Turning the desert green

“Have you been inside?” It was the question on all my neighbours’ lips last week.

“Yes, twice today,” I heard mums reply. “There’s even a pork section,” – met with an intake of breath, a smile and a wide-eyed “Really?

We were excited, you see, because we’ve waited three years for a grocery store to open in our compound here in Dubai.

Not only does it mean we don’t have to do a 10km loop anymore just to get milk, it also puts our community firmly on the map – quite something when you consider that in 2009, there was very little here.

Located outside the city in the desert, our newly built villas had sand lots for gardens when we moved in. The front- and backyards were, to the boys’ delight, literally giant sandpits.

The houses are painted a lemon colour – and with rolling desert for as far as the eye could see beyond our compound, the first impression was of acres of yellow, set against the brilliant blue of the cloudless sky.

For a long time, the only way in was via a bumpy, pot-holed track that 4by4s could just about handle without falling apart, but meant cars had to pick their way along, dodging craters, at a snail’s pace.

The roads around the compound were still under construction and I remember well the traffic layout changing overnight – a whole roundabout (a huge one!) vanished and everyone driving home the next day got completely and utterly lost.

Our compound wasn’t (and still isn’t) connected to a sewerage system or a mains water supply – poo trucks take sewage away and water trucks deliver desalinated water to a storage tank.

While everyone loved their brand-new villas, it did feel rather far and sparse, and calling a taxi in those days was like directing someone who doesn’t speak English, and is really only pretending they understand you, to a needle in a haystack.

The vast expanse of undeveloped desert where the boys play - perfect really!

From humble beginnings, our compound has slowly been added to – the swimming pool finally finished (once they worked out how to fill it with no mains water supply), a playarea, gym and dry cleaners opened, as well as a spa offering manis/pedis, massages and hair appointments. The shop took three years because of an electricity supply problem.

Planning is not always Dubai’s strong point.

How does your garden grow? Waiting for the newly planted clumps of grass to merge. In case you're wondering, an irrigation system automatically waters the whole garden twice a day (and yes, we did leave a sizeable sandpit for the boys round the back)!
““Get those villas up as fast as possible, fill ‘em with expats and we’ll worry about the utilities later,” must have been the developer’s mantra.

Today, our compound is even looking green as most people have landscaped their gardens, either planting clusters of grass that slowly merged to form a lawn, or rolling out instant-gratification ‘carpet grass’.

When our own grass was planted, in clumps, LB’s hair was just sprouting too and the race was on to see if our lawn or his locks would grow first.

The boys’ disappointment that I longed for grass and flowerbeds was quickly forgotten when they discovered the enormous patch of undeveloped desert just outside our compound, which we often zoom across in the SUV for fun. Perfect for kite-flying, excavating and quad-biking, there’s even a ravine with steep sides that the kids (and DH) slide down, nicknamed the Cliffs of Despair.

So that’s the story of our house built on sand. With the pioneering early days now passed, it feels like this corner of the desert has been well and truly conquered – and with the help of an awful lot of water, the desert has even been turned green.

14 thoughts on “Turning the desert green

  1. Wow! I had always imagined your desert to be like ours in Arizona – cactus and scrub – but those dunes-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see are exactly what you think of when you think of ‘desert!’ My boys would have loved that! Seems like the mindset is the same, though – everyone wants a little patch of green; some of the lushest lawns I’ve ever seen (and golf courses, too) were in the desert. We were very surprised (moving from the midwest) to discover that there were virtually no restrictions on water usage – everyone behaved as though we had an endless supply, even though it was piped in from hundreds of miles away. No shortage of pools, green grass, and man-made lakes. I’ve heard so much about how water is going to be a valuable commodity in the future…I can readily believe it! Congratulations on the new supermarket, by the way – you must be thrilled!

    • There are some lush golf courses here too! We’re really lucky in that Dh’s company pays our water bill (up to a certain point so private swimming pools are discouraged!)..lots of other expats pay their own water and I’ve heard the bills can be through the roof. Loving the supermarket – the chance to buy milk, bread and bacon without getting in the car is wonderful [whispers: some days it’s hard to actually leave the compound!)

  2. I’m so excited to hear your shop has arrived at last, will make a huge difference, especially to those days lazing by the pool and a snack is called for!

  3. A really interesting post! I remember visiting Dubai in 2006, staying with friends in a very well established compound but driving around with them they showed us areas at the edge of the city that only a couple of years previously had all been sand. It’s quite interesting seeing how gardens (oasis!) develop out of the endless sand.

    • Thanks for stopping by Iota! The shop is a big hit with everyone -yes, before, getting a pint of milk was an outing! Now we can walk – when it’s not too hot, at least!

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