We are standing on a tennis court, arms spread out wide.
“It’s not that hot,” I lie, wiping the sweat off my forehead before it seeps into my eyes and renders me blind with my body's own stinging salt.
“Yeah, there’s actually a nice little breeze,” my tennis partner says, also lying. She flaps her arms, trying to catch whatever gasp of cool air might be floating our way.
But the ‘breeze’ she’s talking about isn’t one of those gentle 10 mph jobs that keep places like the Caribbean bearable through the summer months. This ‘breeze’ wouldn’t get a feather to float. In fact, this 'breeze’ is nothing more than a cough, and subsides before we pick up our rackets and attempt to keep playing in a ‘real feel' temperature of about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. (I should mention, it's barely 9 a.m.).
Out on the golf course things are similar. We’ve already pushed back our start time by an hour to make the most of the cooler mornings, but by the time we’ve rounded to the ninth hole, I’m practically delirious. Despite sticking to a rule of sipping one 12 ounce bottle of water per green, I feel dehydration taking over. I’ve got a massive headache, can’t remember how many strokes I’ve taken, and despite being plied with cold towels and ice pops on the course, I just want to make it back to the club house before collapsing so I can take a cold shower. It will take me 1.5 days to recover, but I will lie to myself, convince myself that I'm fine and attempt to do it all over again the following week.
Welcome to summer in the UAE.
Despite my heartiest efforts to stay outdoors, this is the time of year when my routine switches. As I count down the weeks until the ‘heat really sets in,’ I find myself running around madly trying to take advantage of all the great outdoor things in the region. There are beach days, camping weekends, golf and tennis outings, biking and even running. There are barbecues and dining al fresco, and walks along the Corniche. Indeed, between March and May, we work hard to get it all in while we can.
And when the summer comes? Well, that’s when I pick up my reading, indulge in daytime movies, and hang out in the malls.
Yes, I know. This New Yorker hangs out in malls.
Given my suburban roots, mall life back home has a different connotation than it does here. Where I grew up, going to the mall was one of those things I did as a youth to free myself from parental guidance, to check out boys from other schools, buy stuff like records (yes, records!) and eat crappy pizza while I wallowed in my teenage angst. By the time I turned sixteen, I had shunned suburban life and shopping malls and opted for trips to NYC’s Greenwich Village with girlfriends. Truth be told, we did pretty much the same thing - crappy pizza and all - yet somehow, it felt ‘different.’
Mall life in the UAE is ‘different’ as well. During our first year here, any time John would mention a mall outing I’d practically get angry – as if we couldn’t come up with something... anything... better to do. Back home growing up, malls felt tacky and dismal, a sad commentary on the vast lack of recreational activities or cultural offerings available to us. What I failed to realize, is that malls here in the UAE are full of awesomeness -- ice-skating rinks and aquariums and movie theaters and good restaurants. Truth be told, malls are a real treat and part of the great life we enjoy in the UAE.
After exploring mall culture here, I realized that going to the mall is like taking a stroll on the High Street (or spending an afternoon hanging out on Columbus Avenue in NYC). In the UAE, saying you’re going to the mall is the same as saying you’re going into town. In fact, malls in the UAE have dress codes (no hanging out in your cut off dungarees looking like a slob) and each mall has its own vibe, the same as different neighborhoods or sections of a city might have back home.
UAE malls serve as town centers largely because of the heat. Where else can local people gather with friends and extended family comfortably, and where else can expats go for a meal, a mooch around the book store, a coffee or ice cream, to check out a movie, and stop by the supermarket (also in the mall) to buy a couple of things for dinner with a minimal amount of sweat?
I’m lucky in that we live within distance of a mall that I can walk to in the middle of the summer without spontaneously combusting. Some people even live in buildings with malls in their lobby. But as someone who lived in New York City for more than twenty years and was proud because it was a place that didn’t have any malls (except for that horror on 34th Street), I have really changed my views.
Now, especially in summertime, I find myself craving the mall (not cringing about it the way I did as a teenager). I even have favorite malls that I frequent in Abu Dhabi. Khalidiyah Mall is my hometown mall, while Marina Mall is my fave for women's fashion clothing and easy parking. John and I have a soft spot for Dalma Mall, with its Shake Shack, Emack & Bolio ice cream shop and we like to check out the outdoor gear and sporting goods shops, you know, for when the heat breaks. And now that Pizza Express has opened at the World Trade Center Mall, well, we're all over that mall too!
So here’s to summer in the UAE!
It’s crazy hot.
And there’s even worse humidity to follow.
But at least there’s always the mall.