Here in southern Ontario we have just clicked over into fall weather. Every year, usually in the last week of August we wake up one morning to discover the temperature has dropped a few degrees and the humidity has suddenly vanished. Although it’s still warm and sunny, the air is crisp. It makes me feel that it’s time to get off my butt and start doing things.
One of the benefits of expat life is to experience living in different climates. Not something you normally think about when looking back on your travel experiences and yet for me it’s just as much a part of it as the people I’ve met and the places I’ve seen.
When we lived in Baku, Azerbaijan, despite some rain and even occasional snow in winter, it was primarily an arid climate and very hot in the summer. Its distinctive feature is the wind, and locals told me that the name Baku means City of Winds. There’s a steady breeze most of the time, a blessing in the summer heat and for keeping airborne pollution at bay. However it’s in the winter when it can howl for days that you really notice it. Lying in bed at night it made me feel really cozy, despite our rather draughty apartment and the inevitable clanging of a piece of corrugated iron somewhere.
Curiously Baku doesn’t have a name for this wind, but in Cairo they call it the Khamsin, which means 50 in Arabic, because it blows for about 50 days in the spring. It comes from the western desert and brings raised temperatures as well as a lot of sand and dust. However what I remember most about Cairo weather is how cold it was when we first arrived in January and that I hadn’t packed enough sweaters to see me through until our shipment arrived.
By contrast, we arrived in Dubai on July 1st, just about the hottest time of the year with temperatures well over 40C. When we checked into our hotel room I was convinced they’d made a terrible mistake with the plumbing, as there was steam rising from the toilet. I discovered later that the water storage tank was on the roof and therefore the water coming out of the cold line was almost too hot to shower in. Experienced expats soon explained that we needed to turn off the hot water immersion heater in the bathroom, allow the water in the tank to cool to room temperature and then use the taps in reverse – cooler water now coming out of the hot tap and hot out of the cold. Another surprise was that Dubai was humid in the summer. It never occurred to me that the desert could be humid. But the prevailing wind passes over the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf, making most of the summer oppressively sticky.
Having been born and raised in the northern hemisphere I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to experience living in really hot climates. Although I love the sun, living in the desert has taught me that you can have too much of a good thing. I know now that what I love most is the contrast between the seasons. I find the changes reassuring; like the chiming of a clock they mark the turning of the year.