So I left the door to my roof terrace propped open as usual to let the cat go in or out as she pleased during the night, and woke up the next morning to find that the desert had invaded my flat. Sand everywhere: a fine beige layer over all the furniture, the books, the pictures; small dunes forming on the floor; millions of tiny motes dancing in the air.
In a desert country dust is a fact of life. It doesn't just make your place look dirty. Those tiny particles embed themselves in soft furnishings and rugs; they insinuate themselves into electrical appliances; they make the asthma-prone cough and wheeze. Here's how to deal with it. It's tempting to leave doors and windows open when days are cool but keep an eye on the weather forecast and, if a shamal is brewing, shut them. Check that doors and windows are well-fitting. You can buy foam weatherseal for windows at Ace Hardware. For the UAE's ubiquitous aluminium doors, have a door seal with a brush strip fitted along the bottom to help keep the dust out.
To remove dust from furniture, don't just flick at it with a duster - all you will be doing is spreading it round the room. Work methodically, starting with the contents of shelves (it is easier to dust intricate pieces of china with a soft brush - an old, well-washed blusher brush does nicely), then the shelves themselves, working from top to bottom. Use the vacuum cleaner to remove most of the dust, then wipe over with a damp cloth.
For furniture, dust by hand: make a pad of the duster, tucking in the hemmed edges. Press down and pull the dust gently towards you, turning the duster so that you catch the dust and are always using a clean surface. If necessary, wipe with a barely damp cloth. For paintings and high and out-of-the way places, use a lamb's wool duster or one of the synthetic fluffy dusters (normally in rainbow colours) which seem to be more readily available (I found them in Carrefour). Don't use feather dusters: they flick dust about and have sharp edges that can scratch objects.
Next, attend to upholstered furniture and rugs. Vacuum sofas and armchairs and if necessary remove loose covers and have them laundered or dry-cleaned. Shake rugs and then vacuum them thoroughly. Finish with the floors. Vacuum first, then finish off with a damp mop. Rachel Simhon is the author of The Housewife's Handbook (Bloomsbury). Available from www.amazon.com .