Are you sweltering under the current UK heatwave? Spare a thought for those in the desert…
“If you get through your first ‘Dubai summer’ then you’ll settle in the city,” the recruiter said to me before I took off on an eight-hour flight to the Middle East.
“Oh, and beware of the sandstorms, too.”
Sitting next to a nurse, who was quickly running out of pocket-sized tissues, I decided to turn her attention from tears to tales.
“Have you been to Dubai before?” I asked her, hoping she could shed some light on this enigmatic city.
She had. And she was making her way there to live with her husband after months of going back and forth from Scotland to the United Arab Emirates. Leaving her life behind as a nurse for the NHS, she was preparing to nurse the Middle Eastern world instead.
“What’s the heat like? Will I cope?” I asked, firing questions at her.
As a pale Scot, the sun and I hadn’t exactly always seen eye-to-eye. The summer of 2001 was a particularly painful one: I found out the hard way that a waterpark under the Portuguese sun will most likely result in several (huge) blisters. Subsequently followed by a holiday spent in bed, drinking water, slapping on Aloe vera – all with the curtains closed.
“It’s HOT,” she said, while widening her eyes and clocking my Casper-like skin colour.
“I would suggest you avoid the sun. But, if you must, invest in a lot of factor 100.”
The next morning I left my hotel and tried to hail a taxi from the street. It was mistake number one. As someone who was ‘fresh off the boat’, I wasn’t going to survive standing on the street under the Arabian sun for more than five minutes. It was the end of September, on the cusp of winter, and there was sweat running down my thighs inside my black leather pencil skirt. I had one burning thought: how will I make it to summer?
I prepped myself. I wore sunscreen every day. I changed my dietary habits (one coffee in the morning instead of two, and then lots of water). I even dabbled in spicy foods (they make you sweat!). And I monitored my time in the sun. I couldn’t avoid it all day, every day, but I could bask in its rays on the weekend. I learned to truly love the sun, sand and sea.
But, the thing is nothing prepares you for your first ‘Dubai summer’.
Nine months in, and the heat was rising. Every morning, before hopping on the metro to work in the business district of DIFC, I could see the sun preparing for its peak.
And then it happened: I walked outside and couldn’t see.
Like some kind of unexpected salon experience, I was met with what felt like 100 hairdryers blasting my skin. In an instant, a clammy sweat clung to me, covering my entire body. My hair stuck to my neck. My sunglasses steamed up so much that they no longer did their job. All within seconds.
I had officially entered my first ‘Dubai summer’.
The following day, Dubai became a ghost town. The beaches were deserted, the highways were less chaotic and the pools were lounger-free. People had packed up and headed for more bearable heat elsewhere (like the UK).
I stayed. It was 46 degrees and a rumour swirled that if it hit 50, everyone could legally leave the office and go home.
It’s incredible how quickly we adapt to changing climates, and react to nature’s unpredictability. For the next few months, I learned to survive. Keeping my focus firmly on winter (usually a cool 25 degrees), I learned how to spend a lot of time in hotels and shopping centres, and always opting for the shortest and quickest travel routes possible (long walks were not an option if I wanted to see my next Christmas).
And then the season turned. Trust me, it’s worth the wait.
As I eventually adapted to a new culture, surroundings and life without my family – so, too, did my skin. Don’t get me wrong, I will never be that person who lies out in the sun all day, developing a lovely, even tan. I don’t tan (I do, however, go a lovely darker shade of cream) but neither do I want to.
After life in the desert, I can safely say I’m sun savvy – and nearly sweat-free under the British heatwave.