As Europe swelters in record-breaking heat, Arabs offer some expert advice on keeping your cool

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Soaring temperatures have forced many countries to issue states of emergency. (Shutterstock photo)
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Modern air-conditioned malls have become a favorite destination when temperatures soar. (Shutterstock photo)
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Traditional-style homes in Saudi Arabia have their own cooling systems.
Updated 08 August 2018
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As Europe swelters in record-breaking heat, Arabs offer some expert advice on keeping your cool

BUDAPEST, Hungary: While Europeans are experiencing a rare but increasingly typical heatwave this summer, for Arabs it is business as usual. Every year, Middle Easterners complain about the weather, but then brush it off as they fan themselves while reaching for a plate of freshly cut fruit.

As temperatures in Europe soar, the continent is feeling the heat in places as far north as the Arctic Circle, with temperatures at least 10 degrees Celsius above average, and as far south as the Amalfi Coast and Iberian Peninsula, with record-breaking temperatures exceeding 35 degrees.

This week, a supermarket in Helsinki opened its doors for one night and had 100 shoppers sleeping in its aisles as temperatures hit 30 degrees. 

Temperatures were expected to peak on Tuesday in France, Portugal, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and eastern Europe. More than a million children returned to school on Monday in three German states, but some were allowed to go home earlier than planned due to the heatwave as temperatures are expected to spike midweek to about 39 degrees.

People are heading to beaches and pools to cool down, but to no avail. With the long summer days and short nights, the heat lingers throughout the evening. 

The summer of 2018 looks set to be one of the hottest on record. In the first week of August, areas in southeast Portugal and southwest Spain has temperatures of 47 degrees, higher than most Middle Eastern cities.

While heatwaves have forced many countries around the world to issue states of emergency, residents of the Middle East are no strangers to scorching summers.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the other Gulf states have grown accustomed to the heat. As Manar Saud, a head administrator based in Riyadh, put it (one might say coolly): “There’s no real advice that could be given to our European neighbors. We’ve just become immune and no one is complaining.” 

Many Gulf residents prefer to stay indoors or cool off in air-conditioned malls, cafes and homes, a luxury not found in many European cities, where homes are designed to conserve heat in the long winter months and air-conditioning units are rare.

Hala Radwan, a marketing consultant in Riyadh and Jeddah, has experienced a few hot summers while studying at Grenoble University in France. “The best advice I’d give would be to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Starting off with a cold shower in the morning, a glass of cold water and snacking on water-based fruits and vegetables like watermelon and cucumbers throughout the day will regulate your internal temperature,” Radwan said.

“Sleeping with an ice pack under the pillow and with a light bed sheet or a light throw helps as well. Europeans don’t use ACs, but with a fan and light sheets, nights are tolerable.”

“Carrying light bags or purses and wearing light materials help with feeling airy and light,” said Maha Nasef, a life coach based in Jeddah and the US. “Having a water spray or misting fan while drinking cool beverages throughout the day helps with relieving the heat. We’re used to having air-conditioning units on everywhere in Saudi. It’s different in the US.” 

Moudhi Sameer, a 30-year-old Kuwaiti ESL instructor, said that eating a breakfast infused with hot green chili helps to cool her down. The evaporation of sweat cools the body, a trick she learned during a trip to India.

Saudi beauty blogger Heyam Omar has seen her fair share of heatwaves while in Chicago. “I never leave home without my fan or a high-SPF sun screen,” she said. The blogger also offers tips on how to stay fresh-faced and cool this summer. 

“I drink cool drinks and fan myself all through my outing. We walk everywhere just as Europeans do, ride the buses and trains to move around. But as soon as I feel the heat getting to me, I stop whatever I’m doing and head to the nearest building away from the sun to cool down.”

Arabs for years have designed their homes to deal with the heat of the region. Long before air-conditioning units were developed, residents of the Western Region built homes several floors high to accommodate several rooms with the family sleeping quarters at the top. Windows covered with wooden lattices, known as “rawasheen” or “shanasheel,” helped the air flow throughout the house and keep it cool.

My late aunt once explained how our family home in Makkah was designed long before there were any electrical appliances and the typical household units we have now. The family slept in Al-mabeet, or sleeping quarters, with an adjoining Al-kharja, or open balcony, where a mosquito net tied to the walls created a canopy around the mattresses.

“My mother, siblings and I wet the mosquito nets every night in summer,” Um Mohammed told me. “Mosquitoes were common in Makkah during summer. The net wasn’t only to protect us, but also cooled us down as the breeze passed through Al-mabeet.”

If there is one lesson Arabs can teach about enduring heatwaves, it’s that it can be done. But one thing is certain: It’s going to be a long, hot summer.

Anyone up for a gelato?


Boko Haram displaced feel forgotten amid Nigeria election fever

Updated 12 min 13 sec ago
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Boko Haram displaced feel forgotten amid Nigeria election fever

  • More than 27,000 people died and 1.8 million displaced since the start of Boko Haram conflict in 2009
  • Malkohi residents say they will support President Muhammadu Buhari because he helped curtail the extremists’ power

MALKOHI, Nigeria: Idriss Abdullahi was once a successful businessman and a husband to four wives, until the day he fled his home when Boko Haram insurgents advanced across northeastern Nigeria.
Five years on he lives beside dull farmland in a tented camp in Malkohi village, near the Adamawa state capital Yola, and tries to make a living selling firewood.
But the earnings are so meager he has had to divorce one of his wives.
“Even an animal lives better than me,” he told AFP in the camp he shares with 2,800 of his neighbors from the Borno state town of Gwoza, which the insurgents sacked in 2014.
More than 27,000 people have been killed since the Boko Haram conflict began in 2009 and some 1.8 million others are still displaced.
President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015 on a pledge to end the insurgency, which at its peak saw the extremists control an area the size of Belgium.
In Abdullahi’s hometown, the wild-eyed leader of the extremists, Abubakar Shekau, declared an Islamic caliphate.
An offensive involving Nigerian troops and foreign mercenaries pushed them back. But in recent months there have been signs of resurgence.
Despite that, residents of Malkohi say they’re ready to support Buhari at Saturday’s rescheduled vote — even if they can’t return to Gwoza to do so.
“It’s not that we actually love him,” Abdullahi said of the president. “It’s that he saved our lives from Boko Haram.”
Shortly after taking office, Buhari declared Boko Haram “technically defeated,” apparently fulfilling the promise that was seen as a key to his victory.
But in February last year, the group seized 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi, in an echo of the 2014 abduction of more than 200 from Chibok that brought world attention to the conflict.
Malkohi itself hasn’t been spared; the group in 2015 bombed a government-organized camp across the road from the informal settlement where the former Gwoza residents stay.
An Islamic State-allied faction has in recent months overrun military bases, seizing equipment and weapons, and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee for their lives.
Nigeria’s election commission has been forced to set up special measures for them to vote: in Borno, some 400,000 displaced people will vote at 10 centers.
Several others have been created in Adamawa.
The main opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has seized on the insecurity and claimed Buhari has failed in his core duty of keeping Nigerians safe.
But from their homes in Adamawa — Abubakar’s home state — Malkohi residents say they feel more forgotten than under attack.
“Up to now, hospitals have not been provided. Before, [aid groups] gave us drugs, but now we don’t receive any,” said Fanta Ali, a housewife at the camp.
The Malkohi camp today is made up of rows of shacks separated by dirt paths, on which barefoot children and turkeys strut.
The makeshift homes are constructed from tarpaulin donated by aid agencies who also built a water tower for the settlement.
Many Malkohi residents were prosperous in Gwoza but without money to start businesses they now rely on manual labor to get by.
“Seriously, I’m suffering,” said Abdulrahman Hassen, once a merchant and chair of a professional association who now farms for a living.
Returning to Gwoza, where Boko Haram remains strong, is still a distant prospect. Helping people go home will be on the next president’s to-do list.
The displaced say they’re made to feel like outsiders in Adamawa, and local residents call them thieves for farming the land around the camp.
Gwoza was badly damaged when it was retaken in 2015, and cellphone reception is so weak residents climb trees to get a signal, said Yunussa Takda, a youth leader in Malkohi.
Meanwhile, the town’s outlying villages are still unsafe.
“Under Buhari, we’ve seen that a lot of our villages that have been taken by Boko Haram haven’t been recovered,” he said. “Maybe if he’s given a second chance, we can go home.”
Umaru Ibrahim Bakare lost track of his pregnant wife and then three-year-old daughter in the chaos of Boko Haram’s initial attack on the town, and has been looking for them ever since.
He made an unsuccessful trip to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, aiming to find his family.
He remains hopeful after the Red Cross connected a friend with three children he’d lost when fleeing Boko Haram.
“We must vote Muhammadu Buhari to finish what he’s started and defeat the insurgency,” he said.