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.

rainIndubai

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.

ADDustsTORM2

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.

lifeindesert

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.

rainbow

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

Five Purchases the Saavy Traveller Shouldn’t Miss (or Why I Love SkyMall)

Summertime in the UAE means two things: temperatures outside will compete with those on the surface of the sun, and school holidays begin. This July, I joined the crowds fleeing the crushing heat and humidity to visit home. I love to travel, but I detest flying. Long-distance flights equal desperate hours sandwiched between my cement-hard seat back and the headrest of the reclining passenger in front of me. As my aches and impatience grow by the second, SkyMall magazine has become a small sanctuary in the claustrophobic and sometimes chaotic conditions of economy class.

If you’ve flown a major airline, you have probably seen Sky Mall. Don’t confuse it with the useless Duty Free catalog offering mere perfumes, jewelry and booze or your airline’s in-flight magazine highlighting its destinations and the selection of chips and chocolates priced for the uber-wealthy. I mean the SkyMall. The gem, no, the jewel in the crown of catalogs. Its pages contain a level of consumer bliss adequate to distract passengers from even the worst flight anxiety. Sky Mall is, in its own words,almost universally known among affluent and well-educated travelers who are receptive to innovative, unique products.”

I like to save the magazine as a treat for later in the flight, just as I do the tiny packet of ginger biscuits, or if I’m lucky, the microscopic Toblerone that comes with my meal.  I held out for nearly eleven hours before eagerly lifting it from its pouch. “Can’t get enough sparkle?” asked the cover. Oh SkyMall, you don’t know where I live, do you? I was sad to see this edition seemed a bit thinner than previous ones. I couldn’t quite pinpoint what was missing, but I suspect they thinned out the vast array of monogrammed products and fantasy series replicas. I was relieved to see I could still buy my own copy of the One Ring that Rules Them All. Still, I suspected I had been cheated of at least 20 additional minutes of shopping pleasure.

I suppose not even SkyMall is immune to the global economic downturn. However, a quick glance through its pages offers hope to consumers that there is still much we need to spend our limited incomes on. Here are five of my favorites.  

1. The Somawave Helmet

(His enthusiasm is contagious.) 

Who doesn’t like a nice massage to “disconnect from the world we know,” and relieve the stress and tension caused by everyday life. Head/neck massage and vibration on demand? Yes, please. Look at the smile on this man’s face. Here’s an opportunity no one should miss.

SkyMall’s writers point out that Somawave is light and portable, but they should perhaps rethink their claim that it can be taken anywhere. Somawave-wearers might not be well-received in certain public places, and should maybe restrict their usage to the privacy of home. I should also point out the accompanying warning in case any forklift or crane operators are hoping to use this product to avoid workplace stress:

Caution: Do not wear while operating heavy machinery. The SomaWave Helmet’s euphoria inducing waves may produce sleep or trance-like states of consciousness.

Ha. Good luck machinery operator. A person wearing this contraption has about as much chance of entering a blue-collar workplace as they does an airport, government office, or any place with security guards.

Warnings aside, if this product delivers as promised, maybe I should buy a couple to pack safely away in my suitcases. Since most mind-altering substances put me at risk of a lengthy sentence in a UAE prison, followed by deportation, the Somawave could offer a safe and legal evening of euphoria and bliss.

2. Easter Island “Ahu Akivi Moai” Monolith Statue

As an apartment dweller, now is not the time for giant statues, but I can dream. Dear readers, should any of you have access to a rooftop, garden or large balcony, this exotic addition would be perfect for avoiding post-holiday blues. Forget bird baths, fountains, or plastic flamingos. Thanks to Sky Mall’s suggestions, I have realized that no outdoor space is complete without a replica of one of the world’s great mysteries.

Sky Mall promises that King Moai will, “astound and impress guests at your next Polynesian luau.” I’ll keep that in mind. If nothing else, perhaps the giant staring eyes will frighten away pesky animals, trespassers, or nosy neighbors. I should add that the replica is not stone like the original, but is made from high quality resin.  Hosing down any pet or bird-related messes this large object could attract would be a breeze. Recreating Easter Island in my garden was never one of my Pinterest fantasies, but thanks to Sky Mall, I know have great plans for a future outdoor space.

3. LED MagicShowerhead

(Because the shower should be where the magic happens.)

I bet you spend at least a few minutes a week trying to pinpoint what your bathroom is missing. What would make you feel more pampered, more luxurious, more complete? SkyMall has the answer—a more colorful shower.

According to SkyMall, MagicShowerhead illuminates your water with seven different colors, creating an experience to match the needs of its diverse readers. Searching for a “club like experience” in your own bathroom? Four flashy colors (and I’m assuming your own piped-in music) should do the trick. With action like that in the morning, I might not even need my morning coffee. Want to relax? Stop paying for pricey spa visits and create your own “spa-like environment” by setting the colors to slowly fade and change. Even environmentalists can appreciate MagicShowerhead. Three timed alternating colors help you limit your water consumption.  Doing your part to save the planet while enjoying a light show? Priceless.  

This shower head truly is “magic.” All you need to do is choose hand-held, fixed, or both! I don’t know who writes the copy for this magazine, but I want him or her to write my resume, biography, and eulogy. Hats off to this master of modern marketing.

4. Large Super Skate Sail

(How could this possibly end badly?)

My first thought on seeing the Super Skate Sail was, “Wow, that looks like a lot of fun!” SkyMall presents this product as a great way get adults and children outside and away from the TV, so perhaps it could be powerful enough pry me away from my laptop. The Super Skate Sail has three methods of use, so I wouldn’t be limited by my lack of skateboarding skills. I had found a hobby, a new sport I might actually enjoy.

Then practicality set in. There is a reason why sails are usually associated with water sports as opposed to land. The ocean offers pretty much unlimited space. I can’t think of many places in Abu Dhabi that offer adequate room to zoom along uninhibited with wheels and a 9′ by 11′ sail. There’s also the slight issue of creating a spectacle. As a Westerner, I attract enough unwanted attention just by being a minority. Breezing through town with a giant colorful sail (and maybe a matching helmet) would probably just add to the usual stares. The pleasant gulf breezes would most likely propel me from the Corniche walkway into the capital city’s busy streets within minutes. A Lexus SUV/Super Skate Sail collision is the kind of accident that could even make its way into print or broadcast media. SkyMall, you may have let me down this time. 

5. Jeans Lounge Pants

(They’re jeans, they’re pants, they’re perfection!)

SkyMall, you’ve just redeemed yourself.

Fellow American travelers, I’m sure you will be the first to appreciate that this product has not one, but two major benefits. Firstly, fashion. Who wouldn’t want their own pair of what at first glance appears to be stylish, ripped acid-washed denim circa 1991? Wait for it—that’s not denim it’s, “actually super-soft cotton with amazingly realistic front-and-back printing and a much more forgiving stretch.” Americans like forgiving stretch. It goes great with buffets, Thanksgiving, and chili cheese fries. These even have an elasticized drawstring waist. I hear my couch calling.

Secondly, what an incredible souvenir to bring back after a visit from the good ol’ USA! Nothing says, “this came from America” like “jeans” and “lounge.” You can’t lose. Buy a pair for your favorite co-worker, colleague, or friend, and maybe an extra pair for that awkward moment when you are surprised with an unexpected post-vacation gift. There is even a discount for purchasing 2 or more.

You’re welcome.