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Camel riding in the UAE Desert dream


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Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 11/2022 vom 26.10.2022

INTERCULTURAL BUSINESS

Artikelbild für den Artikel "Camel riding in the UAE Desert dream" aus der Ausgabe 11/2022 von Business Spotlight. Dieses epaper sofort kaufen oder online lesen mit der Zeitschriften-Flatrate United Kiosk NEWS.
Linda Krockenberger with her camels

MEDIUMAUDIO PLUS

In the Arabian Desert, Linda Krockenberger leads one of her students across the hot sand on a camel, teaching them exactly how to ride the animal. A German expat, Krockenberger is the co-founder of the Arabian Desert Camel Riding Center, which is the first official camel riding school in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It’s located about 30 kilometres from Dubai. Since opening in early 2021, it has grown from three camels to 13 and has about 40 regular riders, most of whom are women from the UAE and other countries.

Originally from Schwäbisch Hall, near Stuttgart, the 30-yearold moved to Dubai in 2015 to start a career in hotel management. After discovering that the best way to explore the desert was on the back of a camel, she learned to ride and later opened the riding centre with an Emirati man named Obaid Al Falasi. Krockenberger’s dream is to open more ...

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... centres and organize camel riding expeditions in the UAE and other countries so that more people can traverse the desert by camel — an experience that she describes as being “almost transformative”.

Historically, camels have been used for transport and as a source of milk, meat, wool, etc. How challenging is it to be a foreigner running a business based around an animal of such cultural significance in the region?

Just recently, there was a story about us on an Arabic-speaking news channel. And, basically, the entire comment section was: “Oh, look, the foreigner is teaching the Arabs about camels. How ridiculous is that?” Or: “Shame on us that we have let this happen.” So, this is one criticism from people who don’t know us. I believe it’s mostly an online opinion. But I’m very aware of this idea that may exist in people’s heads — “The foreigner teaching the Arabs!” I have to navigate that.

As much as it belongs to this region’s cultural heritage, however, my focus is on developing a hobby, which is camel riding. And while it has a bigger relevance here, developing a hobby can be universal and should be detached from nationality. I don’t position myself as a representative of Bedouin or Emirati culture. I am a catalyst or a bridge that tries to connect any background, gender or nationality to something that is indigenous to this part of the world, and having an Emirati business partner helps me to navigate this.

“Opening the riding centre really accelerated my learning”

WHO ARE THE BEDOUIN?

Arabic-speaking nomadic peoples, the Bedouin live in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, including the Arabian Peninsula, Syria and Iraq.

Most Bedouin work as herders, migrating with their animals (usually camels, goats or sheep) into the desert during the rainy season in winter and returning to cultivated areas in summer.

This pastoral nomadism is at least 3,000 years old, but there’s often conflict over what the Bedouin see as their traditional lands and what modern nations regard as state-owned territory.

Camel riding is a male-dominated practice in the UAE. How did you attract so many female clients?

I knew it would be hard to attract Emirati women as customers because there are cultural hurdles. For women in some families, for example, there’s a requirement to be in a ladies-only environment. I can offer a ladies-only class, but we are in a public area where predominantly men live. Once we had a few join us and advocate for us — let’s call them “influencers of the community” or “voices of the community” — that really helped us to attract more female clients.

What are camels like to work with?

They are very mellow but, at the same time, they are very sensitive and aware of their surroundings. In the beginning, when we came to start this programme, the camels were not familiar with women. So, it was something new to them, to hear a different tone of voice and see different clothing. They were used to men wearing white and soft-coloured kandura, which is the local dress for men. When a woman came, wearing a colourful shirt or a colour they’d never seen before, they were startled by it. They wouldn’t necessarily run away, but they’d be tense. So, it’s nice to see that, despite how mellow they are, they’re not completely ignorant or unaware of what’s going on.

“Here, people keep experimenting and exploring”

Did you have to learn Arabic when you arrived in the UAE?

The main language of business is English, and you wouldn’t need to know a single word of Arabic to get around in this country, which is, I believe, both a good and a bad thing. I mean, it makes the integration of many nationalities and cultural backgrounds very easy, because you have a common language that is represented internationally. But, at the same time, it takes a little bit away from the identity of living in the Middle East.

For me, personally, I find it important to try, at least as much as possible, to learn the local language. I joined a language class in Arabic in 2017, but it was opening the riding centre that really accelerated my learning, because I had to work with so many people who spoke Arabic and not English. I wouldn’t have a riding school if I weren’t able to communicate with them, at least in a basic way.

Has learning the language given you a better understanding of Emirati culture?

Yes, 100 per cent — from understanding some of the local jokes and the humour, to simply knowing names for items that we don’t have in Germany. We have one word for “camel” in English and in German, but a Bedouin, or someone who knows about camels in the UAE, will use different terms, depending on the gender of the camel, the age of the camel, the purpose of it and its habits. There is a specific word for a camel that eats all the time, Knowing English and Arabic have been essential for success or for one that is lazy, or old or young or female — or for a racing camel. So, that just shows you how rich the language is.

What would you say is the biggest cultural difference between Germany and the UAE?

Dubai has always been developed to suit international expats. But the service culture was something that was new to me. Here, there’s someone to help you with every single step of life. That re, keep enting loring” could be a driver. That could be a cook, for example. It’s much more affordable than in Europe. When I tell German people that I have a maid who comes and cleans my house once a week, they’re like: “You don’t clean your house?!” I think this is a difference in lifestyle that I can choose to have someone help me, so I can make use of that time to work at the riding school.

Another difference is the choice you have in what to do in your free time. You can do any type of sport, from paddle tennis to martial arts to mountain climbing. It’s very diverse, and the hurdle to start something new is very low, whereas in Germany, you might start in a club and develop through the club from an early age until you graduate from university. So, there’s a bit more longevity there than here, where it’s like: “Oh, I just want to try it so I know a little bit about how it works and then, I’ll try something else.” Here, people keep experimenting and exploring.

Have you felt welcomed as a German immigrant in the UAE?

Yes. The World Expo that was held in Dubai was all about bringing the world together, and that’s not just a marketing message. It’s really something lived by the Emirati people. Emiratis are a minority here, which makes it even more admirable that they are so open and welcoming, and also flexible in providing different opportunities and accepting different lifestyles. Going to the beach and wearing a swimsuit, for example, is not really something that an Emirati would feel comfortable doing. But they say: “If it’s normal for Europeans or whoever to go to the beach in a swimsuit, then please do it.” They facilitate these things despite the cultural differences.

THE UAE EXPLAINED

• The United Arab Emirates consists of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al-Quwain, Fujairah and Ras Al-Khaimah.

• The UAE was established as a nation in 1971, in a process known as “federation”.

• Abu Dhabi is the capital city, located in the largest and wealthiest of the seven emirates.

• The UAE is the Middle East’s third-largest economy, and per capita GDP is on par with those of leading Western European nations.

• Since the 1960s, oil has transformed the region. Today, however, economic diversification means the oil and gas sector makes up just 30 per cent of GDP.