Mid Year Review

Almost unbelievably, Family Little City has already hit the six-month milestone since relocating to Abu Dhabi (ever wondered why time seems to pass more quickly the older you get? Wonder no more.)

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

What better opportunity, then, to conduct a little mid-year review, see how things are shaping up and how life here as sophomore expats compares to our Qatari debut.

  • What’s better?

Um, lots of things. Most things. Ok, nearly everything. Don’t get me wrong, we got a lot out of our time in Doha and there were enough positives for us to want to stay in the region, but this feels like a step in the right direction.

  • Come on, there must be something?

Ok, the karak (the sweetened, spiced tea that fuels life round these parts) isn’t as good here.

Emirati Expressions
Last chance: this exhibition by young Emirati artists at the Saadiyat cultural district ends on 31 March

Six months sounds like a long time, but we are still very much in the discovery phase here. Only last week our in-house karak addict Mrs LC – on the hunt for poster paint of all things – was directed to the so-called “Pink shops” in Khalifa City which may have inadvertently solved the great karak crisis of 2016.

Mushrif Central Park
Mushrif Central Park is a jewel right in the heart of the city

There are way more speed cameras here (although, thanks to daily use of Waze, greater enforcement of traffic laws and more law-abiding driving in general, no tickets yet). There’s nowhere near as much of Twitter community across the city as a whole, but our compound does have its own FB page – not to mention a functioning gym, which is a step up from our old one).

We’re from Qatar. I think

Thinking about our time in Doha, I miss Katara and the Museum of Islamic Art and its park, and everything about the W Hotel, and RollStar’s shawarmas and both the karak and chapatis from, er, Karak and Chapati.

When we tell people where we’re “from” – which in itself is always a ridiculously complicated conversation for all expats – and ask them if they’ve paid Qatar a visit (apart from work trips), nearly every reply was a variation on “It doesn’t seem to offer anything you can’t get here or in Dubai”. And whilst that’s not strictly true, it’s also pretty hard to argue against.

Palm trees stand up to the elements
Our garden gets battered during March’s storm

So while the weather is still scorchio here, the undulating coastline of an island city means it’s consistently two or three degrees cooler than Doha. That also extends to the fact that the best way to see it is from the water.

That said, the city is still recovering from the unprecedented storms earlier this month (which caused amazingly little structural damage, apart from to this iconic casualty, given their once-in-a-decade ferocity.)

Compound interest

Aside from the functioning gym and the community who have made us feel so welcome, our compound is also blessed by mobile dry cleaners (I assume they don’t actually do the cleaning in the vans, but I could be wrong) which is just about the pinnacle of human achievement.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque II
There’s much to contemplate and marvel at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

There’s also a big clue about life here in the number of visitors we’ve had – eight sets in the first six months.

Where we once took visitors to Turkey Central, now we’re all about Lebanese Flower on Hazza bin Zayed street. Fancy the cutlery-free version of the same? Try Lebanese Pastry on Al Firdous St in Tourist Club.

Want to go up a star in quality (which means they provide napkins instead of tissues)? Check out Abd El Wahab at Souk Al Qaryat and try the Raheb (roasted eggplant) salad.

Overall, the city is greener, and the roads are wider and calmer, despite Abu Dhabi’s population being bigger than Doha’s.

The lesser-spotted Adnoc falcon

The air is nowhere near as dusty – gone are the days of waking up every morning to find a new layer of sand covering any furniture near a door or window.

Some things don’t seem to change, though. There are still remarkably few petrol stations for a city whose wealth is based on the stuff. (The stations are run by Adnoc, which my spell checker auto corrected to Ad hoc. I think it’s trying to tell me something.)

In other news, there are multiple locations across the city selling alcohol for home consumption (one of which, African and Eastern, is known by the hilariously ironic initials A&E). If it’s certain types of meat you’re after, the relevant section in our compound shop alone, is bigger, and holds better quality and variety, than the only retailer selling that product in Qatar.

Sliding doors

Island city
Abu Dhabi is an island city, best explored by boat

Rarely in life do we get a clear-cut answer as to whether or not we made the right decision. Life just adjusts accordingly, and carries on.

But when it comes to wondering if we left Qatar at the right time, we think we did. The wheels might not yet be coming off the economy there, but they are slowing down fast.

Did we know that when we left? No. Does that mean it won’t happen here, too? Of course not. At least two sets of new friends we’ve made are already having to relocate due to redundancy.

You can’t afford – literally – to be complacent about your stability anywhere as an expat, frankly. But we can’t spend our lives in a constant state of anxiety or worry, either. It’s hard enough making the decision to relocate without adding economic uncertainty into the mix as well.

Al Jahili Fort, Al Ain
Al Jahili Fort, Al Ain: it’s even better if you go there when it’s open (ie not Mondays)

Before we moved here, my impression was that Abu Dhabi was a stable, tranquil, family-friendly city; a capital overshadowed by a bigger, brasher sibling (in the way that Toronto and Ottawa and Canberra are overshadowed by sexier cities like Vancouver and Sydney.)

Is it perfect? Of course not; admin and bureaucracy can still be painful, but that’s true of just about anywhere. (There’s a scene in Disney’s Zootropolis / Zootopia set in a vehicle licencing office run by sloths that anyone who has spent any time in Doha will watch with wry amusement.)

And there is one company whose name I won’t mention (due to the significantly tougher slander laws here) but which brings me out in hives just thinking about my monthly encounters with their latest attempt to bamboozle me. If you’ve ever spent more than five minutes trying to get settled here, however, you’ll know exactly who I’m talking about.

But on the whole Abu Dhabi is a relaxed, welcoming, friendly city, one that’s decided what it wants to be – somewhere with a well-regulated and enforced on-street parking system, for example – and which is happy in its own skin. We are enjoying the many differences.

So is being an expat easier the second time around?

Isn’t everything?

* *

Were you one and done as expats? Or couldn’t you wait to go again? I’d love to hear your experiences and tips in the comments below!


3 thoughts on “Mid Year Review

  1. Dina Honour March 19, 2016 / 7:41 pm

    Glad you’re settling in. I just got back from a trip (my first) to Dubai to visit some friends that just moved there. It was hard to take it all in in a few days! Thanks for the link up too. Cheers!

    • littlecity March 20, 2016 / 5:30 pm

      Dubai is fun but full on. Abu Dhabi is way more laid back and family friendly. Great place to visit, though; hope you enjoyed your first trip!

  2. vinneve March 20, 2016 / 10:26 am

    Funny you mentioned sloths haha! I like that movie a lot. Being an expat… hmmm… patience and acceptance are a must. I still wish we don’t need to be an expat though but it’s inevitable anywhere in the World even if the Country is considered to be developed or rich.

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