Seven am, breakfast time – a late breakfast by the Kingdom’s standards. Already the sun is high in the sky and beating down fiercely on all those who dare to step outside. The temperature is rising into the fourties, and a weatherman with British standards would be starting to describe the ‘burn time’ in minutes rather than hours.
Day One is a day of waiting – about eight hours of waiting. With our passes expected to arrive at three in the afternoon, there’s little to do but contemplate how horrific each recreational option might be. To swim in the pool, almost instantly washing off whatever sun-cream you apply? To play tennis, and sweat about a pint a minute until by the end of the set you resemble nothing so much as a prune in a t-shirt? To go to the gym, and be out of the sun but sweat buckets just the same? The choices are endless, and endlessly unappealing. Instead, we sit in our cool dark dining-room, laptops out, coding. Working. Somehow, that seemed like the best option.
Noon. Not two weeks past midsummer and scarcely a few hundred miles from the Tropic of Cancer, the pale pink buildings on the compound cast just a few inches of shadow. The air here is dry, not like the humidity of a July evening in Bahrain, and the empty sky makes the light and the heat all the more fierce.
Inside, behind the closed curtains with the air-con buzzing, a cup of tea and a Mars bar in hand, this could be any house in any country of any climate. But one step beyond the front door, out into daylight, and nature makes it abundantly clear that you are an aberration. You have shelter and running water and a shop to buy imported chocolate, but this is a desert. You have built a wall around it and called it home, but up in the sky a trillion-ton fusion reaction cares nothing for humanity.
The breeze picks up in the afternoon, coming onshore, but it has little effect. Even heading across the harbour at twenty knots doesn’t help, because by mid-afternoon the temperature is reaching for the mid-fifties and the wind is just a hairdryer blasting you with air hotter than your body’s thirty-seven.
At our destination, reeking of sweat and diesel, the generator has broken down and we’re doing what we can on an hour of UPS battery. The temperature in the office is a refreshing thirty, but as the room fills with people and computers splutter to life, it soon starts to rise. I drink cans of Pepsi from coolers shipped over on the boat, because no generator means no fridge and no air-con, and the cans are the only thing we can use to lower our temperature. It’s still not enough to make me like Pepsi.
And when our hour of power (or at least of 240V supply) is done, we’re off home again for a long, long shower, as big a dinner as our stomachs can handle, and the promise of doing it all again tomorrow.