This week I was reminded of Jamaal the camel, a character I'd created for a children’s’ story book due to someone asking me if I'd had my book published. To cut a long story short, it was about eighteen months ago when I was approached to write a children’s book and despite not having the background in children’s storytelling I accepted the offer along with the brief to create a story featuring two children who visit numerous tourist attractions in and around Dubai. The project proved to be challenging and involved a lot of editing between me and the intended publisher. I can remember spending the first week or so shuffling the brief around on my desk then it occurred to me that the animal most adored here in the UAE is the camel and the Emirati passion of camel racing. That's how the anchor character of the book emerged, Jamaal the camel who with his two friends undertakes a search for the magic fountain beginning deep in the desert sands locally called here “the Big Red” and ending in the fountain beneath the Burg Al Khalifa. As the project was done and dusted a while back along with all the accompanying illustrations I'd archived it; but it got me thinking about camels.
So this week I thought I’d reacquaint myself with the theme of the camel by visiting the Al Marmoom camel track along the Al Ain Road. Camels are huge magnificent animals that have been integral to Emirati life for centuries. Child riders used to be the jockeys but were outlawed in 2002, so now small robots are used instead of humans in a move towards a "more humane" form of racing. The robots weigh no more than 4kg and possess a walkie-talkie speaker enabling owners to deliver commands to the camels during the race, as well a small automatic whip operated by a remote control. A fleet of cars drive alongside the camels as the race unfolds enabling owners to dictate the speed of the robot's whip. The cost of taking part in these races is expensive with a camel price starting from about $55,000 USD and thoroughbreds going for a lot more. Back in 2010 an Emirati camel racing fan spent $8.5m USD on three camels and the prices of winning camels go even higher from between $5-10m, with some fetching up to $30m - totally out of my league then but I got some good photos!