I’m from the fishing town of Kinsale, in Ireland. Life is pretty good there, but Dubai caught my attention when I was 18. My aunt has lived there since the 80s and I would often visit her before moving there myself 10 years ago as a 30-year-old film-maker. It’s been a wild ride, full of chaos and wonder.
My partner, Christine, lives here with me; when her sister Angela came to visit in April this year, the three of us set off in my pickup truck with our rescue dog, Rocket. It was a cloudless day, touching 40C. The heat and humidity were brutal, so we were happy to sightsee from the car.
We took the scenic route between Dubai and Ras al-Khaimah, a charming city in the north. A year earlier, while off-roading with a friend, I got stuck at a water crossing there, at the only inlet on the coast, where the sea flows into a swampy lagoon. I had to be rescued, and learned how quickly the tide could come in.
Christine spotted what looked like the Loch Ness monster stuck in the sand. We decided to investigate and drove up to where the sand met the lagoon. It was a camel, not moving.
Since relocating here, I have always kept a shovel, rope, torches and knives in my car – getting stuck in the desert can be debilitating.
I got out my shovel and approached the camel. It was a female; we nicknamed her Stucky. Stucky appeared traumatised, and it looked as if she had been trapped for hours – she was in quite deep. I’ve been around camels a lot in Dubai; they are massive. They can be friendly, but they can also be vicious, and have the strength to crush your skull. I approached Stucky slowly and started to gently dig away the sand around her. I kept patting her. I knew if she swung her head around quickly, she could injure herself, or me. Rocket stayed in the truck, so he wouldn’t distress her.
Christine filmed my rescue attempt, and Angela gave Stucky water. I focused on digging out her back legs. When I tried to wipe the sweat from my eyes, I would get sand in them.
An hour later, we still weren’t making much progress – whenever we nearly freed a leg, which took about 20 minutes, she would get sucked back into the sand. And the more she struggled to get free, the more stuck she became.
We were worried it would get dark and the tide would come in. Luckily, at that point, two older Emiratis in a Land Cruiser appeared over the dunes. They gave me advice, called for reinforcements and posted photos of the camel rescue on social media.
Their nephew soon arrived, having seen the photos online. Word then quickly spread to the small farms a few kilometres away. I had been digging for an hour and a half when a pickup arrived carrying 14 guys with shovels, pipes and all sorts of apparatus for a major excavation. They joined in and worked super-hard. They had been fasting since sun-up for Ramadan – they didn’t even have water.
Everyone was working on all four of the camel’s legs at the same time, using different techniques. It was working. But Stucky was running out of energy – she was shaking and howling like a banshee. When we finally got her out, after three hours, Stucky’s legs were effectively dead. We rolled her three times on to harder ground, then the guys massaged her legs to get the blood flowing. It took about 20 minutes for her to stand. She allowed us to give her a pat on the head – that was pretty special. Then she turned, stretched and gave us a wink goodbye. If we hadn’t dug her out, I doubt she’d have survived. It would have been too dark and no one would have seen her.
The guys in the pickup truck drove us to their farm afterwards to wash. We were covered in sand, dirt and sweat. They were so generous, and offered us a camel and a goat to take home as thanks. We briefly indulged the idea of taking home a baby goat, but decided against it. We were also offered some birds, but Rocket is a bird-chaser.
Back in Kinsale, Mam is now stopped in the street and asked: “Is that your young fella out saving camels in the desert?” She says: “Yes, that’s what he’s known for now.” She’s very proud.
As told to Anna Derrig
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