The idea that the UAE summer is a time to unwind is relative. In addition to the school holidays and the family trips, the hot months can be quite emotional as a slew people often use the season to depart for new pastures, or to quietly arrive and set up new lives.
It is a period Tawfiq, my Sudanese friend, ever the poet, calls as "taghseel". It is the Arabic term for "cleansing" and he says it encapsulates how Abu Dhabi often rejuvenates in the summer months with a new generation of residents eager to make the most out of the opportunities of living in one of the safest cities in the world.
However, there is only also so much you can learn about a city prior to arriving. And as most people live in a hotel for a month to five weeks after they move here first, now is when everyone is house-hunting. But this lack of local knowledge often comes to the fore when choosing the neighbourhood in which to reside. Such decisions are often taken in a more clinical fashion (price of rent, amenities, close to work or school), without really looking at the characteristics of the area and whether it suits your personality.
Make no mistake: picking a neighbourhood to call home is similar to finding the right partner in a relationship. Do you both gel? Does it calm you down or stress you out? Will it disturb you at 2am?
Interestingly, if you scan through rental listings, not much information is given to prospective tenants about the vibe of their neighbourhood. Sorry, but "Spinneys very near" just doesn’t cut it. Those kinds of details can only come from Abu Dhabi residents themselves. So, to help anyone who might need it out, here's a guide to a few of the locations I've lived in or spent a lot of time in to make the choice that little bit easier.
However, none of this advice will really make sense until you ask yourself what it is that you want from your prospective home. Looking back at the places I lived, I can clearly trace my emotional (and in some cases physical) growth through my Abu Dhabi stay. Each neighbourhood gave me what I was looking for at a particular time.
When I arrived in Abu Dhabi eight years ago, what I was looking for were two specific things: a quiet residential area within walking distance to a mosque. The major reason for this was back in my former home of Melbourne, Australia, going to such places of worship often required a lengthy drive. But I found what I was looking for in Karama, a little suburb near Khalidiyah. It was quiet, full of embassies and ageing villas and I loved it. Kids play in the street, the local Baqala is the social hub and the main mosque is where everyone gathers and the community strengthens itself with each communal Friday prayer.
As serene as it was, however, it eventually began to bore me after 12 months. I was in my mid-twenties at the time and I needed some action, so to speak.
That is when I began to explore the Darat Al Miyah area in Khalidiyah. A long and rowdy street behind the Etisalat building, this is a neighbourhood that rarely goes to sleep and is a riot of trade, fast food and coffee shops. This was my first experience with proper inner-city living and the multicultural nature of the residents and businesses saw me sharpen my social and bargaining skills. There was always something to do and eat in this area – whether it was a visit to the nearby 24-hour gaming venue (where I played the latest computer games until 3am) or trying the new-at-the-time Games of Thrones-inspired cafe Game of Toast.
My near six-year stint there came to a rather undignified end 15 months ago, though, after my weight ballooned (too many 2am cheese toasties) and I was given a sobering diagnosis of high blood pressure. Darat Al Miyah was wild and exciting, but it was going to kill me.
Hence my move to my latest pad in Reem Island. To describe this as the opposite of Darat Al Miyah is an understatement. But it suited what I was looking for at the time: a calm and low-pressure environment where I could get back into shape. It has well-designed jogging paths, great health amenities in Reem Central Park and the gyms (and in-house personal trainers) come standard with most buildings. Best of all is I don’t hear a peep outside when I go to bed. This was exactly what I needed to get my health back under control and I am grateful to report all is well on that front.
There will probably be a time when the quiet vibes here will prove too cloying and I start itching to move again, but I am not worried about that. One great thing about Abu Dhabi is that there is always a neighbourhood you can call home.