The streets are silent, but for a man in orange sweeping the curb and a gardener in grubby shalwar qameez dragging a rusty lawn mower behind his bike. The joggers and dog walkers are nowhere to be seen. Even bus children wait in the air conditioned zone on their front doorsteps until the last moment when the school bus toots. Outside has become the wild frontier – only the strong, mad or unfortunate will brave it.
My day revolves around thirty second walks between my car and cooled venues. I leave early and ensure I arrive in time to secure a good carpark at my destination. Others flout the rules and double park wherever they please, knowing the parking ticket is worth it to avoid the long walk in the heat. Not that there are many parking inspectors on the job anyway.
On the radio, the news reader reminds us to check our tyres for tread and inflation. Bitumen can get to 70ºC on days like this, hot enough to cause a second degree burn in 1 second, and of course cause tyre blowouts. I am also careful not to leave my purse in the car when I lock it – not because of theft, which is a rare occurance here, but because my credit cards could melt.
Today I brave Karama. The folks back home want a collection of good cheap knock-offs. Even the polo shirts hanging outside on racks are hot to the touch. Inside they have the AC set to max. A haze of humidity gathers at the door where the temperatures clash, and no matter which way you are walking, you end up damp on the other side. My handbag man gives me a cuddle upon sealing the deal, and he recoils in soggy horror after accidentally touching my sweaty shirt-back.
At pick-up, all the parents run from car to school foyer, where we wait illegally till the last moment. We have been instructed not to clutter the public areas, but the thought of waiting outside is sickening. Small talk with other mothers has all but ceased. Our sedentary indoor lifestyle provides little in the way of news and anecdotes. Besides, the heat makes us tired.
Everyone is tired. We get no sunshine and are all vitamin D deficient. We are lethargic, moody, and our viruses keep circulating in the perpetual air-conditioning, so we are all sick.
There are those who work outside, and they are sicker, with heatstroke, never-ending headaches, urinary tract infections, high blood pressure, and other effects of extreme heat and dehydration. Heat-related deaths are not unheard of. Outdoor labour is banned between the hours of and 3:30, but this is often ignored. I see them in their blue overalls, wet from the shoulders to the waist, faces stained with dust and salt. They wrap scarves on their heads in meager protection – I wonder if it actually makes them hotter. At the traffic lights, from my air conditioned car, I see them peering through my windows, and I wonder how they can keep the malice from their tired stares. After all, I may not be their boss, but my life in supports this employment and everything that comes with it. Sometimes they even smile, and it makes me want to cry.
At home, I put on a new DVD for the kids, and we break the Lego construction from yesterday so we can start again. We play foozball, UNO, build cubby houses with chairs and blankets. I bake, and blog, and then blog about baking, and eventually, in our boredom we slump on the couch and eat cupcakes.
On the weekend we go to malls. We shop, walk, ski, skate, abseil, play pinball, take rollercoaster rides, and terrify tots in playcentres, all in malls. We eat in the malls. We buy things we don’t need. We stop for coffee we don’t want. It’s all expensive, and every moment we look forward to the day we can get back in our pool. For it remains in the central yard of our compound, a tempting yet deceitful cool blue colour, but hotter than a bath.
This week we have visitors – friends of my parents. We were supposed to go out Tuesday, but Margot was struck down by the suffocating air and spent the first 36 hours doubling and tripling her asthma medication so she could breathe. We finally make it out on late on Thursday evening, relatively cool at 36 degrees, and are actually able to have a drink outside at Madinat Jumeirah when a freak sea breeze wafts in.
I wonder why people visit Dubai at this time. And I wonder why the UAE tourism board promotes visits. Everyone who comes at this time of year hates it. All they see is the malls and the haze. They boil, and then seethe at the money they have wasted on such a ridiculous stopover. There are some that don’t seem bothered – the crazies of course, loons I can see sitting outside on the “Big Bus Tour’, or the die-hard shoppers, just here for the festival. And then the naive, who let the tour companies take them out for a simmering desert experience. Even a stroll around the gold souq is enough to topple the unseasoned. They miss out on so much – the beaches and crystal clear water (which is now about 40ºC), the souks and Bastakiya, strolling around the waterway under the Burj Khalifa, the JBR Walk, the Marina, dhow trips, desert camping and the mountains and wadis, and just ambling around the back streets of Deira around the Naif souq. They go home and tell their friends what a hole Dubai is, poisoning it’s reputation.
If only they came in March….But it is a stopover, isn’t it. They’re all on their way to Europe for the summer, joining up with cruise ships, escaping the monsoons to the east.
The lucky leave this season behind, migrating north to milder climates, or south to a winter we never see here. Those who remain may tell you that summer is not so bad. The seasoned laugh at us newcomers. We are weak and intolerant. And it’s true, Dubai’s Summer does put one more in touch with the soul of this amazing place. We do live in a desert after all. And for some reason, while swinging in my hammock outside in the evening, sweating out the toxins of my man-made, interior-spent day, in Dubai’s free daily sauna, I do feel that the Muezzins always sound better at this time of year. I really DO live in the Middle East.