When I signed up for this job, I had very few certainties. One of them was that I’d have to forget all about having a weekly routine.
I could forget about weekdays or weekends. Now, everything blurs into each other until you neither know or care what day of the week it is. This also meant giving up on any normal, public holiday I have had for the past twenty four years. Naturally, this includes Christmas.
Now, a small aside. As I may have mentioned in passing, I’m a sensitive person. Things like Christmas lights or the smell of mince pies or the occasional Christmas song issuing from an ad on TV make me feel better. They make me feel like I’m a part of something bigger than me, something beautiful which is happening around me. This is Christmas for me, a time when my little world is blanketed by this beautiful layer of happiness and cheer. When everything’s beauty is enhanced not only because you dress it up in lights or holly but because you yourself see things differently. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic who is in a situation to perceive everything differently for the first time. All I know for sure is that these last few weeks, I couldn’t put on Coldplay’s Christmas Lights without starting to cry with the first few notes. Christmas has always been a time for family and friends. To be surrounded by the people you hold most dear in life. To be thankful for having had the opportunity to see another Christmas in each other’s company. When I came to Dubai, I knew I’d be saying goodbye to all this. Of course I knew. But it was August! Christmas was a lifetime away and I wanted to let the next day worry for itself. I never gave it a thought. December started creeping forward. I found a small Christmas tree in our storage room. I took it out, set it up. Bought baubles and tinsel and lights and I’d switch it on every night. And although I was happy I was actually doing something to get into the spirit, it felt pathetic. If you who are reading this have ever visited my home in Christmas, you probably know why. My house does not look like a christmas village. It becomes one. It’s an amazing display of wreaths and lights and holly. Nothing garish, just plain beautiful. And here I was in Dubai, with one small Christmas Tree, with one set of christmas lights (it started out with 4 colours, ended up with two) and three stockings. And then, to top it all, I had a flight on Christmas Eve with a 48hr layover. So I wouldn’t just be sending Christmas away from home but I was spending it with a bunch of people I hardly know. I don’t think I need to go into details about how I was feeling. It felt sad.
In Dubai I am living with two amazing girls. Alexia and Chanel make living there that much bearable. They are my family and I’m not saying this just because we share a roof and the occasional bowl of chocolates or bottle of wine. I say it because I have genuinely come to love them. They make going back to our apartment feel like going back “home”. And I am eternally grateful for that. I’m mentioning this because they have contributed to make me feel better in the days leading up to Christmas and knowing I have a couple of days soon to spend with them and our friends is an amazing morale booster. But on those crucial days, around which everything hangs, I wasn’t even going to be with them, maybe we’d have watched a Disney movie or spent the time pigging out on something. I had a flight. I would be away from them too. When I got up from a miserable three hour sleep to get ready, I took a deep breath and told myself that it could have been worse. And that got me through the first part.
In Maltese we have a famous saying, tinfaxxax rasek qabel taqsamha. It goes along the lines of, don’t try to heal a wound before you even get it. Never has it made more sense than it has now. My flight was to Dublin in Ireland, my first time there. I knew they were big on Christmas. So big, they close the airport on Christmas day. Everything would be closed; pubs, bars, restaurants, shops, parks. So I arrived, after a very good flight, carrying lovely passengers back to their home country. At Arrivals, there was a choir of people singing Christmas Carols to welcome the last passengers back for Christmas. Everyone was smiling and almost everyone was wearing Christmas hats or some other sort of decoration. I just couldn’t help it, I was smiling so hard it hurt and all I could say was “Is this for me?”. When you’re feeling low and something so unexpectedly touching happens, your mood soars. The crew was a lovely bunch of people too, easy to talk to, easy to laugh with. Two days passed and I just can’t recall one moment when I thought to myself, “what the hell am I doing here?”, something I was dead certain I’d feel. We went out, a Greek, an Egyptian, an Argentinian, a Japanese and a Maltese on the streets of Dublin, laughing at the horrifically strong winds which blew us away, delighting at the quaint pub we decided to have lunch at, happy at the fact that we weren’t alone. I was walking on cobbled streets (never take that for granted. The texture of the path under your feet tells so many stories), feeling the bitter cold, hearing traditional carols and everything was lit up so beautifully. Then you hear hooves on the pavement and an old fashioned horse drawn carriage appears around the corner like something out of a Charles Dickens novel. The magic was tangible. I remember walking through this very irritating drizzle, carrying two heavy shopping bags which threatened to rip any moment, exhausted, battling this fierce cold wind, almost lost and thinking, I should be miserable right now. But I wasn’t, and I smiled like a complete, wet and tired idiot, squinting in the dark for a familiar landmark, happy at how all the unpredictability was turning in my favour. And then, before the night wore out, a Greek and a Maltese sat down to a couple of whiskey glasses and talked and talked about anything and everything under the sun and I know, although we did not say it aloud, that we were both so grateful to be clinking glasses at midnight on Christmas Day in someone else’s company, however limited our knowledge about each other was. It somehow didn’t matter.
I skyped home on Christmas Day and I couldn’t stop chattering about everything. I’m telling you, it was horrible. My parents barely got a word in. But they smiled quite a lot. I loved it because I was genuinely OK with being here. It’s not home but circumstances made it what it is, a good Christmas, despite the odds. A different one, true, but change is not necessarily for the worst. I woke up to so many beautiful messages from home that distance suddenly stopped making a difference. That, what I can’t do now because I’m not physically in their presence, I can do later. Christmas is after all just another day. My hugs, my kisses, my gifts won’t be given on the 25th. But that doesn’t make them any less precious or genuine. They’ll just have to wait a little while longer. It’ll just increase the anticipation, and I hardly think that that is a bad thing after all.
I hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas. I do hope you were surrounded by the people you love and cherish the most. But if you’re far, wherever you are in the world, know that there’s always someone thinking of you. And in their heads they’re squeezing you so tight, you might just feel it across the miles. I know I did.