Anna Zacharias | January 13, 2014
Career or family? Even camels must make sacrifices.
For Al Kuzaila the racing camel, a glorious career was cut short for her children.
She was retired three years ago after breaking the Suan track record for three-year-old camels.
It was decided then and there that a new career was in store. As happens all too often, Al Kuzaila’s success translated into an early racetrack retirement so she could breed. A match was arranged with a camel from the Shaheen line.
This was no small honour. Al Shaheen was the most famous camel to emerge from the Suan track. Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding President, had ordered that Al Shaheen’s descendants bear his name. The Suan camel fathered a pedigree that carried his name, with descendants around the Gulf.
A cross between Al Kuzaila and a direct descendent of Al Shaheen was sure to make a marvel.
There was a small problem. Al Kuzaila then produced a son. Her owner, Sheikh Saeed Al Khatri, was not too pleased with this. In the camel world, daughters – smaller and faster – are often preferred.
But few at Suan had forgotten the days when Al Kuzaila ruled the track.
And so when Al Kuzaila returned to the track just a few weeks ago, her fans were ready.
Sheikh Saeed had taken her out of a retirement for a single race to prove a point to his sons: a mother could win. There was a belief that once bred, a female could not race well. This, said the elderly sheikh, was nonsense and Al Kuzaila would prove it.
The sheikh’s family raced alongside in several cars. I joined a relative named Obaid and his son Hamed, 18. Obaid tutted when I put on my seat belt and then proudly showed off his right-hand drive 4×4.
“It’s from Japan,” he said. I soon understand its advantage. With a right-side steering wheel, Obaid could converse side-by-side with other drivers as we dune bashed beside the track.
He swerved between the 20 vehicles following Al Kuzaila and exchanged pleasantries with seven different drivers before the six km race was over.
Others kept their eyes firmly on Al Kuzaila, who wore a white blanket trimmed in yellow, red and blue over her hump. She carried a robot jockey in matching uniform.
The comeback camel led the pack from beginning to end. As the finish line came into view and a female began to catch up, Al Kuzaila’s fans reached for their camel sticks, beating the tops of their cars and shouting her name.
Obaid, who had no camel stick, grabbed a hard plastic pipe that he pounded against his car door.
As Al Kuzaila crossed the line, drivers accelerated to Sheikh Saeed’s 4×4, crying namoos, congratulations. That morning, dozens of men went to his ezba to pay their respects on his camel’s racetrack revival.
Al Kuzaila had proved that a woman could have it all.