x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Mesmerised by the sensations of the world outside

Baby A gets a taste of the great outdoors and turns into a big fan - just not of grass.

Back in late April and early May, when the temperatures in Abu Dhabi began to rise and the humidity in the air was no longer just a distant, unpleasant memory, I remember a friend asking me if I was disappointed that the good weather wouldn’t be lasting for much longer. She ­assumed Baby A and I were always making the most of the great outdoors, inhaling fresh air while we still could. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the approach of a UAE summer would make little difference to the way I spent my time with Her Dictatorship.

Back then, she was still too young to understand the merits of a park, too sedentary to appreciate the diversity of texture in the world around her. And after spending a long day at work, Mr T and I were happy to just play with Baby A on her playmat, in her room. At most, we’d push her in a stroller and head out to a dinner, usually indoors, or a mall, always air-conditioned. Weekends flew by in a flurry of family obligations and errands. When planning outdoor activities, it was solely for our own, adult pleasure in mind: a boat ride off Yas Island, perhaps, or a barbecue with friends along the Abu Dhabi Corniche. Baby A was always a willing participant, but we felt it made no difference to her what quality of air she was inhaling.

The summer has come and – dare I say it? – will soon be gone again, and I don’t recall ever wishing the weather was more forgiving, so that I may take Baby A outside more often. Living in the UAE, you become used to associating summer with long TV marathons on the couch, indoor brunches with friends, detailed explorations of the latest mall to open, rare late-night dips because who has time to head down to the pool after a long day of work, in that small window of opportunity before baby’s bedtime, for five minutes in water that is either tepid, or cold enough to make your teeth chatter?

But then Baby A and I travelled to Jordan this week so she can visit her doting grandparents. And there, where home is a house with a front yard and colourful garden, compared with the 65th-floor apartment of an Abu Dhabi high rise (where the windows open exactly four inches), Her Dictatorship discovered the sights and sounds of the great outdoors and she’s absolutely mesmerised.

The sound of the leaves on a tree, ruffling in the cool breeze of early autumn, hold a fascination for my baby that I never thought was possible. Fallen leaves lying lonely in a puddle, bees buzzing in and out of bright flowers, the insistent cacophony of barking dogs in our neighbourhood, a sleek cat weaving in and out of the bushes in the backyard – Baby A is in the midst of a great discovery and her reactions are priceless. I’m learning so much about my daughter as I watch her growing awareness of this different world she’s found herself in: she dislikes the feeling of grass on her bare skin, she is only intimidated by the barks of a dog when bedtime is near, she is content to lie on her back and stare up at the sky, pointing out the clouds, for long stretches at a time. She laughs at the crackling sound we make every time we step on a dry leaf. She prefers to be taken for a walk outside over playing with the world’s largest pile of toys indoors. She eats far better in the fresh air than in the heat of a kitchen. Once we’re back home in Abu Dhabi, there’s no question that I’m going to have to change the rhythm of her days. She might even prefer feeling the UAE’s sand under her bare toes, since she’s so adamantly against grass.

Hala Khalaf is a freelance writer living in Abu Dhabi

artslife@thenational.ae