x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

It's hot, but it could be worse

Dear Ali: My Emirati colleague told me this summer is not as hot as the previous ones. I find it extremely hot! How do you manage it all day?

Dear Ali: My Emirati colleague was telling me the other day that this summer is not really as hot as the previous ones, so I was a bit shocked since I find it extremely hot! Is this normal weather, and how do you manage it all day? AJ, Abu Dhabi

Dear AJ: Your Emirati colleague is absolutely right. This year's summer is really unusual and, honestly, I dont want to jinx us or revel too much in the beauty of the weather that we are being blessed with so far - yes, blessed.

It's a blessing when you realise that we usually welcome the 40°C heat from almost the end of March. Today it's June already and we've had relatively cool days.

I understand some of our expat friends find it really weird and crazy how we may cope with the heat, but in reality many don't! By that, I mean a lot, if not most, of us work indoors, we drive in air-conditioned cars and we visit indoor facilities that are all temperature-controlled. So you dont really experience the heat the whole day except for the moment when you park your car outdoors and have to walk toward a Mawaqif machine to pay for your parking fees.

But even if it did reach 40°today, we are already in June and this is expected. This means we should only have about 100 days maximum for the heat before we welcome cooler weather, starting from October or November onward. This would also be a great blessing to the large number of labourers in our country who work outdoors. Thankfully, not only are they are protected from working in the hottest parts of the day thanks to laws enforced by the Ministry of Labour, but they are also working in less heat right now.

We manage it because we got used to it, that's all. It's only a matter of time for you to get used to it as well, inshallah.

Dear Ali: Can you tell me how people got around here in the past? Can you also tell me other facts about the UAE's transportation system? YA, Abu Dhabi

Dear YA: First of all, let me start with describing what our transportation used to be before our country went from the camel to the Cadillac within a time span of 41 years.

Not a long time ago, even less than 100 years ago, the inhabitants of this region had no other choice but to use camels as their means of transportation. At that time, camels were also known as "the ships of the desert" due to their ability to endure the harsh climate conditions of the region. Besides helping our people move from place to place, camels were an essential source of food, since they provided meat and milk. Even their hair was woven and used for tents and mats. Desert life as a Bedouin wasn't possible without camels.

Then in the mid-20th century, a few motorised vehicles appeared. For a long time, camels, mules and vehicles were used as a means of transportation. There weren't many roads, and driving during these times was very dangerous because camels would still be walking around freely without knowing the difference between the desert or the road. Travelling from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, for instance, was a four-hour drive and only possible by using certain "sand tracks" along the coastline, which consequently left many vehicles stuck in the sand.

Roundabouts, streets and traffic signals didn't appear as a part of our transportation system until decades later. Once the two-way highway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai came into existence, it definitely made the trip much easier. Nowadays, there is a modern highway and road network that connects each emirate, as well as connecting the UAE with other countries, making it faster and easier to travel. Today, you can reach Dubai from Abu Dhabi in 60 minutes.

It is now easy to get around and take a tour of the UAE, either by car or taxi. There are more transportation possibilities than ever before, but many people still prefer to use a car, especially when you have family - it is just more convenient to get around with a car. Plus, petrol is really cheap in this part of the world. Another option is renting a car.

Using a bus or taxi in our cities is quite popular, too, because it is fairly cheap in comparison with the fares you pay in other countries. Usually, the buses are air-conditioned and efficient, as are the taxies. You can flag a taxi anywhere or book them via phone call.

We also have the Metro system in Dubai, which is growing every day. And one of the newest projects of our Government is a train track that will make it easier to reach all the Gulf countries.

Travelling by plane between the emirates is slowly becoming a very attractive option for both residents and visitors. There's the cool domestic airline SeaWings, which adds more value to your trip by taking off from and landing on the water, and you see our beautiful cities from a a great vantage point.

Of course, talking about transportation systems always includes the side-effects.

So many cars give off so many emissions; in order to reduce the pollution, it is better to drive less and choose carpooling or other means of public transportation.

As well, road safety is a serious problem here. The Roads and Transportation Authority (RTA) holds lectures and workshops at schools so that the younger generation learns how to safely cross the streets, knows the importance of using seat belts and how to avoid accidents. Even our country's Vision 2030 includes the improvement of the urban structure of Abu Dhabi with the focus on the road network and transport sectors and, hopefully, improving safety.

I hope this helps you have a better idea of our transportation system and how it has changed over time.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.