Searching For Comfort in Discomfort

“To go in search of what once was is to postpone the difficulty of living with what is.”

– Barry Lopez

My movements are slow and rhythmic, as the paddle dips in and out of the smooth surface of the water. There is not a breath of wind. The metallic clang of buildings being pulled up from the earth in a never-ending cycle of sound is drowning out the peacefulness of dawn, softened only by the cooing of doves fluttering among the mangrove trees. I hug the shore where they form a dense island of green as close as the outgoing tide allows. It feels like I’m gliding through the warm flesh of a giant peach.

The experience of constant movement, be it for work or pleasure, is very much part of both Emirati and expat identity in the UAE. In the past the inhabitants, both Bedouin and settled communities, moved with the seasons between grazing areas or from the coast to the inland oases. The men would go pearl diving or join trading voyages, and in the early years of oil discovery work in Bahrain and Kuwait as migrant labourers. As the country grew rich from its own oil reserves, and expats came in search of a better life, adventure, and work opportunities, the seasons were tied to contracts or holidays, instead of summer and winter.

The constant flux of movement for those of us who call this country home is like taking a breath – a normal part of life. One we struggle to live with during this imposed stasis. The tightening and loosening of rules change like the tides, pulling and pushing at a world population that is linked in ways that used to be invisible, but has become pronounced and amplified.

For the first time since the formation of the UAE in 1971, the border between the emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi is closed. At the moment, to enter Abu Dhabi emirate you have to show a negative Covid-19 test result on a tracking app, and although Dubai has opened up its doors to tourists on the 7th, the rest of the country hasn’t. Travel is not encouraged, and although rules differ slightly depending on which emirate issues your residence permit, the list of requirements range from applying for permission or registering with the government all the way through to a negative test result before leaving and re-entering. Combined with a mandatory 14 day self-quarantine when re-entering the country, regardless of the results, the complications and risks, for me for now, simply outweigh any desire to travel.

My mornings out on the water at sunrise will have to serve as a substitute. It is a good alternative, as the rhythmic movement of my arms allows my mind to break the confines and limitations of my physical space and wander freely. I will most probably dream of distant places for as long as I live, but for now I am working hard at getting comfortable in the discomfort and uncertainty of the present.

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