I remember the seats. The hot leather on my legs and the faint smell of the dusty, dry sand. If I close my eyes and really clear my mind I can just about remember the bus pulling out of the complex and heading to school. Big school, proper school as a mere pup, just 3 years old, growing up in the sand dunes. Every time we land in a hot climate I feel like I am transported back into my early childhood, that hot dry air that kisses the skin on tops of your cheeks as you step out of the airport or onto the steps down from the aeroplane doors, and that overwhelming desire to breathe in the heat and let its warmth flood your body with an instant feeling of contentment. A summer baby who feels happiest in the sun.
Even now, on a balmy British August day, as the midday sun is at its strongest, if I hop into a car with leather upholstery I have this overwhelming recollection of going to school in the desert. Sandy track roads and my mum waving goodbye, clutching my sister on her hip like a baby koala.
We moved to the Middle East before I could walk, a baby of a Gulf Air engineer who wanted us to experience what life would be like living abroad and working hard to save to one day come back to England. An opportunity we can't see in the future for us and our boys with our work so entwined with our home. There's times when I feel like I remember so much and then so little about our time as an expat family, I pour over photographs and can remember the mural my dad painted opposite the kitchen window so we had something pretty to look at and the rooftop washing line that gave you a glimpse over the painted houses full of families and fellow Britons who had moved out to the United Arab Emirates to work for the airline.
I can see it was a happy time, even though I know it was hard for my mum to travel back to see my grandparents with me a wriggly toddler, and my sister growing in her tummy and then when there were two sisters to squeeze into the aeroplane bathroom and a big bump, that we didn't know was my brother, for the final few trips back and forwards. I look at our golden skin, bare feet and everyday snaps full of sunshine, blue water, days out to the zoo and celebrations. Birthdays at the beach, Saturdays at the Pool Club and smiley faces on the swings at the local park, chatting away to children quite happily despite not speaking the same language.
There were so many firsts for me when we lived and holidayed in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Dubai. It's a part of the world the boys have never seen and it would be incredible to mark some incredible milestones now they are old enough to really remember them. To stand at the top of the world's tallest building and watch the sunset twice racing up from the lower floor to the top of the Burj Khalifa, to see the landscape for themselves, to be hit straight in the chest with that powerful emotion of feeling so small amongst such vast and impressive architecture.
Since we left when I was just shy of my fourth birthday, the skyline has been transformed, a city buzzing with prosperity and tourism but I believe the essence of Dubai is firmly at it's roots. A haven for those craving quality time with their family and a city of endless possibilities.
It would be a meal of a lifetime for the boys to eat under the Arabian stars, to taste the flavours of the Middle East, to sit, admire and respect the stillness of the desert. To appreciate the pace and intensity of the city as well as the peacefulness of the sand dunes, when you stop in the four by four tracks after hurtling down a mountainous dune. I remember my mum and I feeling a rush of adrenaline right from the tip of our toes to the top of our heads in a second when we had a 3 night holiday together before the boys were born. That tingle of exhilaration in your finger tips that makes the hairs stand up on the backs of your arms when you tell someone the story.
It's easy to think of Dubai and be overawed with the incredible glamour of the magnificent hotels, celebrities photographed walking along the shore at the beach, and the luxurious lifestyle of the seemingly wealthy visitors but I think there is something for everyone. Those craving the jaw dropping fountain show at the Dubai Mall to those who want to get lost in the vibrant colours of the Spice Souk. I'd want the boys to see the hardworking side of Dubai, the history and hustle and bustle at the Creek and take a sail on an Abra across the water feeling the cool breeze that floats over the river, as well as the luxury and incredible wealth in the city that has produced modern wonders of the world. Walk hand in hand in between the narrow streets and explain why the buildings protect the people below from the scorching summer heat. Feel the side of the buildings for themselves and really see how people live and work in the city.
The intense heat in the summer lets you make the most of every minute of the day with shows and events starting later in the evening, and I know the boy's eyes would pop at the Wafi Light and Sound show. Last year we had our epiphany moment, that lightbulb that goes off in a parent's head while you are on holiday where you realise you have mini people with you! People who can appreciate being taken to a special restaurant and stay awake beyond normal bedtime routines.
They are at an age now where they remember the tiniest of details and all they really want is for us to be together. I would love for them to hear the thundering hooves across the Polo field. Take in the beautiful surroundings at the Polo Club, the anticipation and excitement for the game and the love for the magnificent animals. Eat a picnic on the grass, see the sport for the first time and let them be amazed at just how talented the Polo players are.
What I love about the Arabic culture is the warmth for families and inclusion of children. That children can be exposed to more grown up surroundings and enjoy them just as much. My parents took my sister and me to the races, stood in the stands hearing the cheers from the crowd as our eyes flickered trying to keep up with the surge of riders that zoomed fast, that for us must have felt like lightening speed. Living abroad isn't being on holiday forever, it's about really living, and being part of a local community. I look through the photo albums and I see normal family weekends, wonderful ordinary moments with best friends but with sand under our feet.
I think it's possible to have a taste of everything, even in a short time in Dubai. It has adventures from every continent on the doorstep but my wish is to show the boys that not only has so much has changed since I was a small girl and a young teen but also how so much is still the same. The strong sense of family, the warmth of the people, the local hospitality. There's a real sense of pride that you experience, for the buildings that have transformed the cityscape, for the food, for the history, for the never ending determination to make it the ultimate destination. That three decades on it offers the same new opportunities for families, couples and adventure seekers.
I guess this is a kind of before post, and a holiday with my boys would be the after! A whole new album of unforgettable firsts for us as a family to share with you.
This post is my entry into the Tots100/Dubai Dreams blogger challenge. Share what you'd love to experience on a holiday of a lifetime in Dubai before 5pm on the 26th May 2016 to be in with a chance of winning a 4 night family holiday with Dubai Tourism. There's an incredible bonus prize for one lucky blog commenter. So leave a comment on any of the posts entering the competition to be in with a chance of winning!