Living as an expat is such a wonderful and enriching experience. Especially in an extremely diverse country like the United Arab Emirates where about 85% of the population are expatriates. Everyday I get to interact with people from all over the world. My closest neighbourgs are Koreans and Hungarians. I have friends from the UK and Ukraine, my kids play and go to school with other kids from Australia, Zimbabwe, Brazil and many more. My cleaning lady is from Sri Lanka. My baby's nursery teachers are from Kasakhstan and Lebanon. So you can imagine how the conversation with just anyone on the street becomes fascinating.
The difference of climate is also a life-changer for me. I was born in the snow (almost) and got used to extreme cold and unpleasant weather. Living in a tropical desert climate makes everything so much easier and even if the summer temperatures average 45°C, I still prefer to sweat than to freeze. Even when it's too hot to stay outside, at least the sun is out and it impacts positively on your mood. And when it's more bearable, we have the sea, the desert and the mountains all around so the playground is very interesting.
Being able to practice freely my religion is probably the thing I appreciate the most since I moved to the UAE. Canada is a great country where you are theoratically "free" to practice any religion you want but where it's becoming more an more difficult to do so practically. There are cases of harassement and aggressions against Muslims (and other religious people) but I'm not even talking about that. I always felt I was 'not enough' or 'too much' for a majority of non-Muslims in my country and on a daily basis, that pressure, the looks, the stinging remarks, the mediatic obsession with Islam became reallu heavy and it affected my mood. In the end, I avoided some places and events so I would not attract attention or suffer the looks of people. And the worst thing is I didn't even consciously realized it. I became aware of it when I arrived in Dubai and felt 2000 kilos lifted from my shoulders. I could be whoever I want, and anyone could and no one cares. I could swim in my full swimsuit. I could pray in a park (or in one of the 100,000 mosques of the country). I could say Salam alaikum, incha'Allah or al-hamdolillah to anyone, Muslim or not, because everyone is so used to it that it doesn't seem strange to anyone. Even my buddhist maid uses these terms.
So, yes, this place is a little paradise for me. It's certainly not perfect though. I'm missing a lot of small (and big) things... Here are the most important ones.
1. Do I even need to mention my mom?
2. Do I even need to mention my friends? I especially miss our (in the olden days weekly) never-ending breakfasts/brunches.
3. A proper art store that is not 50 miles away - and with everything I need, when I need it. Here I have to drive one hour and most of the time, they don't have half of what I'm looking for (or they have - at a ridiculously high price).
4. A proper grocery store with products I like, not only 10,000 kind of candies, chocolate, chips and 3 alleys of soft drinks.
5. Silk Almond Milk (or any decent almond milk, really).
6. Gluten-free products that are healthy (corn starch, sugar and food colouring don't fit in that category) and reasonably priced.
7. Maple Syrup. What. Do you know any Canadian who can live without that?
8. Soccer clubs for kids that don't cost you the equivalent of a trip to Fiji Islands for 3 months. For one kid.
9. Green. I'm lucky to live in an area where there are quite a lot of trees and some grass, but we find mostly sand everywhere here. I miss large, open green spaces, forests and green mountains...
10. I wanted to make it ten, but I'm really out of ideas. I guess that's a good sign. That means my life is not so terrible ;).
I could also make a list of things I don't miss, but that would mostly include weather terms, winter accessories and unpleasant people so I'll not waste my time on this one. If you are far away from home, what do you miss the most? If you would have to leave your country, what would you miss the most? Do tell me!