I remember the first time I said goodbye to Dubai. I had been in the country for three months and had to go back home and wait for my work permit, which was an iffy thing three decades ago. I remember standing in the office that had promised to employ me and looking out the window, at the line of cranes that dotted the skyline, the towering buildings shimmering in the afternoon heat and thinking, “Wow, will I ever see this again?”
Dubai was my first taste of real freedom. Of being away from the shackles of my former life, a violent marriage, and the cultural chains that bound me. In my mid-twenties, I suddenly found myself answerable to no one other than a particularly annoying boss, and it was delicious. I took abra rides, wandered around huge malls longingly, ate an obscene amount of biscuit ice-creams, and met a hundred different nationalities who amazed me, frustrated me, and made me laugh and cry in swift succession every day. It was all gloriously, fabulously unreal, addictive, and I never wanted to leave.
But I had to. After two years of trying to find the right job, failing, and being paid a pittance for my work and skills, I had an offer from Bahrain, so I decided to take it. Saying goodbye to Dubai was hard…really hard. I was misty-eyed on the flight to Bahrain and I was absolutely certain life there would not match up to the glitz and anonymity that Dubai had offered. And it was my first experience of saying a goodbye that actually bothered me. As an army brat I was used to upping and leaving places, but this was a grown-up goodbye. And it was painful.
But Bahrain was not bad. The job was rubbish, but I got to say hello to one of my long-standing besties there, who now lives in Dubai. Bahrain was a short stint of just a year, the job was rubbish, so I hightailed it back to India to explore other options, and both my bestie and I cried at the airport as we said goodbye to each other. Back in India, I took a bank loan, said goodbye to Asia, and took off to London to begin an MBA, a course I now fondly (and aptly) refer to as my Master’s in Bugger All.
London was incredible. It still is. It is still the city that most feels like home. It is a place where old and new, crazy and sane, joy and heartache blend in the most potent way. It is a city with millions of people who care deeply about you and don’t care about you at all. It is the city I remarried in, and it was meant to be my forever home. The city taught me the hell and heaven that can be the entrepreneurial world, and I never wanted to leave. But, here I was three short years later, saying goodbye to my beloved London and the friends I had made there.
Then there I was, suddenly living in Jordan. Some job offers simply can’t be refused, and that was an eye-opener. To a world and friendships I would never have imagined possible – Running a magazine, meeting refugees and diplomats, royalty and students, and shopkeepers who welcomed my bargaining gene with open arms. I dined with a Bedouin chief and his wife in the desert under starlight, I listened to Khalil Gibran’s great, grand-nephew play the oud in my living room, I hung out with Palestinian refugees, and I found I didn’t miss London that much, after all.
Today, twenty-five years after leaving India, I have lived in seven different countries and moved house 18 times. I have rescued dogs and made friends in the oddest of places and seen things I shall never unsee. I have met people who have changed my worldview profoundly and seen things that have made me realize how utterly small and pointless I am in the grand scheme of things. I have made friends, lost friends, made money, lost money, made magazines and books, and walked away from them. And I’ve realized that the only inevitability that doesn’t change is saying goodbye.
Throughout our lives, whether or not we travel, the one thing we can count on is that we will be saying goodbye – a lot. To our childhood, some of our dreams, to lovers and friends, to jobs, places, relatives, pets… and it’s horribly painful a lot of the time. Human attachment to people and places is so very human. But here’s what I learned. When life sends you down Goodbye Creek, it inevitably stops you at the Hello Pier. And that’s actually the best thing about saying goodbye. You get to say hello to the new and unexpected. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, as I have been on a few occasions, you get to say hello to the people and places you once had to say goodbye to, and there’s just nothing better than that.
So here I am writing for Aspire, saying hello to Dubai in such a special way after leaving it over two decades ago, and thinking I like goodbyes after all. J
Sangeetha Shinde Tee is an author of four books, editor of 3 international magazines, an acclaimed healer, and reluctant entrepreneur. She is also an unconventional traveler, rebellious truth seeker, and inveterate animal rescuer working on her fifth book, a collection of ghost stories from around the world. Find out more about her life, books, and work at www.sangeethashindetee.com