What It’s Really Like to Live under the Arabian Sun

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Nobody can really prepare you for life in the Arabian desert. Oh sure, they can tell you to bring your sunscreen and prepare to scuttle in and out of the air conditioning like a beetle between patches of shade.

But my God, that sun.

I’ve read that solar power will be the new oil fields in the Middle East—and if that’s even remotely true, I can believe it. From the moment I wake the sun is there, by turns bleaching the color from this muted landscape and touching its more brilliant elements with fire.

You want a rainy day? Forget it. Clouds? Maybe for an hour or two. Storms? Be prepared for a beach of sand on your balcony.

And let’s not talk about air conditioning …

Since the day I’ve arrived I’ve practically been a prisoner indoors: jumping from my air conditioned guesthouse, to the air conditioned bus, to the air conditioned metro, to the air conditioned shopping complexes, each accessible via air conditioned skywalks over the streets, so no one has to set foot outside.

Of course, not every part of town is so well endowed. The place where I sleep, the Dubai side of Al Nahda, on the border with the neighboring emirate, Sharjah, has no skywalks to be found. A trip to the grocery store or the nearby Sahara shopping center will cost you the sun’s standard fare: a dripping-wet body, an empty water bottle and a trip to the washroom to refresh your deodorant upon arrival.

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I try to understand how people lived here for thousands of years before air conditioning. All I can think is that they knew how to hydrate. And how to value the shade. And those lightweight, white and black garments that everyone wears? Well, there’s probably a ventilation secret to that, too.

In the U.S. I never spent much time in air conditioning. In fact, I used to carry a sweater with me everywhere even in the middle of summer, because I hated the air so much.

But here, I crave it like everyone else. I run. I dodge. I scuttle toward the next door, craving the first blast of A/C that gives me goosebumps as I cross the threshold.

Or if I am out, walking in Al Nahda for example, I find myself dodging across the street again and again to walk in the small patches of shade I can find.

It would seem that the beetle and I, we are more one than ever. I am less likely to squash him on the sidewalk—because we are both under the same sun. And we are both slaves to it.

Back at home, the concept of “the sun” really meant so little to me. Sure, it was beautiful and I loved it. But here the sun is so much more than an enhancement to my day. Here, it is the fiery ruler of the sky, the overbearing taskmaster whom no one could forget even if she tried.

I am reminded of the verse in Matthew 13:43:

Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father. 

Once I would have considered this a beautiful, poetic sentiment. Now I realize it is also a declaration of power, of force and strength that demand to be reckoned with.

Anything that shines like the sun—if it’s the UAE sun, at least—must be full of blinding glory.

I dream of that day. And in the meantime, I’ll keep chasing the A/C …

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