But I'd like to tell you the story behind it first.

My parents left Sri Lanka when I was six, and we moved to the Middle East where my father had been offered a job. For the next twelve years, I considered Dubai my home, even though we all knew we wouldn't be allowed to stay there. Expatriates couldn't get citizenship - that only happened if you had Arab blood or were rich enough, and none of us qualified on either count.

In other words, when my father reached his sixties, he would have to retire, which meant his employer wouldn't sponsor him and he wouldn't have a residence visa. Which meant the rest of us would be sent packing as well. Many of my parents' fellow-expat friends, aware that this applied to them as well, treated Dubai as a stepping-stone to the States or Canada. They eventually emigrated.

My parents didn't (though I've wished many times that they did). Instead, their plan was that either I or my younger brother would study in the States, get a job there, get citizenship and then sponsor them in their old age. My brother and I knew about the plan from day one.

But you know what they say about the best-laid plans.

At first it all went like clockwork, and I was accepted by the University of Georgia for my bachelor's degree. I was alternately terrified (because that was the first time I'd been completely on my own) and exhilarated (because that was the first time I'd been completely on my own). Different though life in the States was to my sheltered upbringing in Dubai, I loved every moment of it and wanted to live there forever.

I went to the University of Texas for my graduate degree, because it was understood by everyone that I had to get a PhD. But soon I had the first sign that perhaps plans, even those we've cherished for a lifetime, don't always work out. I didn't pass my qualifying exams for a PhD and had to settle for the consolation prize of a Master's.

My mentor was disappointed. My parents were disappointed. I was quietly mortified, because if I hadn't spent so much time writing a novel in my spare time maybe I'd have passed. Still, I would have a Master's degree. I looked forward to graduating, getting a job, getting citizenship and all that.

It was August 2001.

To be continued...