone who knows me knows that not one shred of planning has ever gone into my life. I am not and have never been wedded to any particular path that my life should take. I think that’s why I was so open to moving my family across the world. We knew there would be many more things unknown than known. How could we possibly have known what life could really be like on the other side of the world? How could we possibly have known how hard it would be to negotiate the simplest of tasks?

The truth is that life in the United Arab Emirates is not like what my husband’s employer told us it would be. It’s not what our children’s school said academic life would be like–not even remotely. It’s nothing like the books I read, nor the websites we voraciously consumed for the many months before we decided to move here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad here. I actually LOVE it! But, it is confounding–on a daily basis. Life as an expat in the Emirates is not for the anxious, faint-hearted or the risk-averse. So, what’s wrong then? Well, most everything really. What can I do about it? No idea. What should we have done prior to coming. This I can answer. If you are thinking of doing what we did, think long and hard, and PLEASE do the following:

  1. Consult Unbiased Sources. Before you move anywhere, please consult unbiased sources (i.e. one’s not tied in any way to your eventual employment in that location). We did not do this. I am not entirely sure that we could have. Moving abroad is kind of a Catch-22 of sorts. In order to do it properly, you need to have had the experience and made the connections. In order to have the experience and make the connections, you need to have worked abroad. You get my point. Someday, I plan to set up a website that deals more honestly with the challenges of moving to a particular locale. To my knowledge, there is not one that deals with it very honestly. Please correct me if I am wrong. PLEASE bring it to my attention, if you know of one that does! In the meantime, ask around. Find someone living in that place before you go! You won’t regret it.

  2. Do NOT Trust Reviews on Schools. Forget what anyone tells you. There is no unbiased source, that I know of yet, which honestly conveys the quality or lack there of of the many private schools here in the U.A.E. Like anywhere, some are quite good and some are very bad. Most are just mehlike on par with a sucky public school your kids may have attended, or you have heard of in the states. That is just the reality. Do not trust what you read. Turn to people in that city who are actually living there and schooling their children there for honest counsel.

  3. Read Expat City-Specific Blogs! Blogs, like mine, are probably some of the very best resources you could find for honest and authentic information about a city or country to which you might wish to move. After all, people like my family are living through what might be your future, if you decided to move here or there. You can ride along with our ups and downs and see if it sounds right for you. Expatblogs, Expat Arrivals and Expat Blog are all great expat blog aggregators. You can start there!! I did not know about them before we moved here. Wish I had.

Preserved Lemons

Preserved Lemons? 

So, I guess I didn’t really tell you what was going on. To sum it up, we just finally came to the conclusion/admission that not enough of the things we came for are living up to our expectations. Life in Abu Dhabi for expats is just not what we imagined in all our romantic optimism and naive assumptions. It works for some people quite well, but not so well for us. Everyone has different levels of tolerance for chaos. Sorry to be cryptic here, but there are still some things you cannot just scream out over the web–maybe just a few. Since we are U.S. citizens, the U.A.E. is not the tax-free haven that it is for every other nationality. Is it worth it? This is what we are pondering hourly, lately. Maybe we are so glum because it’s winter, and it’s cold out?! Wait! That makes no sense. Most days are in the 70s, which is pretty much summer where we come from.

Limoncello shots

Limoncello Shot?

Not a lot makes sense here. If you have a great sense of humor and a prescription to some very strong valium, you’ll do fine! If you don’t have the former, do NOT come here! You also can’t get the latter here easily, so don’t count on getting that once you’re here. In the meantime, I am going to take our enormous basket of unpalatable lemons and make something fantastic for all the wonderful people from all over the globe that we have met here. I am going to make preserved lemons, Moroccan Lemon tagine, lemon chicken piccatta and lemon tarts. We will drink Limoncello to our bounty of sour lemons. At the moment, our fountains runneth over with acrid, so I shall turn it into mirth, even if it’s at our going away party!! That is how I have always lived my life and nothing–not even this place–can stop me from doing it or make me bitter.

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