Exchanging the desert heat of Dubai for sub-tropical Texas
Calls to prayer have been replaced by deep-throated croaking frogs
Learning to live a cowboy life: Sarah McKevitt with her daughter Izzie in Houston.
Summer is the time for change. International moves tend to be scheduled to take place over the school break, to allow families time to settle into their next location, before the new school year resumes.
Our “Houston landing”, as it is now known in our family, took place three years ago. We flew in the dead of night through a spectacular thunderstorm. Like a flick book animation, pulses of electric white lightening episodically illuminated the city below us, as we hurtled and jolted our way through the clouds.
I had never seen so much water, even with the relentless rain so familiar to my Irish upbringing.
We had exchanged the searing, desert heat of Dubai for the heady, sub-tropical humidity of a Texan summer. Deep-throated croaking frogs and the rattle of Acadia beetles, chorused unseen in the densely-foliated bushes of our new suburban home. It was a change to the regular call to prayer from the mosques that had surrounded our home in Dubai.
A lurid green anole lizard stared at me unblinking through the kitchen window. Dispassionately flaring its bright red bulbous throat, it was so completely unlike the sand-coloured Arabian geckos who had scurried across the walls of our villa in Dubai. I knew we were somewhere completely different.
Every time you leave a place, you take a little part with you when you go. Four years of living in the UAE had brought us amazing opportunities. We made good friends and had the chance to travel in the region. We had experienced first-hand the culture and the cuisine of the Middle East.
So when we moved this time to the US, we yearned not for traditional Irish fare, but for the dishes that had become more recently familiar to us. In the city of immigrants, these were easy to find.
As America’s most ethnically diverse, large metropolitan area, recently affirmed by Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston has developed its own eclectic food scene, each ethnic group bringing with them their distinctive cuisine.
We were delighted to find fresh Levantine or Middle Eastern Manakish bread, made with cheese and Za’atar, a spice mixture of dried thyme, sesame seeds and sumac berries. Shawarmas filled with char-grilled meat and Um Ali, a creamy sweet bread pudding, flavoured with cardamom and sprinkled with roasted pistachio nuts brought us back to our days in Dubai.
Now we can include the southern Tex-Mex and Louisiana Creole dishes as our local favourites. These include tamales, barbeque and smoked brisket as well as gumbo, crawfish and sweet beignets, heaped with powdered sugar. Pho noodles, a legacy of the large Vietnamese population, are a healthy alternative and are also hugely popular here.
Texans are fiercely proud of their identity and there is a vibrant cowboy culture. A quintessentially Texan experience not to be missed is riding out from the ranch at dawn for a cowboy breakfast skillet, cooked over a mesquite fire. It is a great way to understand the spirit of the Lone Star State.
This summer’s migration is marked by the annual curbside appearance of 40-foot shipping containers. For some of our Houston friends, it is time to pack up a lifetime and move on again.
This means repatriation to Australia, Malaysia, UK or the Netherlands for some. Other more adventurous postings to Kazakhstan and South Korea offer new horizons with different challenges.
Sharing a meal is a simple pleasure. It is an expression of welcome and also a form of closure when it is time to say farewell. It is what brings people together and builds a community. We eat together when it is hard to say goodbye and appreciate the times we have shared.
In Ireland, on our trip back home this summer, I am looking forward to fish and chips or a bowl of seafood chowder with some good soda bread and a glass of Guinness.
What I will value most will be the time spent reconnecting with family and friends. A convivial gathering over a drink or a meal is something that can never be replaced by Skype or messaging.
In a world of constant change, we appreciate the important things that enrich our lives: friendships, family and good food.