x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Summer in the UAE is no fun for children

I start to think how the two or three months spent inside during the summer in Abu Dhabi must seem like such a long time for children.

Thirty seconds in to the car journey Astrid's brow is sweaty and her face is red. It is as red as a tomato and the car is like an oven slowly baking her. She starts to struggle in her car seat, trying to worm her way out of her straps, kicking her legs wildly. The air conditioning and fan are on their highest settings, but the cool air does not make it to the back of the car. Most of it is blocked by the front seats, while the few wisps of air that do make it quickly lose their cool. It is like throwing an ice cube into the desert and expecting it to bring the temperature down.

We make it back to the apartment block and park the car. The gauntlet from the car park to the door is all that remains. Astrid has very pale skin, which has an almost bluish tinge making it appear translucent at times. It is very delicate and not well suited to summer in the UAE. Even a few seconds on the blazing streets of Abu Dhabi and I feel, perhaps a tad melodramatically, that she will be scorched to a crisp. I put her hat on and head for the door of our building.

With the city's stifling heat comes an urge to flee for cooler climes. Initially, air conditioning provides some comfort and relief, but pretty quickly the processed air of these temperature-controlled zones takes on its own kind of oppressiveness. After spending the entire day inside, Astrid is bounding with pent-up energy. After spending almost a week inside with only a few trips outside, her eyes start to appear sunken and hollow.

I hear on the radio about six volunteers who are spending 18 months locked in a series of tunnels with no windows. The project aims to mimic a trip to Mars and investigate the effects of such isolation on the human mind and body. I start to think how the two or three months spent inside during the summer in Abu Dhabi must seem like such a long time for children. The effects of these cloistered experiences, while probably negligible, nevertheless remain largely undocumented.

So the case for a family exodus builds up, slowly and steadily mimicking the rising temperature that is its cause. It is looking more and more likely that Astrid and Lucy will return to the UK for about two months. They will miss the worst of the summer here and experience the best of the summer in the UK. I will miss them a lot, but it really is the only way to beat the heat.

Babies and toddlers do cute things. Most people have been conditioned in some way to acknowledge and respond to this cute behaviour. It seems hard-wired in us, an urge that endears our children to us and helps to develop the bond between us. In this steady stream of cuteness, there are exceptional moments; sudden gushes of cute behaviour that stand out and are therefore worthy of note. I experienced such a moment recently. Music was playing and Astrid was moving around to it. She was dancing. She was moving her body to the music, swaying and lurching, sometimes in time, sometimes out of time. The song changed to a more upbeat tune. Suddenly Astrid started to move her feet like a tap dancer. She quickly moved them up and down, laughing all the time, working herself into a frenzy. It was a spontaneous response to the music, all the more remarkable because it was unprompted. She does it all the time now, but it's still cute.

* Robert Carroll