When penning the first words for this piece in 2011 I christened it ‘To Hell and Back’. The reasons for this are self-explanatory as one reads through it. However, time flew and I found myself finishing off this piece now, towards the end of 2012. The perspective of time dictated another name for this piece focusing on the indomitable spirit.
In almost 15 years of living in four out of the six GCC countries and travelling extensively in Western and Central Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia I have had to learn not only to adjust pre-conceived notions and innate prejudices that are probably the product of an essentially insular small island culture but have also learnt never to take anything at face value and anyone fore-granted.
When applying for my driving license in one of the GCC states I was once greeted with the question by one of the officers on duty, “What (not where) is Malta?” I felt like laying bare my nationalistic pride and giving the person and an hours’ long lecture on the 7,000 history and heritage of a small island that is unmatched even my some of the present-day economic or political super powers. Instead I told myself, “What the hell? Will it make any difference? This is very important to me, but is it to him? How much of it would sink in anyway?” I hasten to add, so as not to be accused of xenophobia, I had quasi-similar questions even from some Western expatriates. So, I guess, the truth of the matter lies somewhere between the fact that Malta can sometimes be overlooked because of its size and that there are, even in this age of digital connectivity, pockets of significant ignorance among the population of our global village. The island nation may be of biblical significance (Acts of the Apostles) and, from Ptolomy’s maps, may even have been the mythical Atlantis. It may have had a strategic role in old world politics from Caesar’s Mare Nostrum to the rebuttal of Mussolini’s notion of Mare Nostrum and we certainly rise to the occasion in world politics when others need a helping hand (the evacuation of tens of thousands of expatriates from Libya during the armed conflict is a case in point with Malta rushing in where angels feared to tread). But, independently of my nationalistic pride, the truth of the matter is that Malta is a small island and in the larger scheme of things it means nothing to many.
While my expatriate life, overall since 1998, has been a very pleasant experience, sometime in 2011 I managed to dig myself into a hole and for about a year this period probably encapsulates the trough of my expatriate experience. It all started earlier, in 2010, when for no official reason I was emarginated at work. As head of risk and compliance I was a thorn in the flesh. Stories of alleged bribery and corruption that surfaced in 2012 in court and in the press and similar venial and not so venial sins suggest that my trying to pursue the straight and narrow was the reason for my horizontal promotion and persecution. But I soon learnt that, when leaving the kingdom of the Pharaohs one had to journey through desert to the reach the promised land. It is also probably true that the desert’s stay is as long as one makes it.
Life is a combination of people we meet and experiences that we go through. In 2011 I seemed to have mostly experienced a concentration of the motley crew largely prostituting themsevles in their pursuit to paradoxically serve self or worship the greenback. If the word mercenary previously evoked images of Swiss Guards in their colourful (if not comical) outfit; it is now distastefully synonymous with a breed of crass expat I rubbed shoulders with in the 2011 boondocks. Of course, everywhere has its good, bad and ugly. But, somehow, in my recent past experience, the bad and the ugly were conspicuously present whether in the male form of monsters, mignons and their stooges or the female Al Waab Wannabe or Pearl Pretense version that have largely off-staged Jumeirah Jane and Mirdif Mary. This may not have been the experience of others and I respect that … but it has been mine. It is also not to say that there weren’t some friends, local or expatriate, along the way that made life bearable. But there were very few of these even if the term is loosely used.
Settling back in Dubai in 2012 was like returning to an oasis after experiencing the desert with all its harshness. It was also the beginning of an end; commencing the last chapter and carefully unwrapping a detailed design to burn a bridge without leaving collateral damage in the process. I am not one to burn bridges. I have had friends in every country I lived in, worked in or visited. I enjoy meeting or corresponding with them even ten, fifteen or twenty years after befriending them. This will be an exception. This bridge will burn. The emotional and psychological baggage associated with it is too heavy to continue to bear. It will be a closed book gathering dust or, better still, a dead corpse that did not show respect when alive now buried in an unmarked and forgotten grave. Following in Tariq Ibn Ziyad’s footsteps, even the vessels bringing me to port will eventually be disposed of saving only the merchandize necessary for sustenance.
Life can be a bed of roses, thorns and all, wherever we are. But l actually subsequently embraced daily frustrations elsewhere knowing that they dimmed in comparison to the 2011 exasperation.
Dido’s white flag is no longer a battle cry; I did not go down with this ship. Rather, I brought the ship safely to port. No casualties …. All on board survived. Maybe some are bruised (I certainly was badly bruised) but none beaten.
In Pink’s words, “I took a wrong turn … (but) dug my way out with blood and fire.” Would I trade the scars I received for the lessons that I learnt? The price of the exit journey was high. I paid it; but only because I perceived the value of what followed to be higher.
Adversity sometimes brings out the best in people. In my case I attribute the stoic resilience seeing me through to by three gems:
- One of these gems is undoubtedly my upbringing in a home with strong values in a town that was otherwise the island’s red light district. I had school mates who graduated to be pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers or other who have taken up residence in the country’s jail or who succumbed to the substance. And yet, a strong home meant we flourished in the midst of adversity.
- Another gem is the love and support I have from my soul mate and our children. They bestow on me a trust that is as blind as the love we share. What hasn’t killed us made us stronger and more in love. 23 years on, our bond is what nourishes us.
- The third, and by no means the least, is the innate faith driven by Paul’s premise (Romans 8:28) that there is a reason and a season for all things.
Three gems ….. and an indomitable spirit.