How to make friends

I remember leaving Paris when I was twenty after spending a final week with the friends I'd made at Trinity college Dublin, selling newspapers to fund our dinners out staying with the strange girl Gabrielle befriended who had some sort of eating disorder that made her show up at restaurants after we had finished our food to eat from our plates. Saying goodbye was actually heartbreaking. I thought, I will never have this time with these people again.

Flash forward 36 years and I am leaving Abu Dhabi after 2 1/2 months, an experience I view with a mixture of horror and laughter, an incredibly difficult, ridiculous roller coaster. But kissing Melissa today, both of us in tears, standing outside the coffee shop where I found refuge after the daily insanity of our jobs as English teachers in an emirate's girls high school, hearing her tell me I should tell my husband to take care of "her Molly" I realized I had been allowed to make those sort of desperate, wonderful friendships you form when you are raw and hopeless. Melissa's cubicle desk was next to mine and on really bad days she would peer through the hole and I'd see these huge, beautiful eyes and we'd both laugh and make ourselves a coffee because, well because, otherwise we'd cry which all of us had done on several occasions. One morning I said hello to wonderful Helen and she burst into tears. Her son was struggling with having left his life in England and she was having a bad day but really it could have been anything. We were that sensitive and homesick.

Lest we all sound mad, let me tell you that we were working for terrible, bullying, ridiculous administrators who sent abusive daily emails and made threats and worked us to the bone. Schedules changed daily, people were given extra duties, substitutions, weekend work and lunch or prep periods barely existed. And so we tried to stay sane with brunches and a desert safari, a day spent swimming and hanging about, friendship that I haven't known since college because I had a kid and husbands and normal jobs. I wasn't a lonely, homesick ex-pat. Friendships where you don't have to do more than make a face and the others knew what you were thinking.

What else? Another wonderful friend who has a much more settled and happy existence  who constantly took me to things, a weird water park full of semi-suicidal rides, Ferrari world where we went on the second fastest roller coaster in the world, a picture capturing Laura and I with our hair streaming back, centrifugal force creating wild facial expressions while Laura's man looked bored and leaned on his elbow as if the speed meant nothing. She brought me to Sharjah where the blue souk and the antique stores promised great shopping and her man bartered the merchants down to nothing. Mostly, she made me feel safe and cared for in a country that I found difficult to manage, a country where being a woman and a foreigner meant you needed friends. And what a friend she was.

I can't imagine not seeing these people again but I couldn't stay another day despite their love. I have a wonderful husband and a son here in Chicago, parents in New Jersey, other terrific friends back here. But I will cherish and keep these people in my life even if we never see each other again or it's years. How can I forget Shala wrinkling her nose at the Lebanese restaurant and poking a piece of meat and saying, "what is this chunk?" A question delivered with such attitude I started laughing and nearly choked to death. Or Susan screaming as we dune bashed on our desert safari, getting up to belly dance and telling stories in her fabulous Hull English accent. Or Peter describing how all the girls scrambled to cover their hair with their "shalas" when he walked down the hall or Helen telling me about some ridiculous comment made by an administrator, or Melissa calling me "noodle" after we had a comic series of exchanges on FB about getting our hair cut and eating noodles or crying as we said goodbye. There is much more and I feel so lucky to still be able to have a life that includes mad travels and dear, dear friends old and new.


  1. I remember the taxi ride to the coffee shop at Al Wahda Mall .. our chats .. Desert Safari and your speciality coffee shop .. a woman he will be with me forever .. an honour to have met


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