Am I the only person who feels a little emotional every time they land in their home country?
Last week I traveled from Kuwait to South Africa for the first time in 10 months. As the plane hit South African airspace, there was noticeable change in the landscape. Lush green forests, sapphire coloured lakes and huge open spaces of grassy areas. Stunning landscapes around every corner and behind every hill. I always start reminiscing about my memories in South Africa just before I land. The cosmopolitan feeling you get in Cape Town, the desert of the Karoo, the rough coastal area near Mossel Bay, tropical beaches of Durban, cute baby ostriches in Oudtshoorn, rhinos in Hluhluwe, the giant pineapple in the Eastern Cape, and so much more. It’s so great to be home!!
Nothing beats that feeling of walking into passport control and heading to the “citizens” line so despite 17 hours of traveling, 4 airports, 3 planes, 2 time zones and LOST LUGGAGE I was overwrought with emotion at seeing Fox at King Shaka International Airport!
But despite the joy of being back in familiar territory, a lot feels unfamiliar too. I am experiencing a ton of conflicting thoughts right now. Thoughts I can’t exactly share with those around me because they would have no idea what I would be talking about. But my friends in Kuwait know what’s up!
For those who haven’t lived in the Middle East I may sound a bit pretentious, a little stuck up, and kind of useless… but things are different in the Gulf… so you will learn if you ever move there. Here are 5 thoughts you have after living in the desert:
Oh my, IT IS SO GREEN!
Now I don’t know where you live but I am fairly confident that WHEREVER you are from, it is greener than Kuwait. Kuwait, unfortunately, is the ugliest country I have ever lived in. People look through my Instagram feed and say, “Wow it looks gorgeous!” No habeebti– its catastrophically ugly. I made it look gorgeous.
Looking out the car window as I drive around Durban and seeing the lakes, dams, trees, fields and a lack of desert made me so happy. Driving along the suburbs, lined with trees fills me joy. Grass! So much of grass! I sound like an idiot don’t I? I feel like everything is in high definition colour right now because in Kuwait I was so used to seeing two colours- brown and grey. Ugh. Remind me again why I moved there?
2. Wow people are so polite on the road!
I was driving along the freeway yesterday and no one shot out me at every offramp I passed. People USED THEIR INDICATORS. In a traffic circle, people were not switching lanes and turning out from the inner lane. Nobody was trying to run me over in their gigantic SUV. THE EMERGENCY LANE WAS CLEAR FOR POSSIBLE EMERGENCIES and not being used by speeding dishdasha-wearing, cellphone-wielding fiends! There was no hooting the instant the traffic light turned to red and I didn’t see a single person texting and driving or exceeding the speed limit. In fact, not only were people obeying the rules of the road, they were smiling and being polite about it too!! What madness is this?
After living in Kuwait where every drive meant taking your life into your own hands, being on South African roads are a pleasure. Need I mention how good it is to be able to drive on the CORRECT side of the road? My British, Indian and Irish readers know what I mean!
3. All by myself?
I went to buy a few things from the supermarket and as I was gearing up to pay I realised that I HAD TO BAG MY OWN GROCERIES. Wait; what? I used to think this was normal? And on top of that injustice, I had to put them in the trolley by myself and take the trolley to the car by myself which I had to park by myself- no valet parking here!
We are SOOOO spoiled in the Middle East with customer service at every level of the retail experience. Shopping in the Gulf can actually turn a shopping-hater into a shopping-tolerator. When I first arrived in Kuwait this is what I experienced:
Me in H&M: I need three pair of trousers for work.
Shop assistant: What size are you?
Me: Um… what sizes do you use here? I know my UK size?
Her: Do not worry. Go to the change rooms, I will bring you a few pairs in your size.
15 minutes later, I walked out with three perfectly-fitting pairs of formal pants.
There are gentlemen to help you reach items from high shelves, bag your groceries, push your trolley and even staff to play with your baby (if you have one). In South Africa, if I let someone push my trolley its highly likely they will run away with it.
4. Just stop!
So many things now feel weird. Bee messaged me from Prague with a picture of the alcohol aisle in her local grocery store. Her caption was, “This seems wrong”. She also told me that she saw two people kissing and felt outrage!
I saw people eating at a restaurant last week and I was so confused. Didn’t these people know that its Ramadan? Another friend texted me to say that she couldn’t wake up because she is not hearing the call to prayer anymore. The Middle East is a world unto itself and being somewhere else only serves to illustrates how accustomed we have become to life there. Seeing bacon on a shelf and realising that this is ACTUAL bacon and not beef bacon like in Kuwait is strange.
The worst is when you put petrol in your car and look at what is going to cost you!!
Why didn’t I bring some petrol with me in my luggage?! (And there are people out there who are putting their own petrol in their car… actually getting out the car and doing it themselves. Massive respect, I have never done that in my life!)
5. Will they just stop talking?!
I know I always complain about the silly things that people ask me but I am seriously reaching my limit since arriving back in SA. There’s always a shock when I say “ I don’t have a phone number so don’t call me…. just send me a text on WhatsApp because I live in the Middle East.” Then you get that one shocked look and stupid questions… “ So.. do you… like, feel safe over there?” My response is usually “ I don’t know, do you feel safe over here with all the shootings and hijackings in your own neighbourhood?’ And as for those people asking me what I ate in Kuwait and if I had to eat camel…
There are reports of my desert friends being plagued with outrageous remarks like, “How can you live with those people? (Meaning Muslims) and those people are the cause of of terrorism (Really? All the Muslims in Kuwait?) so I guess the people in Durban aren’t THAT silly.
Every place comes with its own sets of challenges and advantages; there is no utopia in this world. As much as I enjoyed life in Kuwait, there were certain aspects I could not live with and as much as I love South Africa, I know that there are a lot of things that Kuwait does better. But for me, there is no better feeling than being in a place where you don’t have to alter your speech, pay premium prices for goods and are surrounded by family and friends. Coming home for a short while is the perfect way to unwind, reflect and rejuvenate before one’s next adventure!
What are some of the thoughts you have when you leave the Middle East?