It's 50 degrees in the Middle East. How do the Irish there cope?

Temperatures are soaring from Dubai to Doha. Irish residents tell us how they keep their cool

AJ Hutchinson, skydiving over Palm Jumeirah island in Dubai: “The heat hit my face like a blast from a hairdryer” AJ Hutchinson skydiving over Dubai.

AJ Hutchinson, skydiving over Palm Jumeirah island in Dubai: “The heat hit my face like a blast from a hairdryer” AJ Hutchinson skydiving over Dubai.

 

Across the Middle East temperatures have touched 50 degrees in recent weeks in some places, but it is hot, hot, hot everywhere. Such highs are perfectly normal for this time of year. So how do Irish people living in the region cope with such conditions? Irish Times Abroad readers shared their experiences this week.

Brenda Lawlor: “I see less sun in summer in Dubai than I do in an Irish winter” Brenda Lawlor: ‘I see less sun in summer here than in an Irish winter.’
Brenda Lawlor: 'I see less sun in summer in Dubai than I do in an Irish winter'

Brenda Lawlor, sales executive: ‘My lenses dried up and fell out of my eyes’

A taxi driver came to my aid during my first summer in Dubai. Rushing from one work meeting to another, I stupidly tried to hail a taxi in the midday 50-degree heat in July.

Five minutes in, I realised my rookie mistake as my contact lenses dried up and fell out of my eyes. My phone overheated and stopped working, and my handbag felt heavier than lead.

As he handed me a tepid bottle of water, the driver told me I was the palest human he’d ever seen. It’s not sunstroke or sunburn that is our primary concern in the summer: I’ve burned worse on Kerry beaches than I have here. Dehydration is the bigger worry. Vitamin D tablets are standard; in a country of perpetual sunshine I see less sun in summer here than I do in an Irish winter.

Now in my third season, I find it easier to avoid the heat; I know how to get from an air-conditioned apartment to an air-conditioned office in an air-conditioned car without having to spend more than a few minutes outdoors. Colds are more common during the summer months than they are in winter, because of the icy air con.

The city comes alive after dark, when temperatures drop to more bearable levels. Malls become gyms, as we stretch our legs and satisfy belligerent Fitbits.

Claire Fitzgerald, English-language teacher, Dubai: ‘I haven’t spent any time outdoors’

Claire Fitzgerald: “Coming from the Tipperary countryside, I really miss being outside in fresh air”
Claire Fitzgerald: “Coming from the Tipperary countryside, I really miss being outside in fresh air”

I never thought I would resent the sun. I spent two years in Australia and loved the hot summer days. I lived in Tanzania and taught 40 students in an air-con-free classroom and still never cursed the heat.

I arrived in Dubai last August. Dubai is wonderful during winter, as the temperature is perfect, and not having to worry about rain is a terrific change. Summer is a different story.

Since the start of June I haven’t spent any time outdoors, except at the pool in my building, and even then the heat is almost unbearable. High temperatures made Ramadan even more difficult; walking around in scorching weather, not being able to drink water, was trying.

Coming from the Tipperary countryside, I really miss being outside in fresh air. I’ve learnt from my time here that I need to live in a country where I’m not restricted to living indoors. It’s easy to see why people fall in love with the lifestyle here, but my heart lies in green fields and open countryside.

AJ Hutchinson, architectural technologist, Dubai: ‘The heat hit my face like a blast from a hot hairdryer’

AJ Hutchinson: ‘I love knowing what the weather will be like every day here.’
AJ Hutchinson: ‘I love knowing what the weather will be like every day here.’

I’ll never forget the September night in 2013 when I walked out of the arrivals hall of Dubai International Airport and into the car park. It was past midnight, but the heat hit my face like a blast from a hairdryer. I hadn’t known what I was letting myself in for. A few weeks later the temperatures started coming down, and my body began to adapt to this hot and dry environment, which felt like living on the sun.

I’m not a naturally sweaty person, and have always enjoyed going on sun holidays. I love knowing what the weather will be like every day here, and being able to dress accordingly, with no need for jumpers, jackets or umbrellas at any time of the year. Some people get taxis or drive everywhere, but I am the weirdo walking a half-hour or so to wherever I want to go. I enjoy it now.

At weekends the best place to escape the heat is in a pool. I live in a villa compound that has its own huge pool. I lived in an apartment tower previously; it also had a pool for residents.

I’m coming home to Kildare for a visit this week, and no doubt I’ll experience rain again, but, knowing it’s just for a few days, I don’t mind.

Niamh Albertyn, Dubai: ‘We consider the summer months a time to just survive’

I have been living in Dubai for 12 years. There’s a mass exodus in the summer months; the place is a lot quieter, which gives you a chance to slow down and reset the clock.

Summer in Dubai with kids is tough. We have two, Liam (4) and Ciara (2). We thank God for chilled swimming pools and ac play centres. The beach is deserted in summer, and the sea feels like hot soup. If the pools weren’t chilled they would be far too warm to swim in, so a chilled pool is heaven in the afternoons.

Niamh Albertyn’s children Liam (4) and Ciara (2): ‘Summer in Dubai with kids is tough.’
Niamh Albertyn’s children Liam (4) and Ciara (2): ‘Summer in Dubai with kids is tough.’

The most valuable phone number in summer is the contact of the ac repair guy. The ac units are pushed to their limits and regularly need servicing. It is absolutely impossible to sleep in a room without ac in summer.

We consider the summer months a time to just survive, and we try to get to Ireland for a month in August each year. It’s amazing how the cold and wet of Ireland is what we yearn for in summer… who would have thought!

Kevin O’Kane, Abu Dhabi: ‘A couple of fresh shirts are essential’

I have been living in the GCC since 2009, though three of these years were spent in the relative comfort of Salalah in Oman, where a south Indian monsoon creates a three-month rainy season with temperatures around 26 degrees. This is my second summer in Abu Dhabi, and nothing really prepares you for the intense heat, which would be manageable if it weren’t for the incredible humidity. I work in construction, currently in substructures where the morning humidity is retained most of the day. A couple of fresh shirts are essential for when I get back into air-con environments so that I don’t catch cold, and I need to be careful to keep hydrated.

If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. I tried to return to Ireland last year but found the parochial attitudes stifling, and when the taxman started taking 40 per cent from my pay cheque I knew it was time to flee.

Nicola Osborne, teacher, Doha: ‘We moved here to save to build a house’

My partner Sean and I have been living in the Doha in Qatar for three years. We moved there to work as teachers, to save some money to build our house together. Both of us travelled to Australia four years ago, and thought we were able to handle the heat, but boy were we wrong. Nothing can prepare you. This year in particular, Qatar had seen a lot of rain, and weather specialists predicted a hotter summer than normal.

Day to day is OK, providing you are working indoors in a well air conditioned school or office. Playground duty is what I dread. When we return to Ireland, our friends and family ask where our tans are, but it’s way too hot to sit out in summer.

I can’t imagine living without the hot weather now. People are positive, happy and smiling. We are now preparing to relocate to Muscat in Oman, where it is sunny but mountainous, meaning the temperatures are thankfully a little cooler.

Niamh Burke, teacher, Doha: ‘It has been nine years since I watched the leaves change colour in autumn’

I originally came to Qatar for a year, but I fell in love with my students, and a guy. Nine years later, I am head of a British Primary school and married to that guy.

For seven months of the year the weather is amazing here, with lots of barbecues, beach days and outdoor brunches. For the rest of the year, we spend our days inside sitting under the air-con.

I will never forget my first experience of the Middle East heat, stepping out of the plane in Doha in August, 2009 at 6.30am. I can only compare it to opening the oven to check your chicken nuggets; it blasts you in the face. It can reach up to 52 degrees in Doha.

The walls heat up inside your house, which means anything hanging on them comes crashing down. I have given up hanging pictures.

Cold water is unheard of past April. I get accustomed to washing my teeth in hot water; when I’m in Ireland the first time is always a pleasant surprise. Showering at midday is virtually impossible, unless you want to get boiled alive.

When I’m back home in Galway, I spend most of my time outdoors, breathing in fresh, country air. The thing I miss the most about being in Qatar is green. I grew up on a farm and outdoors was a part of life for me. I miss watching the leaves turn brown. Qatar does not experience the four seasons, so it has been nine years since I watched the leaves changing colour in autumn and falling to the ground.

It’s all about adapting. I find myself freezing every summer when I’m home because I’m so used to the heat. While my friends and family are in t-shirts I’m wearing lots of layers and woolly socks.

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