With the month-long festival that is the World Cup coming to an end this weekend, I am already witnessing pangs of anxiety and sadness from friends and colleagues reaffirming to me that the so-called "World Cup Blues" are real.
For the past four weeks I’ve been frequenting my favourite coffee shops in the old-school Darat Al Miyah district in Khalidiyah, revelling in the joys and disappointments only a game like football can conjure up. More than that, what I will remember most from this year’s World Cup is the camaraderie such extreme emotions foster.
Since the first match kicked off back in June, plates of falafel have been silently shared while everyone’s eyes were glued to the big screen. Strangers would look after my belongings and mobile phone while I went for a toilet break. And then there was that particularly angry Moroccan who thumped the table so hard in disgust at his national side’s poor performance that a good amount of avocado juice spilt on my hands (we’re both good now).
The pre- and post-match debriefs were often colourful discussions linking football with history and geopolitics, and now with the final match scheduled for Sunday, a dread as heavy as the shisha smoke is beginning to take hold. “I don’t know what I am going to do,” admits Yunous, a young Egyptian office clerk who I became acquainted with recently. “I haven’t been thinking about the summer for months, now it’s the only thing on my mind.”
Indeed, the past two months have been some of the best I can remember spending in the UAE. First there was Ramadan with its proliferation of social gatherings and epic iftar meals. And then came the World Cup, which helped us maintain the merriment.With the tournament coming to a head on Sunday, so comes the realisation that summer is really here, and after seven years in the Emirates I can tell you it isn’t a season to fear, but one we must grudgingly embrace.
With not too much happening on the summer social calendar, it provides me with a good opportunity to take stock and test drive new habits.
So what worked? That regular 6am Corniche walk has become a serene way to begin a work day. What hasn’t worked? A sore posterior ended my brief dalliance with indoor cycling at the local gym.
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That being said, I have also been making the most of the annual exodus of expats from the region in search of cooler climes by buying some of their discarded furniture – such as the cute white bookshelf that stands handsomely in my living room courtesy of the soon-to-be departing teacher Kate (all the best to you and your family in Galway, my friend).
If anything, though, the double whammy of Ramadan and the World Cup has taught me the benefit of getting out and socialising. Despite my inner battles with laziness, I often walk away from suhoors and World Cup matches with a sense of rejuvenation. That quiet thrill of meeting new people and sharing a moment, no matter how brief, is a reminder of why I signed up to the expat experience in the first place, all those years ago.
The past two months have also taught me one final thing – I suck at cards. But that’s okay; the friends I made at one of the coffee shops during the World Cup festivities have given me their word they’ll teach me by inviting to their weekly cards nights. Ace.