How this desert voyage will honour a remarkable leader

Before his name became synonymous with the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed set off on a journey by camelback from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain. Now, a voyage aims to retrace those same steps that served as a precursor to the nation’s birth.

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It was back in 1927 when a young boy from Abu Dhabi made a voyage to neighbouring Al Ain, travelling on the back of a camel.

Unbeknown to that boy, and to everyone else around him, that long journey would be the first steps in what would become a legendary life filled with a series of tribulations and triumphs.

That young man was Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates.

This early stage of Sheikh Zayed’s life is now the focus of a community event that aims to replicate the expedition that cemented Sheikh Zayed in history.

The Memories of Zayed Camel Voyage is the brainchild of Abu Dhabi resident Mike Metzger and Emirati Abdul Rahman Al Hammadi.

The journey will begin on 23rd September and will see Mike, Abdul and eight other Emirati friends set off from Al Hudayriat Island in Abu Dhabi to Al Ain, travelling not by car but by camel.

“When Sheikh Zayed was nine years old, he began his life in Al Ain, studying in a small Islamic school,” explains US citizen Mike, who has eagerly expanded on his interest in the country’s history in his three years here.

“He travelled by camel to Al Ain on what was basically the beginning of his legacy and the start of a remarkable life,” adds Mike.

According to historians, Sheikh Zayed’s time in Al Ain significantly shaped both his private and public life.

It was in the Garden City that the young Sheikh learned essential skills for surviving in a desert environment and where his great love for falconry was nurtured.

Even more importantly, it was in Al Ain that the soon-to-be revered leader would gain a deeper insight into the lives of the locals and the country’s various tribes, something that would serve him well when he ventured into the word of public service in 1946.

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Sheikh Zayed’s ability to negotiate and relate to various sectors of society is often commented on. Those skills were evident when he convinced some of the most hardened tribe leaders to join him in his vision of a united country following the British government’s withdrawal of military and administrative support in 1971.

For Mike, retracing Sheikh Zayed’s steps serves as a tribute to the late leader’s sacrifices. It’s also a unique way to mark 100 years since Sheikh Zayed’s birth and get the whole community involved.

During the journey, there will be five stops – Al Dhafra, Al Wathba and Al Khazna in Abu Dhabi and Al Yahar and Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain – where the community can join in.

“During these stopovers, there will be sessions where we invite the public to bring their instruments, perform their own songs, read some poetry and share stories about their memories of Sheikh Zayed or anything that expresses their love for the founding father and this country.”

With the journey expected to take ten to 12 days to complete, people who wish to contribute food or water to the voyagers along the way are welcome to do so.

“It’s a celebration of Sheikh Zayed’s life and a reminder of how far we have come as a country because of him,” reflects Mike.

“He poured so much of his life into hard work and sacrifice because he wanted to give back to all the people of the country.

“We want to replicate this by giving some of the same sacrifices that he gave, although our effort is small when compared to his enormous achievements. We want his family to know how much he means to all of us.”

For more information including dates and times of stopovers, contact: 050 464 3673 or 055 961 1426

WORDS Ferdinand Godinez

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