The hotel was mainly inhabited by offshore and rotational workers. The parking lot bordered a zoo which was home to a gorilla and chickens but mostly just smelled terrible. We had a one bedroom suite with a kitchen full of ramshackle supplies, a television with a reliable CNN channel and an unreliable Discovery channel. There was no working internet connection and nothing other than company offices and work shops even remotely nearby. I spent twenty two out of twenty four hours a day in that room, terrified by the lizards that sunbathed on the pavement outside our door and even more terrified by trying to use the complicated, often unsafe taxi system to do anything else. I devoured books on my Kindle, typed emails and blog posts into a Word document to copy and paste into browsers when we walked over to Joe's office after dinner for an internet connection, and became very acquainted with CNN's news reel. The unfriendly housekeeping staff would stop by daily, using a bottle to squirt bleach on the floor and then smear it around leaving the place reeking for hours. At night we would hear the quiet knocking on our neighbours' doors through the shutter like windows and a 'Bonsoir' in a semi-seductive tone - the ladies of the night doing their business.
However, the most frustrating part of the entire experience was the dribble of cold water that would come from the shower. After one failed attempt at washing my hair, Joe arranged for me to use his colleague's empty home in the afternoons for a hot shower, satellite TV and an internet connection. It felt completely luxurious.
July first, four years ago, we landed in Stavanger for the first time with our six suitcases. It was cold and windy as we made our way out to the pick up lane where Joe's boss and a colleague were awaiting us. It was a short drive to our temporary home, a 2 bedroom apartment on the edge of downtown. We were advised to head to the grocery store before 6 pm as everything would be closed on Sunday and then we were left to our own devices. The apartment was small, clean and functional and we were thankful Joe's boss had recently vacated it for his new family home allowing us the space as opposed to a hotel elsewhere.
We had television and internet and when it wasn't raining, I could walk into Sentrum and peruse the shops. I was nervous, not knowing any Norwegian and feeling out of place after two years in Gabon. Most of my time was spent writing on this blog and perusing rental listings.
We landed in Abu Dhabi after a strenuous 13 hour direct flight with a toddler who slept a mere 3 of those hours. A porter helped us with our six bags out to the taxi stand in the blazing 43 degree heat and we sped down the multi-lane highway downtown to our temporary home. It's a hotel with a proper front desk and friendly staff and most importantly, cool.
Our 1 bedroom suite feels small for the three of us. Jasper's bed hardly wedges between our bed and the closet, our suitcases litter the minimal floor space. The kitchen is equipped with two hotplates and two sets of cutlery and dinnerware. I ask for a third set so Jasper has something to eat off of. The television is mostly Arabic minus the standard international news channels but the Wifi connection is fine. The air conditioning is frightfully cold and is either on or off, despite the temperature gauge. We hear the traffic below us and the call to prayer several times a day.
In the middle of summer in the desert, it is near impossible to spend any amount of time outside and we're thankful for a large, beautiful shopping mall beside us. Jasper, used to spending a lot of time outdoors at playgrounds, doesn't fully understand why we can't play outside. I haul him every morning next door and let him loose in the open spaces of the mall. We wander the aisles of the massive supermarket in the basement trying to find things to cook with our limited resources. Too nervous to tackle the traffic, this has to do for now.
The early days are difficult no matter where one lands. It's lonely and overwhelming but also full of anticipation. Everything is new, every task a challenge. This time I'm forced to get out every day as being cooped up with a toddler is worse than the alternative. He needs to eat proper meals at proper times, there's laundry to do and energy (his) to be burned. In a way, I'm thankful for the distraction. On my third expatriation, I'm more confident in myself and my capabilities. I'm less nervous about making mistakes and less shy about asking for help.
I don't have any photographic evidence of these transitory periods but the memories are seared into my mind. The hardships of my first experience are comedic now and the ease of the second are appreciated. I wonder what I'll think about the third in a few years time, whether we're moving somewhere new, or repatriating? As practice tells me, this, too, shall pass.
I gave the blog a little facelift and there are some bugs and pages that need to be reworked. Bear with me.