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Unable to beat the summer heat, some Dubai residents must find ways to deal with it

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Summers in Dubai are hot and brutally long. Temperatures in the Gulf Arab city can soar above a hundred degrees day and night. And the humidity is just at another level, which, in addition to making it feel even hotter, can also make things sticky. NPR's Aya Batrawy reports on how some residents who can't beat the heat have found ways to at least contend with it.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: It's hot, and it is humid.

Earlier this summer, I dared to venture outside my walled-in and air-conditioned existence in the United Arab Emirates by heading to Dubai's historic waterfront creek.

There's a hot breeze, so there is a breeze. But I would say it's very hot. And this is the time of year that people actually stay indoors. This is not the time of year where people go outside. This is the reverse.

Well, at least that's how Dubai's affluent residents survive the summer - by hunkering indoors in restaurants, gyms and the city's sprawling malls or by flocking in droves to cooler European cities and coastlines. But not everyone in Dubai has that kind of money or time off. There are hundreds of thousands of foreign laborers who keep the city humming year-round. The area around Dubai's creek offers a public space to simply laze in the summer. Sitting on a bench overlooking the gulf waters is Bisharat Hussain from Pakistan. He's a crane operator who works 10-hour days with one day off a week. He's been laboring in Dubai for 15 years.

BISHARAT HUSSAIN: Sitting is a rest.

BATRAWY: Yeah. Yeah.

HUSSAIN: Good.

BATRAWY: Good here. It's a nice breeze. There's a little bit of a breeze.

HUSSAIN: Not anybody - safety good.

BATRAWY: It's a good area.

With his feet up on the bench, he offers to buy me a soda.

HUSSAIN: Two Pepsi, please.

BATRAWY: Oh, thank you so much. Thank you.

The creek has kiosks selling cold, fizzy drinks, a universal and exquisite summer pleasure. There's also a wide promenade, shaded patches of grass and traditional sand-colored buildings and a simple charm that distinguishes it from Dubai's fancy neighborhoods and futuristic skyscrapers. Mohamed Somji is a longtime resident of Dubai and a photographer who documents the city's outdoor spaces, which have shrunk over time amid an endless building spree. He says public spaces like Dubai's creek, where you can take off your slippers and relax, offer workers who only often get a few weeks off every couple of years a chance to connect with nature and to exist beyond just their labor.

MOHAMED SOMJI: Like, we always think about the calendar year as, oh, summer is when, like, the kids are off or when, like, things are - work is quiet. So I can go back, and I can go and travel and things like that. And they don't have that luxury. So for them, summer is just like any other time, except that it's hotter because of the way the vacation works.

BATRAWY: At the creek, I meet a group of friends from Nepal sitting under some palm trees. They work right through the summer, and this is their one day off a week. Rita Boren tells me she likes to sleep in on her day off. It's too hot anyway for anything else this time of year.

RITA BOREN: Then maybe 3 o'clock, I'm coming outside.

BATRAWY: Yeah.

BOREN: Then I meet my friend, sister, brother. I make TikTok, enjoy too much TikTok.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in non-English language).

BATRAWY: That's right. They're making TikTok videos, and we decide to do one together. Her friends join in.

You guys are good dancers.

(LAUGHTER)

BATRAWY: Amazing. This is fun.

It's nearly sunset. We're all dripping sweat and a little out of breath now. Down by the water, another group of Nepalis is packed into a small motorboat playing music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BATRAWY: Did I mention it's still really hot? But just like the humidity filling the air, so, too, does their laughter. Aya Batrawy, NPR News, Dubai.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ROOTS SONG, "WHAT THEY DO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.
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