As soon as our boy was born I wanted him to grow up in Ireland
We’ve had a wonderful decade in the United Arab Emirates, but now we’re coming home
Johanna O’Connor: I want our boy to enjoy cups of tea at the kitchen table with his granny and grandad, and walks up the mountains with his parents on a Sunday
When I left Limerick for the Middle East, in 2007 – a time when the idea of a recession was laughable to most – I never imagined the decade that lay ahead of me in Sharjah, a little-known member, not far from Dubai, of the United Arab Emirates.
I reported for duty at my new school of 4,500 pupils and it was there, on my first day, that I met Simon, who is now my husband.
One year turned into two, and two into three, and every May, when the annual contracts came out, we hummed and hawed over whether to stay or go. Ten years later we are finally biting the bullet and moving home to Ireland.
Life in the UAE has been a wonderful experience. The expat community is a tight-knit home from home. We have seen Sharjah become an oasis in desert under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
My husband and I decided early on that we wanted to travel as much as possible, and we have been able to take short flights to places like Sri Lanka and Zanzibar in the same way that people at home nip over to France or Spain.
We have loved teaching children from all over the world, each with their own stories. We have made good friends, then seen them move on, as is the nature of this transient population. We have loved spending days at the beach or enjoying Dubai’s famous brunch scene.
Travelwise, careerwise and financially, the decision to stay was an easy one, especially when things were tough at home and we saw our friends and neighbours lose jobs and pensions.
We lost faith a bit in the Irish government, and the thought of what we would be moving back to was disappointing, to say the least.
It was easy for us to buy a house in Sharjah and still have a good standard of living.
We missed Ireland every day. Sometimes it hurt so much you’d cry. Anyone who has lived away will tell you that. It’s especially true at times like the 1916 centenary commemorations, when you are watching it all on RTÉ Player but it is just not the same.
Our families have visited us often, and we have gone home religiously twice a year, but I have missed the sound of laughter and the thirst for life that only Irish people have.
When I gave birth to our son, in March, everything changed. There was a cosmic shift in our mindset. Throughout my pregnancy I had noted what a great life the baby would have growing up in Dubai, amid skyscrapers and people from all corners of the globe. He would be able to enjoy the beach every weekend for eight months of the year.
Giving birth here was a fantastic experience: the hospitals are like five-star hotels – and my midwife was from Donegal, so the care was obviously top notch.
But as soon as our boy was born I wanted him to grow up in Ireland. It was like an epiphany; it has changed everything for us.
I want him to enjoy cups of tea at the kitchen table with his granny and grandad, and walks up the mountains with his parents on a Sunday.
I want him to appreciate Irish music and art, and the beautiful history and literature of our country, which sometimes you can only truly find and appreciate in Ireland. I want to take him to plays, museums and rugby matches.
I want him to go hurling with his friends and learn Irish at school. We want him to grow up with all of the things that we took for granted but never will again.
Money means nothing without culture, family and identity. The things I want for our son not even an Arab prince can afford.