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5 thoughts you have after leaving the Gulf!

June 27, 2017 22 Comments

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:


  1. 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?

Peace out pandas car


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  • flowersgrowfromconcrete June 27, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    You have me laughing so much!!! I was asked all this stuff upon my return from Egypt, and I did become emotional about seeing all THE GREEN!!! 😱 I became a treehugger for real!

    • Expat Panda June 29, 2017 at 12:39 pm

      Haha its like when I saw rain here and felt emotional… people were like, what the hell?!

  • Anne Grwll June 27, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    Oh man! I had such a good time relating to all this! But all in all, coming home to your own country is bliss.

  • thexpatUAE June 27, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    The petrol thing is one of the first things I notice – oh and in the UK we have to PAY for bags… Yup so not only do we need to bag up shopping ourselves but we have to pay for the bags lol! Oh and you know surprisingly I didn’t enjoy the driving in the UK but saying that I don’t drive in Dubai LOL! So excited to see what your next adventure is like for you! x

    • Expat Panda June 29, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      You are just excited about us being in the same country 😀 😀 😀 😀 We also have to pay for bags, I was in a rude awakening here haha!

  • Stewie Overseas June 27, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    There is valet parking at the grocery store in Kuwait? Extravagant.

    • Expat Panda June 29, 2017 at 12:36 pm

      The Middle East is the land of opulence!

  • oldtrailguide June 27, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    I’ll be back nice. I wish mine was this good. Just a newbie

  • Julz June 27, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    haha so many things were the same for me when I left Jordan! I loved the shopping packing and the valet parking 😀 – but as a mother what troubled me the most when we left were my daughter’s look at people: she was used to all the attention in the world: from parents, kids, teens and young people. no where else in the world did she get that! good to be home though!

    • Expat Panda June 30, 2017 at 1:10 pm

      Why oh why do your comment always get marked as spam? It is so annoying and you probably think I am so rude! Sorry! I think that in the GCC there is such diversity that we don’t really get stared at but in Jordan, things are different. Yip good to be home!

      • Julz June 30, 2017 at 1:54 pm

        Really still more Spam!? 😣 – so Abu Dhabi! That will be nice 🙂 will you and the fox be reunited? I remember i had a friend who went to live there, they had to get married before she left he could come to.

        • Expat Panda July 4, 2017 at 10:21 am

          Yes Fox and I will reunite at the end of the year and I am so excited! Sorry about the spam, I still can’t figure it out.

          • Julz July 4, 2017 at 10:38 am

            That’s great 🙂 am happy for you! I know how hard it is to be apart!!! Spam is not you 🙂 it happens now and then i don’t know why!

  • Zoya Kubra June 28, 2017 at 12:53 am

    I can’t wait to go back to the UK to see and smell the trees LOL, I miss greenery and the smell of nature. But one thing I am not looking forward to is going through the airport, I love the airport here in Doha I feel like it just makes travelling really easy. And the staff are super friendly too. I can relate to so much of your post. 👍

    • Expat Panda June 29, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      I hated the airport in Kuwait so I felt thrilled when I had left! The other day it rained a bit and people thought I was psycho when they saw my excitement HAHA! Enjoy your time back in the UK!

  • Gaelic Guy Abroad June 28, 2017 at 9:46 am

    Feeling jealous! Can’t wait to get home to the countryside and just be surrounded by nature and beautiful green grass again.

    • Expat Panda June 29, 2017 at 12:34 pm

      I will be just as jealous when you are prancing around The Emerald Isle 🙂

  • phillygirl77 June 30, 2017 at 4:44 am

    I am writing my 1 year wrap up as we speak. I started it months ago while I was still in Qatar but haven’t finished yet, in between traveling and seeing friends and family at home. However, it feels like I never left home, here in the U.S.. It’s hard to explain. I’ve grown and changed but everything here is still the same.

    One funny thing is, right before I left Qatar, I moved out of my villa and into an apartment. I haven’t lived in an apartment in many years so it felt weird but now that I’m back in a house, I miss not having steps. lol. I feel you on the greenery. My husband and I took a drive down a few states and I really enjoyed seeing green. And seeing these women in some of these outfits make me wish I had bought them back an abaya.

    • Expat Panda June 30, 2017 at 10:38 am

      Haha I feel the same when I see what some ladies are wearing here! I think its always good to start the write up when you are in the place because otherwise you start to think, “Oh it wasn’t THAT bad” meanwhile the reality of it all was different (for me at least). Enjoy your time with family & friends 🙂

  • Pooja Thapliyal July 17, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Nice & funny. I enjoyed the post and how you described everything in details with ease and made it so interesting too.Great !

    • Expat Panda July 18, 2017 at 11:51 am

      Thank you, I am so glad you enjoyed it 🙂

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