Even after five summers in this city, the heat takes me by surprise. I can’t resist taking a picture of the temperature on the car dashboard and uploading to social media with a few predictable words, like ‘Bit hot today!’ All my Dubai friends like the post in solidarity, as it makes us all feel better to share the misery. And then a month later, we wander what on earth we were complaining about when the underground car park reaches nearly 50°C.
Writing this takes me back to my first ever summer in Dubai. My husband had just arrived in the city to a new job and I was visiting to get a few things sorted before I made the big move myself. ‘It’ll be a bit hot’, he had said on the phone. ‘Oh yes’, I replied ‘obviously!’, before making a mental note to buy a higher factor sun cream and maybe throw in a wide brimmed sunhat.
It was a bit chilly on the day I left home and made my way to the airport, so I wore sheepskin boots. And on exiting the airport Dubai side, I experienced that (now all too familiar) blast-in-the-face of heat, which felt like I’d stumbled into a giant fan oven. It only took me a few seconds to realise that a wide brimmed sunhat wasn’t going to cut it – and everywhere I looked, people were looking down at my boots and sniggering.
On that same trip, left to my own devices while my husband was at work during the day, I decided to dash across the road to grab my lunch in the supermarket opposite. It was pretty steamy outside, but I decided it was worth it for some human company. And as I walked into the empty, silent store and felt the relief of air conditioning, the shop assistant looked at the checkout operative in surprise, before gingerly approaching me with a leaflet. ‘Did you know we did delivery?’ he said, looking baffled by my behaviour. ‘No need to come out in the heat!’ he added, as he thrust the leaflet into my hand. I tried to ignore their bemused looks as I spent a good 20 minutes browsing the shelves to put off the inevitable dash back to the apartment. Cans of tuna can be fascinating in a different country, but I’ll be honest, it’s not really how I imagined I’d be spending my holiday.
Having children a few years later gave summer heat a whole new spin, of course. Life transformed from ‘let’s spend our afternoon in the park, on the beach, or wandering along promenades under the shade of palm trees’ ‘to the inevitable ‘I give up, let’s go to soft play’.
Where do I even start on soft play? I do everything in my power to make the children forget they exist during the cooler months (‘Where, darling? No, Mummy has absolutely no idea what you are talking about!’), to making actual, real life, concrete plans to visit them when the warm weather hits.
So this summer, I have had enough – and we are escaping the heat to fly back to home shores for a few months. And as we exit the airport and I feel the cool breeze against my skin, I’ll no doubt feel relieved that the inevitable cycle of soft play has come to an end.
And then it’ll start raining and everywhere I look, people will be looking down at my flip-flips and sniggering. Because some things never change.