Every expat has that one little product from home that they can’t live without. I’m no exception, but I’m pretty sure no-one else shares my choice…
Once upon a time, when my in-laws lived in sub-Saharan Africa, they decided to try an experiment on me.
I was visiting them for Christmas – their summer – and my alabaster complexion was, yet again, wilting in the heat. It tops out at about 36C there, which was about 37 degrees more than I was used to at that time of year.
They decided to see how much of my suffering was psychological, by hiding all their thermometers and not talking about the heat (these were the days before smartphones and car dashboard displays, kids); their theory being that if I didn’t know how hot it was, I wouldn’t feel how hot it was.
And despite there being no double blind trial, no control group and the results not being peer reviewed (which put its efficacy on a par with homeopathic medicine) the experiment seemed to work well enough to convince me of its benefits (which puts it above homeopathic medicine).
I am at war with my body. And I’m losing
So notorious is my inability to withstand the sun’s frying rays that when I first told people we were moving to Qatar, most of them just laughed. “What are you going to do? Stay indoors all day?” was a typical response.
And although I’d like to think I’ve acclimatised a little since moving to Doha, there’s no getting round the fact that my first desert summer is just around the corner.
The simple fact is, it’s getting noticeably hotter here already – with another 10C still to come – and I can no longer fool my brain into pretending that it isn’t.
So if expat life is about immersing yourself in different environments (some more literal than others), then it goes without saying there will be challenges along the way, too, be they emotional, psychological, cultural, or mental.
My biggest challenge right now is physical: I am at war with my body. And I’m losing.
Some of us in family Little City are coping better than others. From a shaky start, Kid A – whose instant reaction as she stepped off the plane to breathe Gulf air for the first time was a simple yet heartfelt “No” – has followed in her mother’s genetic footsteps.
Take the return from school last week; Amnesiac and I – aka Pale and Paler – were being fried like ants under a kid’s magnifying glass on the short journey from car to front door. “Come on!” snapped Kid A huffily, “It’s only 39!”
And I’m well aware that I’m at the ludicrously fortunate end of life here in Qatar. The guys building the roads might come from countries more used to the heat than us Brits, but they’re doing hard, physical labour all day, with little or cover.
Doing any kind of physical activity in this heat is – to use a clinical term – nuts.
No wonder the issue of whether or not the 2022 World Cup will definitely be a summer tournament is yet to be resolved.
Take the trip Amnesiac and I made to the park the other lunchtime (this was early May; World Cup would be late June/July).
He rode his new bike, and we played football and flung the aerobie around, safe in the knowledge we weren’t going to hit anyone, because we were the only people there.
The park clearly wasn’t banking on having any visitors until much later in the day, because when I went to buy us some ice creams, the ladies in the concession stand said they hadn’t turned the machine on yet.
42 degrees and you don’t think anyone’s going to want an ice cream? It was like something out of an early round of The Apprentice.
Well here’s a task for the next bunch of big business brains: find a way for western expats (who can’t rock the gently flowing cotton thobe or abaya look) to keep cool in these crazy temperatures.
Because I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to sweat. A lot.
And I spend most of my time in t-shirts and suitably modest shorts. (I can’t even imagine what it would be like to wear business attire for ten hours straight, five days a week.)
To go from shower fresh to a crumpled, sodden mess takes all of about the first seven paces out of the front door. And it’s only going to get worse. Much worse. Mrs LC is worried how cold we’re going to feel, comparatively, in the UK in August. I’m thinking: ‘I can’t wait to feel cold in the UK in August’.
Maybe women talk about this kind of stuff all the time, who knows? But it’s not a topic that’s ever come up in male company.
I think we’re supposed to get on with it, or not notice, or pretend we haven’t noticed, or not care, or just accept that we will go through so many changes of clothes every day we make Lady Gaga look shy and retiring.
So, what’s the answer? Unable to keep cool African-style (I would start my trips at Arrivals as I meant to go on: with an ice cold can of Castle) I’ve had to find a new solution, and today, I’m going to share it with you.
So for anyone else who’s suffering in the heat but too polite / British to shout “help, my pits are like swimming pools”, I’ll break the taboos and go first.
Say hello to Driclor.
It’s like the armpit equivalent of Factor 50. Nothing gets in or out. It is a hardcore roll-on anti-perspirant. (Paraphrasing Netdoctor, it contains aluminium chloride which works like an over-zealous bouncer and blocks the sweat glands.)
It’s one of those products you ask for really quietly in the chemists, only for the Saturday girl to ring her little bell and shout from one of the shop to the other to enquire about stock levels of “…you now, the stuff for really sweaty people”.
So that’s my little secret, the one thing I can’t live without.
Being British, maybe you were expecting me to say Marmite. But I’ve found that smearing yeast extract under your arms just creates a whole new set of problems I can do without.