"Why I sent my wife and kids to live halfway across the world from Dubai"
As crazy ideas go, this one was right up there. Probably the craziest of all. I unfolded the large world map I had just bought from Borders, and stuck it on our kids’ bedroom wall. The three of them, aged 9, 6 and 5, each threw one plastic dart at the map. Two landed on the bed. The third landed in Bolivia.
“We’re moving to Bolivia,” I explained to our shell-shocked and confused children.
Two months later, on August 6, 2018, we landed in La Paz, Bolivia, a country we have never been to, barely heard of and knew absolutely nobody in.
Two days later, Joe, Evita and Savannah began their first term at Highlands International School (without speaking a word of Spanish), while my wife and I frantically looked for a new house. A week later, I was back at work in Dubai, to begin a two year stint of commuting between continents every six weeks to see my wife and children.
So let me explain…after raising children for eight years in Dubai, we had realised by 2018 that things were not exactly going to plan. To be blunt, the kids had become spoilt materialistic brats. We are by no means rich, though not poor—yet my kids were convinced they were the poorest in school.
We didn’t have a private pool. Our semi-detached villa in Umm Sequim was, well, not fully detached. It was my wife, not a chauffeur that drove them to school each morning.
Kids weren’t happy. One iPad wasn’t good enough, they needed three. My son soon wanted an iPhone and an Apple Watch, just like the ones his pals at school did.
By 2017, he was a walking advert for Nike. “Don’t get me Asics running shoes, nobody has heard of them,” he once explained to me. On my 50th birthday, I treated everyone to business class flights as we headed to the Maldives. On the way home, all three kicked off at the humiliation of having
to fly economy.
Worse still, I realised that family life in Dubai—with all its trappings and temptations—was a fast way for the family to become disconnected.
“Daddy’s lounge” in our house was my room only. I had my Samsung curved TV, Arsenal memorabilia, and various pictures of, erm, myself.
My wife, Branka, had her own office/lounge, which I occasionally popped into, where she displayed her photographic work. And as for the kids, they had each commandeered their own spaces in our 5,000 square foot villa.
On February 2018, the day of Evita’s sixth birthday, she told me: “It’s nice that we all having dinner together tonight.” Before disappearing into another room.
And so we decided it was time for a radical change—and two years out of Dubai. I don’t necessarily think we were bad parents, but a combination
of circumstances and location had possibly started that process. We decided the only way to choose where to go was the dart board idea, and they would move to the first country the darts choose that wasn’t a war zone.
I had been hoping for New York or Paris…but fate is fate.
Difficult as it was for me to willingly choose to be thousands of miles apart from my family, the results were soon spectacular. A month after settling into school, my son joined a street performer’s class in downtown La Paz, where he would perform jokes (in his broken Spanish) to random crowds
in return for cash—which he would then use to buy himself a weekly treat.
At Christmas, all three kids decided they would hand over all the expensive gifts I brought over, to the street children who lived nearby our apartment.
They had all very quickly learned the value of money. If anything, I was the one guilty of splashing the cash and wanting five star treatment each time I visited.
Actually doing any kind of sports had been a strict no-go for all three of them in Dubai. Why bother playing soccer in the heat when you can get on a PlayStation in a fully air conditioned lounge? After a year in Bolivia, one of my daughters had been chosen to be part of the Bolivian National Gymnastics team, while Joe—or ‘lazy Joe’ as I would call him—is this weekend doing trials for the regional tennis team.
For the first time ever, all three are achieving school grades good enough for me to boast about on Facebook, not to mention they are all now fluent in Spanish. We are miles apart, but in a strange way we have never been closer. Possibly because I have never been more proud of them.
Of course, this adventure will end by next May, and they will return to life in Dubai. Question is, will they slip back into their old ways, or retain their new found culture and humility? Well, kids are so adaptable I fear it’s the former. The test of whether I am a good father will be if I can make sure it’s the latter.