“Hey, remember like seven years ago when we were both single and working brunch at the bar on weekends?” I said to my friend, Mike. This was last Friday as we were crammed into the back seat of a 4-wheel drive SUV, raging up and down a bank of sand dunes. As the car perched across the spine of a dune, camel hoofprints evident along the ridge, we hovered for a moment before sliding sideways as our guide revved the engine and sand kicked up against the side of the vehicle.
“Yeah?” Mike finally responded, having been busy both making sure that he didn’t lose his grip on the arm rest and that his wife wasn’t puking.
“And now we’re going dune bashing in the desert in the Middle East with our spouses?” I said as we slid down into a small valley between dunes and then started crashing back up, spitting sand out the back.
“Yeah?” Mike said as my husband, sitting in the passenger’s side of the front seat, yelled “HOLY SHIT” as we came up and over a ridge that was a vertical drop on the other side. Our guide laughed, slightly ominously, and pushed the engine further as we steadied into another dune.
“Life is so weird,” I concluded. I was gripping both the arm rest and the cross bar and wondering why we had paid money for this terrifying morning of mortal fear.
“Life is so weird,” Mike agreed. The SUV finally slid to a quiet halt in front of a makeshift pen filled with camels.
“Now we do the pictures with the camels,” our guide informed us. It was at this point that I realized he hadn’t been wearing his seat belt the entire time.
Over the last couple of weeks, we had my family staying with us and then my buddy Mike and his wife Angy, who came for a short weekend/long layover from their two week holiday trip to India where Angy’s family is from. Mike was one of the first people I met in Baltimore and the person to land me my first writing gig. We were neighbors who worked at the same bar, and spent years writing, bartending, and dating (never each other) in Charm City during our mid- to late-twenties. Then Mike met Angy and they moved to Utah, and I met my husband and we moved to the Middle East. In the interim, we have only gotten to see one another a few times – including a very nice twenty minutes at our wedding last summer in between hello’s with the other 118 guests present. In our nearly 8 years of friendship, we have had a lot of adventures but I could not have predicted this particular Friday morning.
Being with friends and family is incredibly grounding as an expat. It’s easy to lose touch and here, where the desert landscape never changes, it’s especially easy to lose track of time. You make new friends when you move to a new country – or even a new city in a new state – and being around people who have known you before you moved there is an experience you don’t get very often. Most if not all of the people in your new circle of friends are just that – new. This isn’t a negative thing, because new friends are exciting. But spending time with people who have known you in different seasons, different places, and different times of your life helps you reconnect with who you are outside of being an expat.
It was also refreshing for my husband and I to play tour guide in our city for all of our visiting guests. Getting into the workaday routine, you lose touch with the fact that you do, after all, live somewhere far away from home with fun and different experiences on offer. It was also nice to get back into the perspective of seeing the city with fresh eyes.
I miss my friends and family dearly, and it was such a gift to spend the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016 with some of them. Next week, we are off to Vietnam to visit another favorite person from Baltimore, my friend Jodi who is off having her own expat adventures living as a teacher in Ho Chi Minh. As if that weren’t enough, three of our friends from Baltimore are flying in to meet us there and travel around Vietnam for a week. I can’t wait for yet another hometown lovefest and am so excited that it’s roped into more travel to another country that we have yet to see.
As for our “new” friends, I can only hope that at least some of them will be people that, maybe seven or eight years down the line from now, we’ll be off on some adventure with and we’ll be able to turn to one another and say, “Hey, remember when we were living in Abu Dhabi and now we’re here? Life is so weird.”