The dos and don’ts of a Dubai summer

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– Bother straightening your hair. Within an hour you’ll look like a lion with a proudly fizzy mane (“That scene from the Lion King, where Simba shakes his head as he gets out of the pool, singing hakuna matata,” says my friend B. “That’s me and POOF!

– Leave your sunglasses in the car. The rim of your Ray-Bans will burn your face.

– Wear jeans. Peeling them off will feel like shedding your own skin.

– Be surprised if you find yourself in a shopping mall… again.

– Visit friends who don’t use their air conditioning.

 – Feel guilty for staying indoors all day.

– Think taxi drivers are rude for rolling their window up really fast to stop the hot air coming in.

– Forget to wear flip-flops until the moment you get in the pool, or you’ll find yourself hopping around like a jackrabbit on steroids.


– Brace yourself for third-degree burns when touching the car steering wheel after leaving your vehicle in the sun.
*Ouch* … “Oven glove!! Where are you?”

– Get used to buildings sweating as humidity condensation drips down the windows.

– Wipe your phone screen on your T-shirt before sending a text.

– Save yourself the bother of ironing your clothes. The heat and humidity will make you wet and crinkled anyway.

– Apply sunscreen before you even open the curtains.

– Towel off the wet patches that appear on the back of your knees.

– Vow to get up an hour earlier to enjoy the cool of the morning. And then oversleep.

– Take care walking in the mist (when your sunglasses steam up after getting out the car).

– Skip blow-drying your hair. Winding the window of your car down is like turning on a hairdryer and directing it at your face.

– Turn off the hot-water tank. The sun-warmed water from the cold tap is hot enough for showers.

– Wonder why the odd person out running or cycling during the day hasn’t died.

– Open your car window when you get in – breathing in the fumes in an enclosed space filled with super-heated dashboard plastics is like doing glue from hot vinyl bottles.

– Look out for ‘staycation’ hotel deals that are so good they’re practically carrying you inside.


A note on school remember lists

It could be because it’s the last week of term, but I feel like I have a mild form of dementia this week. I’m forgetting all sorts of school-related things. And, boy, do the kids let me know about this!

“Mum, you forgot everything today!” my oldest told me, as he burst through the door yesterday afternoon, the indignance chipping away at the edges of his voice. “My reading book … the zumbathon … money for Tanzania Day.” Never mind the equally long list of things I did remember.

“Well, you are nine now, big boy. It might be time you started remembering some of these things for yourself?” I suggested hopefully. He looked at me aghast, as though I’d proposed chopping him into little bits for dinner. DH glanced up from his chair in the corner, enjoying the distraction from his airplane manuals, and raised an amused eyebrow.

Last week of term and nothing is sticking in my memory
Last week of term and nothing is sticking in my memory

The thing is, there’s just so much to remember, isn’t there? Your child will need: an iPad for Arabic; an oversized white shirt for science; a costume for Book Character Day; a 3D model of the Ruler’s Court (okay, I made the last one up, but I know any mums reading this will relate!).

My friend A, who is frantically busy setting up her own company at the moment, told me she had a chicken bone soaking in vinegar in the kitchen for a science experiment on calcium deficiency, and had just bought plastic juice bottles to make lungs. “Tomorrow he needs recyclable materials to create artwork for the theme ‘a sustainable and happy society’ … and that’s just for the little one. Don’t get me started on the older brother.”

I gave her a wobbly, sympathetic smile, knowing that this is what I’m in for next year.

In our household, having two completely different schools makes the remember list even longer. I’d go so far as to say it adds a bi-polar element to our school situation (the result of a waiting list as long as your arm) – and this morning I found myself cursing my inability to stay on top of things.

Raising money for children with genetic disorders
Raising money for children with genetic disorders

It was Jeans for Genes Day at Son2’s school, necessitating the wearing of denim and a 10dhs donation (which had to be in 10 dirham coins, not a note, as they were going to use the coins to fill the outline of a pair of jeans). A great cause, and I was all for it. We picked out his coolest jeans. He pulled them on, and buttoned up his blue and white stripy school shirt at 7am this morning.

Big mistake – when we get to school, all the other kids are wearing T-shirts with their jeans.

Son2 bursts into noisy, guffawing sobs and runs away. I’m feeling mildy annoyed that he’s having such a dramatic reaction. But then, the teacher goes off to see if there’s a spare T-shirt, and half the class pours out the door like flood water, to stare at my son, who’s hiding round the corner. “A-ha, you’re not meant to be wearing that,” trills one classmate, pointing.

My words, “It doesn’t matter!” fall like rocks in the morning air.

And I feel so bad – so horribly bad – that I go straight home, pick up a T-shirt (his brother’s, another brain freeze) and drive it back to school.

Bring on the Easter holidays! (Now, if someone could just tell me where I put my car keys … )


Is there anything else I can help you with?

If you live here, you’ll know there are only two phone companies – Etisalat and Du. Which means if you’re not satisfied with one, there’s only one other provider. And after that … well, you’re back where you started.

You might also know that Dubai has plans to become one of the world’s smartest cities. We’re talking wi-fi on the beach, smart taxis, smart buses, smart rail, smart parking and, at DSO Smart City, even smart lighting that gets brighter when pedestrians are passing, and solar-powered, motorised smart shading for open areas.

All well and good. Except when it doesn’t work, and the technology leaves you scratching your head and reaching for the gin (like when the SMS parking system doesn’t let you pay; or the ticketing system for the shiny new $1.1bn tram spits your credit card out in disgust and won’t give change).

Dear Du, My recent interaction with you left the hairs on the back of my neck standing up as though they were about to march off and do battle somewhere
Dear Du, My recent interaction with you left the hairs on the back of my neck standing up as though they were about to march off and do battle

So, back to my phone. I get an ominous sounding message, among the million other ‘special offer’ SMSs from the phone company. The text says I need to visit one of their shops immediately to avoid disconnection.

But I’m at work. I can’t take a whole morning off to queue up at the Du store. So I do what any other hopeful, time-pressed mother might do – I assume they’re just joking.

Until two days later, when I wake up to find the number I’ve had for six years no longer works. And I end up at the Du office, in their queuing system, with 33 customers to be served ahead of me.

And, two hours later, the man tells me that the documents I’d re-registered with a year or so ago (my passport/ID card) had expired, and, without actually being told, I was meant to somehow know to bring my new documents in to re-register for a second time. Who needs telecommunications when they can use telepathy, after all?

I hand over my passport, chew the inside of my mouth, and ask when I’ll be reconnected: “In 24-48 hours Ma’am.”

“Is there anything else I can help you with?”

At this point, his face has become an oval with two vacant, expressionless eyes and just a slit for a mouth, and I leave, flashing him my best dissatisfied look and knowing there’s an apocalyptic pile-up of customers behind me and making a fuss won’t help.

But you know what: something strange happens over the next 24 … 48 … yes 72 hours. I love not having my phone. I quit a freelance job that’s making me wait months for payment, knowing that the boss won’t get on the phone to talk me into continuing. I spend a day with my bestie from the UK, safe in the knowledge that the school, my car pool, etc, will have to get hold of DH instead.

Then after 72 hours, DH casually mentions: “Have you rebooted your phone?” No, Du never mentioned that, I think to myself – and it turns out to be another telepathy fail because as soon as I reboot, the network springs back to life.

Anyway, rant over. The moral of this post being: if the phone company threatens to cut you off, they’re not joking. Far from it … then they’ll ask what else they can help you with.


The school lockdown drill

“Mummy! There’s going to be actors playing terrorists in school tomorrow!” said my older son, the excitement chipping away at the edges of his voice.

Goodness, I said, my brows knitting together. I knew there was a travelling theatre coming to school soon (I’d sent the money in), but this sounded far too dramatic for a class of imaginative eight and nine year olds.

Further questioning revealed that the school had planned a lockdown drill – something all UAE schools are doing this year, most for the first time. Kind of like a fire drill in reverse: the warning sounds and everyone stays inside.

Today on the curriculum: Hiding practice
Today on the curriculum: Hiding practice

Explaining this to children can be tricky, and you end up mumbling something like, “It’s safest to be outside a building if it’s on fire, and sometimes it’s safest to be inside the building instead.” Pushed into it … “If we were in America there might be a man with a gun.” [their eyes expand like saucers] “But not here …” (lest they suddenly decide they never want to go to school again).

Well, it turned out there were no play-terrorists (over-enthusiastic primary school kids really know how to spin it, don’t they?). And, to be honest, it sounded more like hiding practice as it’s not like they were allowed to pile tables and chairs up against the door or anything. But the novelty factor certainly meant Son1 told me far more about his school day than he usually does – and went to town on the sound effects.

The alarm sounded, he said, demonstrating it loudly with siren-like wailing. And all the children had to huddle in the corner of their classroom, with the lights off. “The head then came round banging on all the doors, kind of pretending he was trying to get in.

I’m trying to imagine all the children and teachers hunkering silently in darkened classrooms away from closed blinds and locked doors, while the headmaster prowled through the hallways decorated with student art and jiggled doorhandles.

“We made two mistakes,” said Son1. “Ms B forgot to turn the smart board off, and left her phone on her desk.”

“But Ms T’s class made the worst mistake,” he added, the corners of his mouth twitching into a smile.

“What was that?” I asked.

“They forgot to lock the door.”


ACBON Day (and a hot-under-the collar mum)

Yesterday was ACBON Day. Not my favourite day in Dubai: Air conditioning back on day. And it seems to have arrived earlier this year.

It also coincided with what must surely be the best day in the school year: International Day, the day when everyone is proud to share their culture and traditions with their friends, and mums turn up in bosom-revealing costumes (the European ones, at least).

The children go to school wearing the national colours or traditional dress of their home country, then in the afternoon there’s a huge and colourful, cosmopolitan fair on the playing field.

Hello world!
Hello world!

Some 50 countries were represented out of the 85+ nationalities at the school, and browsing the stalls is always a culinary adventure: yesterday you could nibble on kimchi (from South Korea), Brazilian BBQ meat, a Victoria sponge cake (British), German Halal beer, Spanish paella and so much more, while admiring the Kiwi Haka dance and other performances from all around the world. There was a parade too, and the children had all painted flags that were strung up as décor.

It’s a wonderful afternoon – and you’d think all the parents would agree.

Apparently not so.

She was the first woman I met at the start of my stint selling coupons, for drinks and rides (and by rides, I mean the bouncy castle and slide. The amazing food was all provided by the mums, and was free).

“I want a dirham back,” she demanded. A shadow darkened her face. I couldn’t quite understand why she was so annoyed. Her forehead furrowed, and her eyebrows had hooded over eyes that blazed with anger.

Then her friend came over and wanted 20dhs back (the exchange rate, for those not in the UAE, makes a dirham worth about 18p and 20dhs about £3.50).

Ladies, let it go, I’m thinking. A dirham, really? The whole point of the fair is it’s a fund-raiser for the school, which presumably your children attend.

I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt (in Dubai, if you don’t understand someone’s behaviour, it’s always worth reminding yourself that their background is probably very different from your own – ie, they could be from war-torn Syria, or, if it’s a workman botching something in your home, he’s probably from a poverty-stricken village in rural Bangladesh).

But, no, it didn’t work. Their bling suggested otherwise, and they weren’t polite at all.

I’m looking around at all the hard, hard work so many parents had put into the afternoon – the cooking, baking, decorating, signage, assembling stalls, manning stalls for four hours.

While my co-coupon seller disappeared to ask if we could give refunds, I found myself bristling, then saying, “You know, everyone’s just volunteering here – the money all goes to the school.”

YOUR CHILD … YOUR CHILDREN … WILL BENEFIT, from things like iPads in the classrooms, and playground equipment. Except I didn’t actually say that.

“Aha,” she snapped back. “It goes to the parents.”

And I presume she meant the parents’ committee who’d organised everything – and I wondered, what on earth does she think they’re going to do with the funds?

Spend it all on gin?