Got any plans for the summer that don't involve escaping the heat? There are, you are no doubt aware, weeks and weeks of it ahead of us. A good few months of tightly sealed windows, arctic air conditioning, a deathly pallour that shows it has been weeks since we spent more than five minutes outside and an eerie silence where usually there would be toddlers's squeals. In a couple of weeks they will all be gone, you see; hot-footing it to the airport in a giant crocodile to be swept off to more child-friendly climes. The rest of us, though, are stuck here. And we may as well make the most of it. At least that is the attitude of the clutch of willing volunteers participating in our Summer Diaries series, all of whom have decided to use the relative quietness to make positive changes in their lives. Because there is a silver lining to having an empty diary: no distractions.
They will, for the next eight weeks, be taking on demanding new challenges. One will be starting a business; one will be getting fit; one will write his first screenplay; and finally, one ambitious man will be attempting to take his fledgeling Arabic to the next level. To each, we have assigned a mentor to set them on the right path and ensure that they stay the course. Today we introduce you to the four people taking our life-changing summer challenge.
Steve Watson used to work in the media but has, since arriving in Abu Dhabi last August, been a house husband. Over the summer he will be writing his first screenplay. "A friend, who works at the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, said to me recently 'You've always got these great stories to tell about your life; you should focus that energy and see if you can turn it into something more concrete.' As a house husband in Abu Dhabi (I took a step back so that my wife could pursue her career), I am a bit of an anomaly. I find myself doing Pilates with 15 ladies three times a week; I've just said goodbye to my bi-polar neighbour who's moved back home and I've recently turned my hand to gardening, as well as introducing newcomers to life in Abu Dhabi, so I've got plenty of material. People have often said I should write a blog about what I get up to as some of it's quite entertaining. Doing this is a way of seeing whether I can take my thoughts and life and dinner conversations, and turn them into a story. It gives me something to focus on rather than going mad in the heat."
Jeanne LeSage is the managing producer of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. She will spend the summer doing the Original Fitness Company's beach boot camp. "For me, it's really about being healthy. I'm from Canada and you take it for granted there how many times you walk to the corner, to the streetcar, to the shops. All the little stuff adds up. But here it's very easy for your exercise levels to drop. The irony is that while most people are quietening down over the summer, we're ramping right up at work. So this is about stress reduction as well as fitness. Also, since we're a busy festival, I'm interested in finding ways of engaging with the community. I'm a complete sports dork, though. I was the kid who would rather read than do gym class. Gym class was traumatic. Boot camp starts at 6am three days a week so part of the goal is just to complete it. In my experience, exercise is the catalyst that gets all the other healthy habits in line. This should be a good way to get me on the right track."
Julie Meer is in the process of starting up Body Balancers, a wellness, sports and physiotherapy centre in Jumeirah Lake Towers, Dubai, with her partner Caryl Machado. "I've always had a strong entrepreneurial spirit and a million ideas. I've been in the UAE for 16 years and mainly in the corporate world. A few years ago I was introduced to this health-related treatment from Germany. It's a natural approach to curing back and neck pain, as well as headaches. The results were so phenomenal that I just felt people needed this, so I chucked in my job and decided to give it a go. The biggest hurdle has been trying to find the capital. People wanted big projects and big returns of investment. Being a woman, I ran into several people who, before they even knew what I was going to do, said I would fail. I eventually found financing through a friend. We're hoping to be up and running by the beginning of July. I know people go away over the summer, but people don't have the money to go on long holidays right now. We are not a fluffy spa; we are a centre that is looking to fix health problems. Recession or not, back pain is always going to be there."
Murtuza Kaizar is the branch manager of Hafele, a German company that supplies the construction industry with door hardware. He is studying level three Arabic at the Berlitz language school in Abu Dhabi. "Despite being born and brought up in Abu Dhabi, I only recently starting learning Arabic. I speak English, Hindi and Gujarati, but when you've lived here all your life and you can't communicate, you feel like you're missing a lot of the country. I started level one in March. I learnt Arabic in school but it was very basic, and wasn't compulsory in high school. It's difficult in a group class, so I have recently switched to individual tutoring. It costs me twice as much but I am progressing in leaps and bounds. I go four times a week for an hour and a half after work. It's intensive but I feel passionately about it. When I go back to India everyone asks if you speak the language or have a passport and the answer to both is no, even though it is my home. Arabic is not an easy language, so doing this means I will have achieved something special. It looks good on my CV and I can deal with people in a more friendly manner."