x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Happiness is a herd of camels

A friend's gift sparks a second career for an expatriate German who finds peace of mind among her animals.

Ursula Musch with some of her camels on her farm near the Bab al Shams resort in Dubai.
Ursula Musch with some of her camels on her farm near the Bab al Shams resort in Dubai.

DUBAI //Ursula Musch's life took a dramatic turn when she went from owning an international transport company in Germany to raising a herd of 20 camels on the outskirts of Dubai. Although it is what she now most enjoys, camel ownership was not even on the radar for Ms Musch, known to many as Uschi, when she moved to the UAE in 1998.

"I wanted to enjoy the country and to relax," she said. For a while, she did just that. Then an Emirati friend, Saif al Muhairi, gave her a camel for a present. The al Muhairi family had already played an important part in her life. Ms Musch met Obaid Humaid al Muhairi, his wife, Fatima, and son, Saif, in 1993 on her first trip to Dubai as a tourist. They kept in touch, and when Ms Musch's mother passed away in 1996, the al Muhairis told her, "We are your family now", urging her to move to Dubai.

The al Muhairis also sparked Ms Musch's interest in camels, as both father and son are keen and well-known breeders. The camel Saif al Muhairi gave to Ms Musch is already a grandmother and will have her third baby this autumn. Named Sarab, she shares Ms Musch's farm, near the Bab al Shams resort, with 19 other camels. They spend the days roaming their desert encampment and grazing. Every night, as they return to their rest area, the animals receive a meal of corn, dates and hay.

"In the beginning I did not know anything, but now I breed camels for racing," said Ms Musch, laughing. At the moment, all racing hopes lie on a young male - two-year-old Soran al Ashra. His father is an elite racing camel and his name reflects that lineage, said Ms Musch. "Soran" means bloodline in Arabic, while "Ashra" refers to his father's success at the 10-kilometre races. Lineage is an important factor in deciding whether a young camel will succeed in racing. Strong, lean legs and body are also important.

"You see it already in the shape as they are born," said Ms Musch, who breeds some of her camels for the milk they produce. There, different qualities are needed. "They are fatter and they will not be so fast," she said, referring to the milking camels. But apart from possessing unique physical characteristics, camels also are known to have tempers and idiosyncrasies. One of Ms Musch's animals is fond of cigarette smoke, and another one is jealous of anyone who tries to come close to her mistress. That animal, whose name, Alanud, means "the soft, lovely one", looks threateningly at anyone talking to Ms Musch or who tries to come between them. But her owner finds it easy to forgive, as Alanud once protected her from another camel.

It happened five years ago. At the time, Ms Musch was looking to add to her herd. She was among a group of about 40 young animals when one of them charged at her, trying to kick her. At this point, Alanud intervened. "She came between us and bit her away," she said. "For me the decision to buy her was very easy because she saved me." The camel herd has proved to be one more link to the local culture for Ms Musch, who speaks fluent Arabic, can cook local dishes and sometimes wears traditional dress. The enterprising German has turned her love for camels into a source of income, too. She conducts cultural counselling sessions on her farm and runs a traditional Bedouin tent at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi. And she has also rubbed shoulders with the famous, such as the time she took Shakira on a camel ride.

This Ramadan she is running a programme at the Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort and Towers in Dubai educating people about the Bedu lifestyle. Still, despite all her other ventures, the animals are her primary source of happiness. "If I have a busy day or I am stressed . . . I go to the desert and see my camels - very healthy and in good shape - and I am happy," she said. @Email:vtodorova@thenational.ae