On Leaving Dubai…Again

In Hoi An, May 2014.

I

n my mother’s living room in Cyprus, you’ll find a number of boxes and suitcases gathering dust in the corner. In the majority of the boxes you’ll find books; Kerouac, Márquez, Wilde, Thompson et al, all packed up together. Among the other belongings you’ll find battered old shoes, my highly-prized collection of earrings, and clothes that I’ll probably never wear again. A whole lifetime in Dubai, packed up with no place to go.

And I’m about to do it all over again.

This will be the second time in two years that I’m selling everything, packing up and leaving Dubai. Am I crazy?

Quite possibly.

Back in 2012 I decided to do the very same thing I’m doing now. At the time I was living in Dubai and working in Abu Dhabi, which was a gruelling hour and a half car journey away. Hellish daily commute aside, my job was also driving me crazy with boredom.

The pay, however, was great; it afforded me things I was never able to buy before and it also helped me to travel more. But I quickly realised that there’s little to no point in earning good money if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing. I would literally wish the days away and I lived for my weekends.

I didn’t want to exist like that.

I therefore decided it was time to make a change. A bold change. I was on the cusp of turning 30, so I was getting a taste of how quickly time passes if you’re not careful.

Selling all my things the first time round.

Selling all my things the first time round.

I always said I wanted to travel the world, but I never thought I could do it alone. That’s what being brought up in a Cypriot household does to you – women who travel alone risk being murdered, chopped up by gangsters or sold into slavery.

But then I started reading solo female travel blogs such as Adventurous Kate and Never Ending Footsteps and these bold ladies opened my eyes to a whole new world. I spent an entire weekend holed up in my apartment reading these blogs, my heart pounding from excitement and anxiety.

After a bit of soul searching I decided I was going to do the same. On June 18th 2012, I quit my well-paid, corporate job and declared I was going to travel around the world. I sold my car, got rid of my apartment and most of my belongings, booked a ticket and was ready to go.

Then fate stepped in.

Three nights before I was due to head back to Cyprus to see my family before my big trip, I stumbled into a Dubai bar without knowing it would be one of the most life changing nights of my life.

While at the bar, Ankit approached with a friend. “Nice biceps,” I said to him.

“Thanks,” he replied.

Yes, those were my first words to him. The grandkids are going to have a riot with that one.

After exchanging numbers, we met up in a shisha café a night later. With a clear, sober head I knew straight away that he was someone special. But all I could think was WHY oh WHY couldn’t I have met him a few months earlier.

I had spent the previous five years in Dubai, single and disillusioned by my train wreck of a love life. I had sworn off men and decided to focus on me and me alone.

“It will happen when you least expect it,” my mum would say sincerely down the phone as I’d roll my eyes.

“Yes, sure,” I’d bark back, tired of the usual platitudes.

Turns out, she was right.

At that specific point in my life, nothing was more further from my mind than meeting someone. My head was full of all the amazing places I was about to see, all the cocktails I was going to consume, all the breathtaking sunsets I was going to witness.

All my books, still boxed up in Cyprus.

All my books, still boxed up in Cyprus.

The only man that was in the picture was the hot Cuban I had dreamt up. We were going to dance salsa, drink mojitos and enjoy Havana together. Or something.

And so I met Ankit. We spent three poignant days together, enjoying each other’s company while knowing that I was leaving. I couldn’t quite believe that I had met someone who I not only trusted instantly, but who also made me laugh and happy.

After a very tearful goodbye on the back of an Etihad shuttle bus at 5am in the morning, I left for Cyprus.

But that wasn’t the end.

When I arrived home I found a message from him in my Facebook inbox, and from that point forward we were in touch every single day for the three months I was visiting my family in Cyprus and the UK.

In November 2012, I booked my ticket to Bangkok, where my adventure would begin. I was to fly via Dubai for two weeks to ‘see my friends.’ I’d be lying here if I didn’t say that one of the main reasons why I wanted to come back to the city that I had just left behind was the rather handsome Indian guy, but I honestly wasn’t anticipating what happened next.

After seeing each other again, our feelings were more than clear. We spent every possible minute that we could together for the next 10 days. I had never felt this way about anyone before in my life. It was the most exhilarating, happy and poignant time.

Our first picture together...with my drunk friend in the background. Cheers.

Our first picture together…with my drunk friend in the background. Cheers.

I vividly remember lying awake in his arms as he slept, my head resting on his chest. I had never felt so loved and cared for by a man, and as I lay there listening to his heart beat and his loud snores, I wept, silently, because I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him.

Once the tears started rolling, they wouldn’t stop.

Who was this person? Andrea, who up until this point had never had her life dictated to her by anyone, let alone a guy she’d just met a few months earlier? Impossible.

“I don’t want to leave Dubai anymore,” I nervously BBM’ed my best friend Karen back home in the UK. Karen was my biggest cheerleader at the time; she was so excited for me and my travels. I knew that if anyone could give me an honest answer on what to do it was her.

“This is so not like you hun! That means something. Follow your heart,” she pinged back.

And so I did.

Fast-forward to almost two years later, and I’m about to embark on the exact same journey…only with a great man in tow.

I never in my wildest dreams thought that I’d end up doing the exact same thing I had set out to do a few years back with Ankit. Selling everything to head for a life of uncertainty isn’t for everybody, so it honestly took me by surprise when he decided he no longer wanted a life of 9-5pm working for others.

It seems like we have a lot more in common than we first thought.