Waiting for Rain

It’s raining outside. Drops of water are falling from a sky thick with dark clouds, washing the dust from every surface and creating puddles on the ground as I type. Many of my friends’ Facebook statuses mention rain with varying levels of joy and disbelief. Surprised strangers in the shops around me comment to baristas, customers and friends. “Two days in a row! Actual rain! Who’d have thought?” What’s so special about today’s rain? I live in the desert.

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Rain in Dubai.

Gray skies are nothing new in Abu Dhabi. For much of the year, a mixture of fine desert sand, construction dust, and ocean haze blanket our sky in gray or white. Clear blue skies and white clouds are a treat reserved for autumn and winter and compliment the mild temperatures we enjoy for four to five months of the year. Actual rain, however, is a very rare thing. It rained twice my first year in Abu Dhabi. The first storm lasted hours and produced real drops that cascaded down the glassy sides of buildings, poured from spiky palm leaves, and flooded the streets and sidewalks. The second time was just a few minutes of misty droplets that barely wet the objects they touched. It was as if they clouds were empty bottles of cleaning spray sputtering out their last drops.

Two or three episodes of rain a year seem to be the average here. Locals and expats take for granted that the weather will be sunny. There is no need to keep an umbrella or rain jacket in your car or knapsack. Outdoor events are planned based on temperature, not precipitation. Each morning after naming the day of the week, I go through the motions of discussing the weather with my pre-kindergarten students. “Is it rainy today?” I ask, holding a laminated cloud with falling blue raindrops. “Noooooooo” they answer in unison with looks of disdain and giggles. Silly teacher. Not even the four-year-olds are under any illusion the answer will ever be yes.

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The Abu Dhabi coastline seen during a dust storm.

I’ve never been a huge fan of rain. Before moving to the UAE, I associated it with discomfort and dark times. Years spent enduring Ireland’s daily mists, showers, and downpours have made me immune to many of rain’s charms. My heart thrills in the certainty of dry clothing, shoes and hair that accompany life in a desert climate. However, living here has led me to appreciate rain’s necessity. Firstly, it is a great cleanser. When the dust in the air is so thick it clogs my eyes and throat, I wish for rain to freshen the air and bring the scent of damp earth and leaves. On a more sentimental level, I miss the pleasure of snuggling under the covers while raindrops pound against the windows and thunder crashes outside.    

One day my school had a special surprise. In the middle of the children’s Arabic session, it started to rain. They ran to the windows with the same enthusiasm one might expect from the appearance Spiderman, a dinosaur, or other childhood fantasy. I couldn’t help running with them, and quickly opened the windows to hear the sound of the raindrops hitting the ground and the wind rushing through the date palms. My Emirati co-teacher rushed us outside to the covered patio and led the children to pray in unison, thanking Allah for the rain. I found myself joining in. The feeling of magic in the air was unmistakable  It was raining in the desert! This was truly an extraordinary time when anything was possible.

Time to dust off the ol' umbrella.

Time to dust off the ol’ umbrella.

Yesterday it rained again, and this time the children were already outside. The water was wetting the party dresses and kandooras they had worn for our school’s National Day celebrations, yet this unexpected event demanded we remain outdoors. Rain was to be experienced and celebrated. It was a novel and welcomed addition to their playtime, not a reason to end it. Their astonishment was a pleasure to witness. “Matar, matar,” they shouted. Others ran to us with beaming smiles, proud to use their English words, “water” or “rain.” One little girl was so unaccustomed to water falling from the sky that she ran to her Arabic teacher, demanding that she stop another student whom she was sure was spitting in her hair. Her shock and then delight when she realized it was rain had us all laughing.

Nature’s ability to adapt to the most extreme environments will never cease to impress me. Every living thing needs water to thrive, to grow, even to exist. In a place where rain falls only a few times a year and in such small amounts, how does life remain? But it does, and has for thousands of years. Even in the sea of dunes beyond the UAE’s cities and suburbs, life abounds. Lizards, insects, and small plants hide amidst the sand, and let’s not forget the Bedouin tribes who have survived the desert extremes for centuries. Humans are created to adapt to the most unforgiving of circumstances.

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Life in the desert is full of extremes. The heat blisters, chaps and burns. The sand cakes, clogs and chokes. In summer, every living thing seeks shelter from the scorching sun. My mind boggles at how life carries on under such conditions, but it does.

We all experience trials and times of difficulty in our lives, some more than others. We never know when our health, professional lives, and personal lives will be struck by obstacles that seem insurmountable. This world is full of violence, hatred, and suffering, yet so many who have endured the unthinkable exist as living proof that incredible strength lies inside us if we know where to search. I am still learning to stop focusing on my hardships and instead to count my blessings.

Palestinian refugee children show the resilience that lies within us all.

Palestinian refugee children show the resilience that lies within us all.

When life seems impossibly harsh, we must persevere and wait for the rain. Rain not only cleans, it also gives withering plants a second chance and is the catalyst for new life. No matter what creator, (or lack thereof) you believe in, nature demonstrates so beautifully that the universe provides. Sometimes all we need is a good cleansing rain to refresh us and remind us that life goes on. It may just take a little waiting.

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What gets you through times of loneliness, frustration, suffering? Expats, are there any new coping strategies you have found in your travels?

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Singing in the Rain « Kami's Beautiful Morning

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