As I write this piece, I’m sitting poolside watching Janah – my eldest – taking part in another intense swim-squad training session. Recalling the Abu Dhabi heat when I arrived, I’m now tempted to jump in and cool off alongside her . . .
“Call me when the driver arrives,” I told Tarek, grabbing my little girls by the hand and walking back in through the doors of Abu Dhabi International Airport.
I could hear Tarek laughing, the sweat dripping from his forehead and his T-shirt soaking wet.
“I warned you about the heat,” he replied, standing on the sidewalk and flagging the company driver who was parked some distance away.
“You warned me?” I snapped as I continued to walk back inside.
What he should’ve told me was to spend the day at the spa, shifting back and forth between the steam room and sauna, catching the cool blast from the air-conditioned room separating them.
No one can really prepare you for the sizzling summer temperatures when you move to the desert. In Arabia we spend three to four months of the year indoors. Spring is usually from March to May but temperatures really begin to soar in early May, jumping from 33°C and often reaching highs of 47°C – it’s at this time you see families rushing indoors, back into air-conditioned rooms, desperately looking to find new ways to entertain their children. Swimming in the sea is not an option as the water temperature also begins to rise.
We begin to see the weather cooling slightly in late September as we head into autumn. From October to December the temperatures drop significantly; it is a little cooler in the winter months but there is no blizzard. However we often have to deal with the harsh sandstorms; breathing dust while the sandy grains exfoliate our skin. For my friends who live in a villa, the most common complaint is the amount of sand blowing under their doors and through their window seals into their homes. I don’t see any reason why they complain; they all have maids to clean up the mess.
Looking back on my first summer in Abu Dhabi, I think I handled it well considering I was 32 weeks pregnant with two small children demanding to be picked up and carried.
There were times when I opened the fridge, reaching for a bottle of chilled water or lemonade. Without pouring it into a glass, I placed the bottle to my mouth and just guzzled it, desperately trying to quench my thirst. “I can survive this,” I told myself. “Get a grip.”
In Sydney, we often experienced heat waves – air-conditioners stopped working and as a child I remember my father turning on the garden hose so we could play with the water. At lunch mum often placed a large bowl of watermelon on the table and told us to cool down.
A few weeks after I arrived in Abu Dhabi, I had a sudden burst of energy and the need to go outside and take the girls for a walk. I could no longer sit, cooped-up in a small hotel apartment with two little girls bouncing off the walls.
I bundled them into a stroller, we put on sunscreen and hats, and I began pushing them around the city. Men and women stared, looking back at me as though I was mad. While everyone else was seeking shelter in air-conditioned apartments and offices, I was heavily pregnant and pushing two little girls around the city.
As I walked further and further into the city, I realised that Abu Dhabi streets were not pedestrian friendly. Motorists refused to stop for anyone at a pedestrian crossing and the street curb was high, which meant I needed to use all of my strength to lift the pram off the road and onto the footpath. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea. Janah and Serene were fairly quiet during the walks, Serene would fall asleep while Janah sat still observing the people and the stores. When I felt tired, I’d seek refuge in an air-conditioned pharmacy or supermarket, catch my breath and continue on my way.
Back at the hotel, when I turned on the cold water tap and ran the water for the girls’ bath, the water was so warm – on most days I would pour cold bottled water into the bath to cool it down.
I’ve been in the United Arab Emirates now for six years – no one ever really gets used to living in these conditions but over time you learn to adapt. Those who can, leave for most of the summer while schools are on break and families that stay behind find themselves trawling malls, in play centres or cooling off in Ski Dubai.
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