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Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 15 October, 2019
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Opinion: Here I go again, back to Riyadh. My life has changed so much in just ten years...

Back in 2004, my wife and I were anticipating the arrival of our second son and I had just set up my own business. Then the financial meltdown hit.

Noel Scanlon

SITTING IN BAHRAIN Airport the other day, waiting for a flight back to Riyadh and sipping on a cold beer, that old familiar feeling returned that I know so well. Here I go again, back to Riyadh, starting back to another year in the Kingdom, and reflecting on how transient and different and sometimes lonely life has become in the last few years…

July 2011, I left Ireland to take up a posting on a remote military base in Afghanistan. It’s now three years later, I’m working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and life is so different to what it was ten years ago.

I can only describe the last few years as a mixture of adventure, relief, grief, a sense of a transient lifestyle, sometimes loneliness – always interesting but, to be absolutely frank, a world completely turned upside down from where I was ten years ago.

Back in 2004, I was married, I had just set up my own business, I was dad to a two-year-old son and was anticipating the arrival of a second, was about to go on holiday to Lake Garda in Italy which turned out to be a fantastic trip abroad that summer. I can still remember having Daithi perched on my shoulders heading off for pizza in the warm evenings.

This is not where I now compare life to the present day and bemoan the cards I’ve been dealt – that is of no use to me or, indeed, to you the reader. I actually believe I’ve been fairly fortunate, though the ride has certainly been rough at times and like many things, some aspects are positive, others not so.

The repercussions  of the meltdown continue

The financial meltdown from 2008 was a massive blow to Ireland, and its repercussions are still being felt, though there are now signs of recovery in parts, primarily the greater Dublin area and also Cork. This is certainly to be welcomed, though I personally would have concerns about other Irish towns, such as Limerick for example, where recovery is somewhat slower. I belong to an industry that was effectively wiped out and will take some time to recover properly back home.

My experience of the years from 2008 to 2011 was of running a business which was less than five years old and seeing turnover literally collapse by 80% in two months. It’s only now when I look back that I appreciate how dramatic that was for business owners up and down the country, and the effects it had on families and local communities – right up to this day and beyond, in the form of failed businesses, unemployment and for many of us, emigration.

When I finally gave up on the business in 2011, after doing as much as I possibly could to keep it alive and to also re-invent myself for other roles, it came with a huge sense of failure – that I had let my staff down, my family down. You deny it and try to battle on, but it’s actually a huge sense of failure which can lead to a dark place if it’s not addressed.

A new focus on the future

Emigration has been a way back, a sort of redemption, a return in confidence, not something I had anticipated in the first year when based in Afghanistan. With confidence, comes perspective again and a new focus on the future. I have recovered a lot of lost ground financially, thankfully, and have relocated here to Riyadh since 2012 with an Irish company; I have much to be grateful for, which I am.

The change is challenging, there is very little one can do about it other than adapt. Here in Riyadh, its very transient – people (particularly ex-pats) come and go fairly regularly; it’s incredibly hot (43 C this week); it lacks a sense of place for a lot of us; and its culture and societal norms can take a lot of getting used to by comparison to other nearby countries. I have formed new friendships and relationships, and I’ve sadly lost others, but life is going on and there is much to look forward to also.

My boys are growing bigger and smarter, the banks now write polite letters to me (wasn’t expecting that and, to be honest, I don’t take it too seriously either), I get more time off than I used to in my own business, I’ve visited a lot of countries I never expected to and have come to understand the Middle East so much more than I did before. On the other side, yes, it’s been a struggle at times, I really do miss home and look forward to the day when I can return and re-establish a life in Ireland. Now there’s something to look forward to.

Noel Scanlon is a father, design manager and blogger from Sixmilebridge, Co Clare. He took up an appointment in Afghanistan in July 2011 as a result of his business collapsing and the challenging economic conditions at home and later moved on to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where he now works. He tells his story in his regular blog, A Long Way to Go for a Sun Tan.

Column: ‘Life for an Afghan is random, ruthless and unforgiving’

Read: Bring potato cakes and a wad of cash: Advice on moving to London

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Noel Scanlon

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