I am sitting with Jamal Bakhit Mohammad Abdulla Al Falasi, 50, in the back kitchen of his home in Dubai’s Al Mizhar community. The Emirati opens a small tub and scoops out some of its yellow wax-like filling with a small spoon, encouraging me to rub it into my hand. “This cream tightens the skin, it has no chemicals. It really works like magic, and” stresses the owner of The Wadak Cream company, “you can use it anywhere on the body. It is very popular with women, especially if they’ve had children.”
In its congealed form, the cream is similar in texture to coconut oil, and transforms into a sticky liquid that absorbs as quickly as it is massaged into the skin. The only evidence that it was ever present is the glowing sheen it leaves behind.
What makes Al Falasi's homemade cream unique is that it's made primarily from camel fat. It is one of seven products he produces using this as-yet rare ingredient, which is found in a camel's hump. "Camel fat was used a lot in this region many decades ago. It had a lot of uses, but over the years it was slowly forgotten," he says.
From Mauritania to the Middle East
Al Falasi’s interest in the lost tradition began about 20 years ago when a close friend spoke of witnessing camel fat being used extensively in Mauritania as part of everyday life. This inspired the Emirati to take a trip to the African country himself and learn more.
Once there, under the watchful eye of a Mauritanian expert, “in the desert”, Al Falasi learnt about the benefits of camel fat, its properties and how to transform it into skincare products. Upon his return to the UAE, he spent months experimenting, perfecting his technique and making products more suited to the needs of the people in this region.
He came up with creams, oils and soaps that he says can be used to treat, among other conditions, scanty hair, bone and joint aches including arthritis, dark undereye circles, scars, pimples, PMS cramps, and loose and ageing skin.
In the early years, he struggled to convince people of these benefits. “People just didn’t know what it was and when they heard camel fat,” he pauses to pull a disgruntled face, “they didn’t want to know.”
All of that has changed now, though, and Al Falasi often sells out his entire product stock, which is priced between Dh60 to Dh100. He uses his home kitchen to brew the concoctions, and has all the relevant certification from both Dubai and Abu Dhabi health and municipality authorities. A separate air-conditioned storage room houses two freezers dedicated to his supplies.
Cooking duration is key
The cubes of camel fat have to be “cooked” for a duration that’s a trade secret, and that Al Falasi only describes as “a long time”. He demonstrates the making of his mint cream, which although time-consuming is disarmingly simple and natural in its composition. After putting on a fresh pair of sanitary gloves, he takes a pot of previously cooked camel fat and reheats it until it takes on a liquid form. Next he meticulously whisks the content, all the while adding several small bottles of mint essential oil. Finally, the mixture reaches a consistency that seems to satisfy Al Falasi, and he pours the liquid into 100ml tubs, ready to be labelled. “In Mauritania, they use the camel fat mostly without adding anything to it. It has a strong smell that they don’t mind, but here people don’t like the smell,” says Al Falasi. The mint gets rid of the odour, and this cream is particularly good for knee, joint and general bone aches, he adds
Natural ingredients for maximum effect
Al Falasi uses other ingredients such as aloe vera, rosemary, saffron, coconut oil and myrrh, which change the effect of each product. Myrrh and aloe vera, for example, are used in the anti-ageing and skin-tightening cream. “Aloe vera is very good for brightening the skin,” he explains. “Rosemary is good for cramps and saffron for improving blood circulation.”
The government employee, who creates the products in his spare time, has displayed his merchandise at cultural festivals around the country and abroad. The Ministry of Social Affairs sells his products at its stand in Dubai’s Bin Sougat Centre in the Rashidiya area, while social media has been instrumental in getting his message across, especially via his Arabic YouTube Channel.
“Before no one wanted the fat and they used to throw most of it away, but now there is a shortage, so I buy it in bulk,” he says. And indeed visible through the glass doors of a large fridge at the back of his storage room is more than 400 kilograms of camel fat, distributed among 6kg jars.
Still, he says he is pleased that the tradition has come back to his country, and he is passing his trade secrets on to his children in the hope they’ll make good on the knowledge. Al Falasi’s 19-year-old daughter, Sara, who has been by his side throughout, pipes in. “I use Wadak creams for all sorts of stuff, especially when I am stressed with college exams.”
She says she massages the oil into her hair and head to relieve pain, and uses the soaps as cleansers to remove her make-up and treat breakouts. “I am really proud of my dad. He has brought this ancient tradition back into our culture, and he is always trying to educate more and more people about it.”