Whereas I would use an umbrella to shield me from snow in Sweden, here I see people wandering around with umbrellas to avoid the sun.
Not freezing but boiling
If you live in Sweden, as I had the misfortune to do when I was growing up, you get used to protecting yourself from the harsh winters. It often snows there from October to April. The locals are so brainwashed into thinking winter is good (if they weren't they would all emigrate) they even greet the first snow of the season with a jolly song. It never made me want to sing. I knew I had months ahead of me of wrapping myself in as many clothes as possible without disrupting my mobility.
The first thing you do to protect yourself from the icy climate is to wear several layers of clothing, culminating in a coat that resembles a duvet. You never go out without headgear, boots or gloves; you leave no part of your anatomy exposed. On no account do you leave the house with wet hair. If you do, you risk it freezing and snapping off. I remember covering my mouth and face with scarves on my way to the school bus; the cold was so intense it hurt to breathe in and my skin felt like it was being pinched by thousands of tiny tweezers.
Here in Abu Dhabi I had hoped to avoid any of these measures. Little did I imagine I would see people doing the same things I used to do as a child, but in order to combat the heat instead. Whereas I would use an umbrella to shield me from the sleet and snow in Sweden, here I see people wandering around with umbrellas to avoid the sun. Much as you dash from one place to another in order to not freeze on a winter's day in Stockholm, here you run from shopping mall to taxi to avoid melting. And just as I covered my face and head against the cold, here they do so against the sun's rays.
Two weeks ago we paid our first visit to one of the shopping malls. We had ordered a taxi to collect us. "Let's wait outside," I suggested. We left the comfort of the air-conditioned mall and went outside. Seconds later we rushed back through the automatic doors, heaving a sigh of relief as the cool air hit us. Once the taxi arrived, we drove to the hotel. We passed several construction sites en route. Men were working on them in the full glare of the sun. There were no walls, let alone air conditioning. I wonder what respite these men get from the heat? It must be like working in a dusty oven.
I see them sitting or lying under a tree by the side of the road looking exhausted. They probably go from their tiny hot dwelling where far too many of them are crammed into one room (thus increasing the temperature) to the building site where the work is tough and the sun beats down on them without respite. They must long in vain for cloud cover or at least a hint of a breeze. In contrast, the lucky ones go from air-conditioned car to office, home and shopping malls, only occasionally feeling the real force of the September heat and humidity. Sometimes the air-conditioning is so cold I even think I am back in Sweden. When that happens I go outside and let the sun warm my bones.
It's a lovely comforting feeling.