Transliterated Qur’anic phrases and Islamic benedictions make up most of the road signs on the straight highway out of Dubai. We headed towards the second stop in an epic three-part field trip that began early in the morning at the UAE’s only paper recycling plant and would end at its sole hydroponics farm, where veggies are grown without soil and taste like heaven on earth.
Our afternoon stop: Camelicious™, the largest camel dairy farm in the country, (and sister company Al Nassma, the elegant pioneering producer of camel milk chocolate) where farmers have harnessed one of the lesser tapped cameline resources in an experimental venture financed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE, and absolute monarch of Dubai.
Union Paper Mills, despite pounding heavy machinery, log grinders, and furnaces spitting out flames and expelling clumps of grime, was a rather relaxed host. Without introduction or hard hats, we were shown onto the floor, where several ton reams of paper are spun, wrapped in cling film, and rolled wherever they need to go. A preliminary conveyor belt fed all kinds of cardboard through blenders and heaters to a steaming machine 500 feet long, where new paper snaked through more wheels and across more rollers than Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times.
Camelicous is a different business; Camelicious is a very, very serious business. Not to say that the paper recyclers weren’t committed paper people — they were. But without safety precautions or general orientation that would accompany most stateside school field trips, it seemed completely casual. As for exploring the secret science of camel milking, we were corralled every step of the way. “No pictures,” our scientist guide warned at the window overlooking the milking floor.
With four flavors (date, strawberry, chocolate, saffron) in addition to the original and a yogurt-like drink, Camelicious serves it up fresh from mare to market all across the UAE. In its sights: the health food market of the EU. Camel milk has up to five times more vitamin C than cow’s milk, is naturally less than 2% fat, and lasts for two weeks in the fridge. The only downside: it tastes a bit like taking a bite out of your front lawn.
“In my opinion,” the Hungarian scientist said, “cows don’t make any sense.” They drink one thousand liters of water per day, can only survive three production cycles, and are much more exciting grilled and topped with melted cheese. But the logic of the camel dairy is yet to be seen; only five years into the venture, and without yet enough long-term data from breeding, researchers can’t yet tell how efficient the project will be. Already, they have made adjustments from traditional dairy farming. Camel babies raised in the family business are always kept within eyesight of their mothers, who won’t produce if they can’t see their child. But how will the young ones fare when they’re older?
It was here at a camel farm an hour outside of Dubai that I noticed myself getting older. Listening to speech after speech about milking and humps and milking humps, but surrounded by younger students I had pledged to supervise, I couldn’t make any jokes. It hit me: I’m an adult, aren’t I. Shit.
But I could still be infantile in other ways, as one of the farm’s project managers pointed out. I asked him what his favorite flavor was, as he walked us through refrigerators and past processors and tanks of his own company’s product.
“Oh, I don’t consume,” he said. “Milk is for babies.”