10 The countdown
At some point in the lead-up to visitors arriving, I make a terrible mistake and tell the children that they are coming. It may be a few weeks away or it may be a matter of days – but one thing I can guarantee is that the countdown will henceforth be filled with shrieks of, “Are they coming today, Mummy?” when they wake every morning, tantrums when they fail to walk through the door, and forlorn glances in the direction of every object in the sky (yes, even the skydivers) with the words, “Is that Granny and Granddad coming to see us on the plane?”
9 The arrival
A little like birthday parties and the festive season, small children and too much excitement never ends well. Visitors usually come laden with gifts (usually sweet and edible), which only adds to the hysteria. At some point, the kids crash and our visitors look shell-shocked, clearly wondering whether a hotel down the road might have been a better idea.
8 The plan
We want to visit the most beautiful beaches, take them to the best brunches, and take them on road trips to show off the splendor of the desert at sunset. It’s a constant battle between “I’m proud of this wonderful city!” and “How are we going to squeeze school, nursery and swimming classes into this back-to-back schedule?” It’s like we’re on holiday for a while – until the school-run traffic in the morning reminds us pretty swiftly that we definitely aren’t.
7 The expense
Of course, these elaborate plans don’t come cheap – and whilst our visitors have saved their dirhams up for months beforehand to enjoy their holiday, we have to squeeze it into the usual budget. I see my husband visibly wince when the bill arrives at the table after enjoying a four-hour brunch en masse. He’s definitely wishing we’d gone to Carrefour and made a round of cheese sandwiches. The visitors are beaming ear to ear, of course – but they have just enjoyed an eclectic spread of sushi, spring rolls, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and unidentifiable colourful jelly in teeny glasses. Who wouldn’t be delighted after that?
6 Missing in action
While all this is going on, our everyday friends are forgotten. Regular play dates dropped, nights out put on hold, and coffee dates abandoned. If we lived back home, our friends would be putting out missing person alerts. As we live in the desert, they roll their eyes and mutter, “They’ve got visitors”, knowing they’ll be in the same boat the following week and it could be months before we see each other again.
5 The lack of space
Two extra people shouldn’t make us feel claustrophobic in our own homes, but just a few days into their stay, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to sit in our lounge, there definitely aren’t enough mugs in the cupboard, and the washing machine seems to be on a constant cycle.
4 The food consumption
That’s not to mention the amount of food and drink being consumed – usually noticed at 11pm when I am trying to make packed lunches for the following day and realise there is only one slice of bread and a black banana left to play with. Thank goodness for midnight deliveries.
3 The exhaustion
The exhaustion usually sets in by day two or three. We had such great intentions – but there we are sat around the TV ordering takeaways and watching re-runs of Murder Mysteries from the 1970’s as everybody is being too polite to take control of the TV.
2 The reverse countdown
As far as the kids are concerned, life is perfect – but they’re expat kids and they know it won’t last forever. “How many days are left?” they wail on day two or three, while tears prick their eyes from the awful anticipation of being left alone with their (dull, boring, horrible) family. As the days tick by and their anxiety increases, I almost feel guilty for looking forward to having my washing machine and mugs back to myself. Almost.
1 The goodbye
Goodbyes are the worst thing about being an expat. Goodbyes when you have children clinging to a family member’s legs as they attempt to get out of the door with three suitcases are even worse. For a good hour afterwards, while a child sobs in my arms, I vow to return to my home country to avoid the awfulness of it all.
But then I remember I have something sugary in the cupboard, the child stops crying, and life returns to normal. Until the next time, that is…