Blank Space

Sad but true: one expat’s farewell is another’s yard sale.

One of the parts of expat life that you try not to think about too much – along with the cost of air fares and the cultural drift that sees you slowly lose touch with daily life in your home country (I saw a headline in a UK paper the other day which was essentially X’s reaction to how Y had treated Z. I’d heard of none of them) – is the constant turnover of people in your life.

Strangers on a Train
Hang on tight: the carousel climax from Strangers on a Train – click to play!

It’s endless, and usually sudden, and frequently exhausting. I still feel like a newbie here in my house, but there’s already at least four newer families just in my street alone. More are on their way. And there are ten other streets like mine in this compound alone…

Now replicate that turnover across a whole city and the movement quickly becomes a blur. The merry-go-round never slows down.


Yes, it’s a tricky balancing act, sympathising for neighbours who might be undergoing the most wrenching forced departure from the country they’ve called home for however many years, whilst idly perusing the belongings they’ve posted for sale on the compound’s Facebook page.

Most of them are selling any- and everything. Perhaps not quite to Michael Landy-esque extremes, but there is a certain pattern to departures, neatly summed up by this post on the always-entertaining Wine and Cheese (Doodles) on ways to tell that an expat is leaving:

The donations, hand-me-downs and small items start to appear on bulletin boards, list-serves and flea market pages. Once the appliances start to get listed, you can assume the contract’s been signed.

The Wire re-up
Omar comin’ / Where Wallace at? / Man needs a code / King stay the king etc etc…

It drives a really strange mindset; you look around at your own stuff and mentally file it as ultimately ‘coming with’ or ‘to be sold’, sometimes even before you’ve finished assembling it.

On our move from Qatar we discovered the hard way that, marvellous as it might be, another reason Ikea’s furniture is so competitively priced is that it doesn’t travel well once built. We have a house full of the stuff that we can say even now will be sold when our turn eventually comes.

Meanwhile, we’re busy at the other end of the spectrum: filling gaps in our new-ish house with things being sold by those heading for pastures new.

So, you know, thanks departing neighbour for that Wire box set which we have already started watching (again). (It’s a show I’ve written about before and no doubt will do so again. It really is the gift that keeps on giving…)

We’re grateful for the beautiful hibiscus plants which now liven up the previously-bare front step. And the awning will make an amazing shade now the sun’s passed 40C and showing no sign of slowing down. And the two-seater sofa and Expedit shelves for the sun room…

I use antlers in all of my decorating

Houses in this part of the world come with a lot of big, empty white walls to fill. We’ve been debating what to put on some of them for months now.

Moose try harder
Cafe 57 – moose try harder (sorry)

We had a similar debate under similar circumstances in Qatar, and ended up leaving our bedroom wall blank for three years. We wanted something local, and so we would arrive at the occasional arts and crafts spectacular in some local hotel to find lots of lovely small things, but nothing big enough to do the job.

Teenage me, who covered every scrap of his bedroom wall like he was allergic to the sight of paint – would have been appalled.

I could have passed the lack of art off as a conscious decision; maybe put up a blank frame and made it into a talking point (it wouldn’t be the first time someone’s done that).

But it’s a problem we need to solve, which is why over the past few weeks I’ve probably thought more about wall décor than in possibly all of my life added up.

So we were deep in yet another round of what shall we put on the walls? when we took our seats for Kid A’s school production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, in which she had a small part.

We could be like Gaston, I mused during my favourite song in the show, and use antlers in all of our decorating?

A few days later, we were having lunch at Café no.57, which is hidden on all sides by a building site on Al Bateen Wharf. (The rest of the family would happily go back, assuming they could ever find it again, but I found the food overpriced and underwhelming).

The best part though was that they, too, use antlers in all of their decorating. And as a huge fan of moose, this was a sign, surely? Nope.

Good things come to those who wait

So it was a refreshing twist on this otherwise usually slightly uncomfortable aspect of expat life to find someone selling up because they were making a positive move of their own volition.

And being an artist, that meant an open house, and everything-must-go sale of the contents of her apartment. We had walls to cover and an oversight to rectify…

Amira Rahim II
The upside of expat departures: part of our haul from Amira Rahim’s farewell sale

Cut to a couple of days later, and Mrs LC is all elbows in an apartment somewhere on the other side of the city. She had already been beaten to another painting by the same artist a few months previously, so this time she wasn’t taking any chances.

We had studied the online catalogue, chosen favourites, agreed spending limits – we were prepared. The three-day open house started at 11am, and Mrs LC crossed town to find herself…second in line.

You can probably guess what happened next with jaw dropping predictability; the doors open and the only person in front of her strides in and slaps a down payment on the very painting at the top of our list…

But instead of giving up and opting for antlers instead, she jostled her way through the insta-crowd of enthused art buyers and managed to secure an awesome alternative.

It’s big, bright, powerful yet ambiguous. I’m thrilled. Yes, it’s even better than antlers.

It, along with the other smaller pictures she bought, serves as both a fantastic solution to our current blank spaces and, being by a locally based artist who has significant expat credentials herself, a permanent memento of our time in Abu Dhabi.

Tribe / Amira Rahim
Tribe / Amira Rahim

10 thoughts on “Blank Space

  1. Arlene Cooke May 21, 2016 / 6:12 pm

    I love Amira’s stuff. Good job scoring those!

    • littlecity May 22, 2016 / 5:31 pm

      Thanks duly passed on to the bargain hunter of the house!

  2. A Girl and Her Passport May 21, 2016 / 6:23 pm

    We have had so many people leave in the last year. I’m so over it. I was telling someone who has only been here a little of a year that you have to keep making friends or one day you will turn around and they will have all left! Awesome painting though! Happy walls!

    • littlecity May 22, 2016 / 5:32 pm

      Thanks – the walls will be happy. But yes, the summer exodus now appears to be a year-round thing… Hang on tight 🙂

  3. vinneve May 22, 2016 / 10:27 am

    Yes, it’s true. I feel the same way as soon 2 of my friends will leave me. Sad indeed. I agree with Tiffany to keep making friends. I like arts too and Emirates Palace has been showcasing some of it for free. If you have time please check my post about it. 🙂

  4. Dina Honour May 22, 2016 / 7:52 pm

    Thanks for the shout-out. I always thinks it gets easier, but it really never does.

    • littlecity May 26, 2016 / 4:13 pm

      To quote Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can (something I do more than is perhaps healthy): I concur.

    • littlecity May 29, 2016 / 3:35 am

      The pleasure’s ours, Amira. Glad our paths crossed when they did, and best wishes for your new adventures!

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