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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

The day swirling winds and rain turned an Abu Dhabi cafe into a majlis

The wild weather created a family atmosphere in my local coffee shop - which actually created a community spirit

Cloudy skies over Abu Dhabi's Reem Island pictured from Saadiyat Island. Jason Von Berg / The National
Cloudy skies over Abu Dhabi's Reem Island pictured from Saadiyat Island. Jason Von Berg / The National

Nagam Cafe is normally a hive of activity in the evenings, particularly when it comes to the outdoor section where football is usually on the big screen and the customers sip coffee while lounging on the couches.

One night this week, though, it was eerily different. The usually boisterous Abu Dhabi cafe set didn’t have the happy-go-lucky demeanour I am used to. Instead, I was confronted by a series of furrowed brows around me as those of us there tried to keep our cups from sliding off the table because of the high winds swirling around us.

The jokes gave way to silence and then our phones began to beep – not friends and family checking in, though. Instead we found ourselves on the end of emergency warning texts telling us to remain indoors.

We didn’t need a reminder, nearly a dozen of us filed through the café and turned the indoor seating area into a kind of majlis. It was a surreal yet wonderful bonding experience. There we all were, men from different cultures and ways of life, discussing our storm experiences.

There was the Egyptian guy who spoke about how the last time he had been in such a storm was here in Abu Dhabi about three years ago. It was that fateful February day when the sky turned black at 11am.

He recalls driving home with his wife after a spot of morning grocery shopping when the heavens opened with “raindrops the size of rocks”, kid you not. What did he do? He simply pulled the car over in to a side street and waited it out. “We had bought the kids chocolates; Kit Kats and stuff,” he recalls. “We ate it all and didn’t tell them.”

The best anecdotes came from the Nagam staff. Hailing from India and the Philippines, they’d had more experience of rain than all of us. Where on normal nights they were often a silent and diligent presence in the cafe, on Sunday evening they took centre stage, recalling the rainy season in their respective countries.

The young Indian man with a pencil-like moustache told us of the two-month period of non-stop rain in his home state of Kerala. I asked him if that was depressing, to which he replied: “Not too much. It means lots of family time. We do lots of talking, like what we are doing now.”

A group of Emiratis shook their head in amazement. While they acknowledge that rain is a blessing – after all, the sermons on Fridays often include prayers for rain – they agreed that they could handle only a week of non-stop showers before frustration would surely set in.

About an hour into our bonding session I joined a group of people who were on the way out. The men all bade us farewell and urged us to be careful.

I was incredibly touched by the gesture, it went a long way to confirming to me why Abu Dhabi has always been viewed as a great place for families to live. The residents of the city have a knack for looking out for each other, and for that, I thank them.

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