If you have been following my blog for a while you have probably noticed that I am interested in the origins of my food, love shopping locally and seasonably and try my best to use up what I’ve got and keep food waste to the minimum. I try my best to shop sustainably and ethically, get cross about pointless packaging and try to dispose of the waste I do make carefully. And now? This self-professed greeny has moved to Dubai! The land of excess. The city in the desert. The city of air conditioning and desalinated water. As you can imagine this is a challenge. How can I live sustainably in this place? Is it even possible? Do the little things that I do make any difference in a land where, if the whole world lived to this excess, we would run out of resources less than a quarter of the way though the year?
Inspired by an article I read recently about trying to be ‘green’ in rural America I have decided to share with you a ‘week in the life of’ me trying to live sustainably in Dubai. Some of the challenges are very different, some surprisingly similar.
This post is a little longer than my usual, but please stick with me and let me know your thoughts.
It is the beginning of the week (weekends being Friday and Saturday here) and Steve makes his first packed lunch salad for the week. We buy most of our vegetables from Spinney’s which is just a few minutes walk away (a very hot few minutes unless we go early or late in the day). A little while ago they were selling reusable cloth bags for vegetables, they seem to have stopped selling them but I am still using them. They are also happy for us to take pots back to the deli counter to refill. The vegetables, not surprisingly, come from all over the world. I remain unsure whether it is better to buy local vegetables grown using desalinated water or things brought in from overseas. A positive choice I can make is to avoid pre-packed vegetables.
Steve’s Greek Salad
- Half a cucumber
- a small tomato
- Half a small onion
- Feta cheese
- Balsamic vinegar
- Chopped olives
- Baked chopped beetroot
- Hard boiled egg
- Line caught tinned tuna
We also do some of our shopping at the local organic shop, making use of their fantastic discount days to replenish the store-cupboard and buy some meat for the freezer. It is quite an expensive place to buy meat even when there is a good discount, but as we only eat it about once a week we can afford to be choosy. I also love that they sell some ingredients loose which cuts down on plastic.
It is hard in summer to entertain a little one here, it is too hot and humid outside. My friends and I take it in turns to host playdates at home, but sometimes we just need a change of scenery. Today I took baby to a soft-play area to meet some of his little friends (they were all awake at the same time for once – a miracle). I choose a decaffeinated ice mocha at the café there, it is served in a glass jar not a disposable plastic cup like many places – good. But… I am too slow in turning down the straw, and I notice that having decaf means that the coffee comes in an individual plastic package to keep it fresh. You win some you lose some I suppose?
I get home and the little one has a nap, worn out from his playing. Do I have a nap myself or do the washing up? The perpetual question of a stay at home mum. I go with the washing up. It takes a while for the water to come through hot enough, so while it heats up I collect it in old milk bottles to water my plants on the balcony. Growing up in the driest part of the UK and then spending time living in Australia has made me rather sensitive about wasting water. While on the subject of washing up – one of the easy small changes I made a while ago was to start using washable cloths rather than sponges, it’s not a hardship to put them in the washing machine so this is an easy way to reduce waste.
For the first time since starting on the large refillable bottles of water we have run out before our Wednesday delivery and have to buy bottled water – bother. We also need to buy a big bucket of yoghurt for baby. I don’t think that there is a good alternative to buying yoghurt in a plastic tub – I could make it myself but I would still need to buy the milk in plastic bottles. At least buying a large volume reduces the packaging and baby is excited to have another bucket to put his toys in, and for playing water at the beach.
Today our big refilled bottles of water are supposed to turn up. I could lie to you and say that everything went to plan… but I’m going to be honest and admit that I forgot to top up the water app with money so the bottles didn’t turn up. So, I had to go shopping for bottled water again. Fail.
So, drinking water. An interesting dilemma here in Dubai. Arguably we could do better than the refilled bottles and have a filter tap installed in the sink… arguably we don’t even need to do that. Dubai water is, I’ve been told, drinking water standard at source however people still don’t trust it; possibly rightly because in some buildings there can be issues with corrosion of pipes. What I would really like to do is to send a sample of our tap water off to a lab so we can find out whether we can drink it or not. I expect that this isn’t an option so for the moment I’ll stick to my big bottles and do a little more research into filter taps.
We have got back into the habit of using Steve’s bread maker again, which cuts down on packaging and means that there are no preservatives. The flour is packaged in paper and is an organic British brand, there doesn’t seem to be a more local alternative for Bread Flour. The oil and sugar are in plastic but bulk bought, yeast is in a tin but has a plastic lid to keep fresh. We still buy local Arabic bread which is incredibly cheap, fresh and great with salad and for dipping in hummus – it is packaged in plastic, but at least the bags are the perfect size for our bathroom bin.
It’s the weekend!
I have decided that I want a bikini. I have to say that I am not a confident bikini wearer, I much prefer the support of a full cossie when swimming; but it is too hot and humid to comfortably walk across the road to the pool with a swimming costume under my clothes (first world problem?!). Which brings me to clothes. A bikini is the second thing I have bought since we arrived here in March, I also got a light long sleeved cardigan which I can wear with almost everything – which is great because I dislike baring my arms which are two dress sizes bigger than the rest of me (and at times it is inappropriate to have bare arms here, so it’s very useful garment).
I don’t like buying new clothes too often. I worry about the sweat shop it was probably made in. I worry about the resources used to make it – oil for manmade fibres, the huge amount of water for growing cotton. I love inheriting preloved clothes from friends and finding lovely things in charity shops. I am not sure whether charity shops exist here, but I think that I will put some time into organising a clothes swap – I’ll keep you posted.
It is still the weekend, but the chores continue. Washing clothes seems never ending. Recently I have been reading about how we should wash clothes less in order to save water and lessen the micro-plastics getting into the water. This is difficult in such a hot climate and with a baby. Wearing more natural fibres would help (but I don’t want to buy new clothes, and growing cotton uses a lot of water so is not necessarily a good environmental option – difficult). Hopefully when it cools down in the autumn I can wash the grown-up clothes less. I could also be more consistent in separating out washing which just needs a quick ‘de-stink’ from clothes which baby has covered in food and… other nastier things. Having said all that, I don’t think that the onus should just be on consumers for reducing microfibres – this is an interesting article which discusses things which the industry could do before clothes even reach the shelves.
When we moved to Dubai I started using washable nappies. I would have liked to have done this from day one but I didn’t feel up to the task with a newborn, and then when I had things more ‘together’ the thought of having to dry them in a damp British winter was a bit much. Now I have finally have time, energy and a warm climate to dry things in – hurrah! Having said that I only use them when I am near home, I don’t like the idea of carrying a poo-filled nappy around with me all day.
Some final thoughts…
One of the points made in the article about being ‘green’ in rural America which really resonated with me was ‘some people feeling bad for decisions largely out of their control – and many people not feeling bad for actions they can control‘. Personally, I know that I am the kind of person who can easily start feeling guilty about things which I don’t do. Sometimes this is good and can lead to action, other times it just adds to the fatigue which often plagues me. When my little one was born I made a conscious decision not to use washable nappies and managed not to feel bad about it – I knew my limits and knew that I would probably surpass them with a newborn. Some environmentally conscious friends tried hard to tell me how easy it is to wash nappies, others supported the fact that I recognised my limits and was looking out for my mental health (thanks Kate!).
If you have got to the end of this post, thank-you – I hope that it hasn’t been too long and rambling! I would be interested in your thoughts – especially if you live here in Dubai and have any tips. I know that some of you will be of the opinion that I am over thinking things and that I should chill out a bit, and that others will think that I am not doing enough. There are lots of things that I haven’t discussed, such as all the flying you do when living internationally. Is there any point in the (arguably) little things I do day to day when I fly back to the UK a couple of times a year?! I think that is a discussion for another day!
So, your thoughts?