When the winds come off the Persian Gulf you just can’t imagine how awful it gets.
On the hottest and most humid days, you’d walk outside and it felt immediately like someone pressed a hot wet towel, like you sometimes get on airplanes, over your entire head. I wear glasses, and they’d immediately fog up. You sweat instantly. People just avoid being outside in any way they can. In the summers, my friends and I would become nocturnal as a way to beat the heat. Crime is basically non-existent, so my parents didn’t worry about us being out all night. I’d usually have breakfast with my dad and then sleep through the heat of the day, waking up when he got home from work. At night it was still stifling, but the edge was off.
Air conditioning is everywhere. You can trace the population explosion in the country directly to the advent of air conditioning – it allowed people to settle down and stop living the nomadic life that was common into the middle of the 20th century. We lived on a compound for employees of the Saudi national oil company, and they treated air conditioning repair like ambulances or fire trucks – they had crews on 24-hour call, and you could have them dispatched at a moment’s notice by calling the special air conditioning emergency hotline. In the summer, the air-conditioned school buses would stop outside every individual kid’s house, so they didn’t have to wait at a stop and could stay in the AC. Off the compound, air conditioning is still common, even for the poorest migrant workers there. Shopping was done in huge air-conditioned malls. The great open-air souks operate in the winter or very early in the morning on summer weekends