I wasn't just leaving a place, I was leaving something much bigger and harder to detach from.
It was April 2016. Exactly last year, just a couple of days before leaving the UAE. We had felt the nudge to move for a long time but couldn’t really figure out why.
Hoping to make sense of this home (of 32 years) that I couldn’t really call home, I took my camera and went out for a final sunset drive in an attempt to say my goodbyes to all my favorite places. I went to the tea shop by the port in Abu Dhabi, an all-time favorite, hoping to capture something genuine, authentic and giving before leaving.
Nothing great came out of it. And I was really disappointed.
But while filming outside the tea shop with labor workers, an ordinary looking stranger eyed me from the shadows, with a cigarette in his hand, cooling off his hot tea.
“Are you a professional photographer?” the man asked in Arabic.
“Nah, just doing a little bit of filming,” I replied, annoyed by his interference.
"You must be leaving this place soon,” he said.
I stared at him in shock for a few seconds. “Excuse me?"
"Cigarette?" He asked.
“Sure. But you need to tell me—how did you know I was leaving?"
“Oh, one can always tell, habibi. I was here long before this country was born and I can always tell if someone is about to leave. I could tell from the way you were taking your photos. Are you having a hard time letting go of something?"
This strange encounter made me realize something. I wasn't just leaving a place, I was leaving something much bigger and harder to detach from:
The man I wanted to be. And it was shattering all things that had defined who I was; #myabudhabi. The attention I got because of where I lived and what I did. The people I’d rubbed elbows with. The opportunities to stand out and be popular. Being one who saw it all when it used to be a desert. Being part of the "melting pot". The small pool where you can be the unique big fish. If you've lived in the UAE long enough, you will know what I'm talking about. I took a look back and thought about what I was leaving behind. I was not willing to let go of all that. I was protecting myself with it. But my ego was slowly breaking and I was trying to hold on to the pieces as I dropped into a free fall.
Talking to that stranger was like a conversation with an angel at the empty tomb—Why do you seek the living among the dead? What a timing. I knew this next step of transformation ahead was going to be really hard. But something about that mysterious encounter made me feel, for the first time, like we would be okay.
It only took me a year after moving to finally realize how much this was needed. How much holding on to that ego—my false self—was holding me back from my own heart, my true self.
I asked if I could take a photo of that man as the last thing, and the only thing, I wanted to capture of Abu Dhabi.
All rights reserved. © 2016 Ray Haddad.