I was outside Spinneys when the apocalypse began. The clouds had been hanging heavy over Dubai all afternoon, waiting to burst. I had been warned about this by my colleagues: tales of flooded streets, floating cars and soggy devastation. The first terrible drops hitting the back of my neck were all it took to enter panic mode. In a blur of action not seen since… well, ever, I grabbed enough supplies to survive an ice age and ran headlong into the night.
Already the gutters were vomiting brown water into the roads, and my feet plunged in ankle-deep as I fled. ‘You idiots!’ I felt like shouting at the people who were staring out at the rain from under the Spinneys canopy. ‘Flee for your lives!’ I arrived home to find my flatmates similarly drenched, also holding their own supplies and considering the best way to barricade against looters. And then the rain stopped.
That was in November 2008, and since then I’ve learned that, despite what I’d been led to believe by other Western expats, Dubai doesn’t actually fall apart whenever there’s a thunderstorm. Sure, some shoes may be ruined and people either drive at one mile an hour or a hundred miles a second (stopping distance be damned!), but it’s not all that bad. In fact, it’s brilliant. Sadly, not all expats – particularly those from Western Europe, where rain is an everyday occurrence – are able to see it at first.
After all, in a city where mental barriers of language, belief and culture fragment the populace into self-involved, largely independent micro-communities, it takes something spectacular to bring everyone together. And in a place that’s dominated by sun 352 days a year, that something is rain.
Look at the groups of people from all over the world who gather in doorways to watch the storm, or the ones that dance in the street. Look at the people waving to each other from their balconies as they share the joy of something that is, when you think about it, quite an extraordinary experience. Look at the kids playing on Jumeirah beach, or cycling through puddles in uneven car parks the morning after. Look at families gathering to enjoy the rare weather in little tea shops in Satwa. Even the overcast drizzle that fell lazily over Dubai in mid-December had its charms, the overcast clouds lending the space-age grandeur of the Burj Khalifa an imposing gravitas.
Rain, eh? It’s really not the end of the world.