“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.
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.
““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.