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Hiba Essa Al Ateek: Leaving the pity party
February 27, 2015
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Three months ago at an almost empty café, I sat enjoying my café crème, my heart so full after discovering an unexpected gem at the bookstore. My navy bag filled with books was rested on the empty chair next to me. I intended to write (read, stare into space and people watch) a chapter for my book (the one I was to write someday – it was fun to pretend I was a writer) before I picked up groceries for dinner.

A middle aged French woman sat next to me. Initially, we exchanged a few smiles but soon enough we started a conversation in sign language and frenglish. It must have been hilarious to observe. I explained that my husband and I made the move to Paris as a part of his medical residency program and we had four years remaining in the beautiful city.

I was then asked, “But you…what are YOU doing in Paris?” I couldn’t miss the emphasis even if I wanted to.

“I’m studying French,” I replied with an ear-to-ear smile obviously very proud of myself.

“Tres bien! Bravo! And then after... what will you do in Paris? Rien? Nothing? There is so much you can do and learn here.”

“Well not exactly nothing, no....” I was suddenly in a claustrophobic knot. Speak French fluently I guess and no longer live in misery dealing with the language barrier. That was my goal in Paris, right?

And suddenly, I got a clear image of what people saw when they looked at me. I probably looked lazy or even better, uselessly busy as I strolled around the city of Paris practicing my French accent and sliding liaisons without a care in the world (well, except preparing dinner).

My reply got all tangled in my thoughts and I stuttered a little before I gave up. A little voice in my head spoke with pity: I have an MBA and I had a very promising career at a bank. I’m not a useless member of society.

I sat with my husband that evening and nagged endlessly about how I had so many dreams but I did nothing about them for reasons out of my control, or so I liked to believe.

Being the practical person that he is, he asked, “What reasons? What happened to all those goals you had? All the inspiration you had planned for when we moved to Paris?”

I got a flashback of the days when I sat behind my computer punching numbers on my calculator as a full time employee. A time when I dreamt of having all the free time in the world and imagined all the ways I would fill it by doing all those things I put on hold while I focused on my studies and work.

I dreamt of starting my little own café with a crepe corner and a reading corner. A place filled with books that always had coffee dripping in the kettle where writers and readers gathered to discuss their passions.

 “Well, you know, I’ve always wanted to write. I have this story. I know it doesn’t look like it but I really do. A travel memoir of my Parisian adventures or maybe it’ll be fiction. But I didn’t study English Literature. I want to take baking classes and master the art of French cuisine! But I’m not sure where. Plus it’ll probably clash with something else. I want to take photography courses but they’re probably all too advanced for me.”

I heard myself out loud and realised the big pile of excuses went on and on and had already taken control of me. It was hard to swallow the truth. We could have started a pity party.

I didn’t want to be the person that was okay with not following their dreams when I knew I had all the support I needed from those around me.

I knew I couldn’t wait for Siri to give me directions or a fairy princess to wave her magic wand.

Even as I type this, I sound like I’m completely in charge and that I’ve got it all figured out but the truth is, on some days, I work so hard on hushing up that loud voice in my head that yells out the million reasons I can’t do this one task.

All those excuses paled in comparison to the thought of crossing things off my bucket list. Milestones are being met and celebrated with caffeine, dreaming bigger and writing braver. 

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Hiba Essa Al Ateek is an Emirati woman who swapped the
corporate world in Dubai for life in bustling Paris. Hiba is a
self-confessed coffee addict who, for the remainder of her journey
in France, is determined to master the French language and discover
what it really means to be a Parisienne in the 21st century.

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