Between bunk beds and palaces

How Nicola made her home on the sea.

Liverpool native Nicola Duffin has just moved into her forever home in Texas with her Texas family. She also has an English family, which she misses. And when she says things like “I miss my family”, her Kids go “but we are your family!” And that’s true. They are her family. But there is also an “original family” and normally we don’t make the distinction between original family and “now” family, because they tend to live close to each other and are one big happy family. But when they are on the other side of the ocean, you suddenly make that distinction because you try to explain to your family that there is another part of the family far away that you miss occasionally – and that doesn’t mean that you love your “now” family, your husband and children, any less. And if we all stayed in our villages and towns, which we grow up in, lived in multigenerational houses, we wouldn’t have these issues.

But Nicola knew when she was quite young that she wanted to see the world. Therefore, she decided to set sail on a big cruise ship and join their salon crew, after she had trained in the United Kingdom to become a hair stylist. She spent five years on six different cruise ships. Often she was constantly gone for nine months. The ships became her home and the international crews her family, she says. She shared a cabin with one, sometimes two other crew members. She says, she didn’t mind that so much since they had different work hours and weren’t always in there together. “But three in one cabin was tough at times”, she says. “And I was not lucky: I always got the top bunk. On every trip, whenever I walked into the cabin, there was always someone there already and had chosen the bottom bed.” She says, it wasn’t so much the sometimes 70 feet high waves that made her not like the top bunk. “I just didn’t like having to climb up and down there all the time.”

But the high waves definitely were an adventure. On her worst trip weather wise, things were crashing around the room and the tv fell off the wall. “That was on the Atlantic Ocean between Canada and London”, she remembers. “It was rough! We were at the bottom of the ship where you feel everything much stronger.” But that trip – a cruise around the world – was also her favorite trip. “We saw a lot of Europe. And I loved Scandinavia!”

They often had lots of time in the ports. So she explored and went on adventures like Sky Diving.” She saw the world and many places where she could have imagined staying and living. But the ship was her home and the crew her family. “I felt at home on the ship. We had a crew bar and celebrated holidays. I made great friends – some for life.”

The ship’s crew and passengers were international. When she looks back at it, she laughs: “Just because I’m from the United Kingdom, so many people would ask me if I had met the queen or knew John Lennon.” No, she has not met the queen. But she worked for Sheik’s, when she left the ship and made Abu Dhabi her next home.

Because after five years on the ship, seeing the world and entering three to four different ports a week, she got tired of living on a ship and wanted a more permanent home. It so happened that she chose to work in Arabic Abu Dhabi. “That was about 25 years ago and it was a shock”, she recalls. “I really didn’t think people still lived like that. It was eye opening, such a different culture.” It was so different from anything she had known, the Western world with its shopping malls and entertainment.

She quickly was introduced to some of the Royal family. “For some reason, they like English people. So I went to the palaces regularly and did the Sheikhas’ hair. Not all the palaces are as fancy as you would think. But one had a guard and four villas – one for each wives. Yes, the Sheikh had four wives and I would go from villa to villa to do their hair.” She often went out on their Yachts and had helicopter rides for fun. And she loved to join them for dinner as they would always have feasts.

Since the customers also wanted facials, Nicola convinced her sister to join her in Abu Dhabi and they worked together. But after eight years in the country, she met her American husband and together, they moved to Texas. Her sister stayed in Abu Dhabi and eventually moved back to London. Nicola likes Texas because the weather is similar to what she had been used to in the Arabic country. It still took her about a year to really settle down. And my home didn’t feel like my home for about three years. But she made an English friend in Texas, who understood her cravings and sometimes longing for things from home. She celebrates Christmas the English way and keeps some parts of her English culture alive in her Texas home. Nicola has lived in the Lone Star State for fourteen years now, became an American Citizen, raised two children who feel American, cannot imagine moving back to England, but still calls it her home.

“I definitely do feel English.”

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