There is an urban myth in this part the world that you can cook an egg on the pavement in the full height of summer. I don’t know about that, in fact, apart from comparing the heat to the sensation you get upon entering a sauna (so very original) I don’t really know how to adequately describe it. What I can say is that it manifests itself in complete and utter frustration, almost panic. In an underground carpark walking towards the mirage that is the mall-entrance, your mind races… “will we make it to the door? will we?”. Leaving the kids to dash into the supermarket is not acceptable and I never did it in New Zealand (excuse me while I clear my throat) but if I couldn’t do it at home I most CERTAINLY won’t get away with it in Abu Dhabi. Unless I fancy my kids fanbaked.
The temperatures at the moment are “only” in the high 30s, early 40s – we are told to expect to break 50 at least two or three times before September’s out. These predictions are so ominous as to be terrifying, especially when the only discussion people are having at the moment is the one that begins “when are you leaving?”. Radio advertisements skite about super-low airfares to Outtahere with jingles like “prices so low they’ll go like icecream in the sun”. Even the Egyptian women I’ve met through school are fleeing back to Cairo for relief to the tune of 35 degrees. When people hear we are staying put, they give us a look like they might never see us again – or at least never see us the same again. On the up-side, I’m told the traffic is a breeze on the deserted streets and that one can get downtown in 5 minutes; nevermind that it’s unlikely ever to be unnecessary given that everything is closed during Ramadan and the steering wheel is too hot to touch during daylight hours.
But the strange thing about the heat is the cold. What I mean, is that with the temperature SO hot outside the only solution seems to be to cool everything indoors to just above freezing. Hotel doors open and the cool air forces its way past you and through you, in a gust worthy of any Wellington southerly. You go from burning up to breaking out in goosebumps. This creates a dress-dilemma of not inconsequential proportions – loose clothing (and mostly cold all day) or jeans (and screaming in overheated agony for a series of 5 minute intervals)? It’s madness to carry around a jacket, but believe me, you actually have to in this country.
We experienced the heat in Samoa, probably not too dissimilar to what we’re living with right now, but there was no air-conditioning to speak of. Unless you count nature’s answer to air-con; being the ten-minute downpour which floods the streets and drenches you from head-to-jandals (oh how I remember the squelch-squelch walk). In Samoa, however, we soon acclimatised. But I don’t think it’s possible to acclimatise to this sort of heat (and certainly not when you only experience it when shuffling from the car to the door). It seriously makes you respect that anybody has survived here at all. Here is a quote from “Dubai: The Story of the World’s Fastest City” by Jim Krane.
“It’s a forsaken landscape, this Arabia Deserta, with more in common with the planet Venus than with Earth…Those who eked out a living [here] were, until about fifty years ago, among the planet’s most undeveloped societies. No one envied their existence of perpetual hunger and thirst, nor their diet of dates and camel’s milk”. And from the diary of a British administrator in 1949: “They have enjoyed the safety of the undesired, and have lived lives to which a hundred generations have specialized them, in conditions barely tolerable to others”.
More observations tomorrow (though don’t hold me to it!)