At the tender age of five years, I knew I would become a doctor. Once I studied veterinary medicine, it was clear from the start that I would open my veterinary practice in the basement of my parents’ home, since our village didn’t have a small animal veterinarian at that time.
My hundred-pound black Russian Terrier-Belgian Shepherd- Collie mix, Bonnie, was my support during my studies as well as a pillar of strength for my mother, who had suffered from schizophrenia since I was eight years old.
The studies were tough, but I persevered without failing a single exam, because I was two hundred percent convinced about my veterinary medicine studies.
During the years of my doctorate I worked as a relief veterinarian to gain experience and earn money. I replaced sick veterinarians and veterinarians on vacation all over Germany—north, south, east, and west.
Every two to four weeks I encountered a new practice, new employees, new customers, new patients. It was super stressful, and I developed high adrenaline levels, but I was able to gain considerable wide-ranging knowledge in a relatively short time as well as a whole new level of flexibility.
So, was this time only good for writing my doctoral thesis and earning money? No! I considered this “my time in the waiting room.” We often believe we are ready for something when actually we are not. Often, we need time to acquire skills that prepare us for something greater. This is not a negative. My “time in the waiting room” equipped me with the necessary foundation for my life and work in Abu Dhabi.
In 2001, the phone rang at seven in the evening, when I was watching the news on TV. A friendly voice said there was a job waiting for me as a veterinarian at Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. “Wow,” I thought, “the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. What a cool joke!” I’d never heard of it (and ultimately, never even applied for the job). I hung up, but the friendly voice called right back.
It was no joke. I was totally embarrassed. Since I was young, unattached, flexible, and curious, I decided to go on the adventure—and what an adventure it would be, one I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams!
When I first came to the Falcon Hospital, my experience as a relief veterinarian immediately helped me understand what was good, what was wrong, and what needed to be changed. Without my “time in the waiting room,” I would never have seen this and would not have been successful. As female pioneer in the completely male dominated world of falcons and falconry, and in such a fundamentally different culture, I had not expected to face such massive rejection and obstacles.
The concept of a hospital for falcons was still a novelty for the falconers, most of whom were traditional Bedouins. I had not thought about the traditional male domain I would enter or realized that I would be the first female to take care of falcons— and a Western foreigner at that. At first, this would prove to be an unacceptable combination for the falconers. They were not used to women veterinarians. Therefore, they didn’t accept me, even refusing to let me touch their falcons, let alone treat their precious babies.
The falconers didn’t bring their own falcons for examinations but borrowed their cousins’ falcons—and only for fecal exams so I would not touch the falcon. My colleagues wanted to get me fired and bullied me wherever they could.
My loneliness and hardships were almost more than I could bear. But six weeks after I arrived, I rescued the stray Golden Retriever mix I named Shams. He became the sunlight of my life, helping me with his unconditional love and gratitude, as well as his sensational understanding of my feelings and sadness. He gave me the strength to fight against all odds and all adversaries. He became the pillar of my future success.
Six months later, when I became manager of the Falcon Hospital, the situation deteriorated even more rapidly. It was hell on earth. But I didn’t give up, because Shams gave me the solace, love, and support I needed to carry on and fight.
Finally, I found someone who trusted me, supported me, and knew the culture of the country. I was lucky that my deputy at the hospital, Farhan, supported me in everything and was always at my side with wonderful advice, deeds, and wisdom. He taught me much about the culture. Knowing how people thought and worked in the United Arab Emirates contributed significantly to my success. For example, I learned to be gentler and more patient, rather than demanding.
Additionally, apart from my work at the Falcon Hospital, I improved my own knowledge by studying for a Master of Business Administration at Strathclyde University, which had a center in Abu Dhabi.
Obstacles are the ladder to success. You must overcome them with assertiveness and a passion to grow. My dog Shams, and his successors, Shamsa, Sweetie, Blacky, Snowy, Amira, and Jessy, had been my unfailing support and sources of strength, joy, and happiness during the last twenty years.
Today, the falconers don’t see me as a woman, but as a doctor and a “half man,” which is a sign of great respect. From veterinarian I rose to Executive Director of the largest falcon hospital in the world and leading center for falcon medicine. They accepted me to such an extent that they no longer let anyone touch their falcons, just me.
For my services to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, I have received an Abu Dhabi Award from the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. This is the highest civilian honor awarded by Abu Dhabi. I have also been honored as an Honorary Falconer by King Juan Carlos I of Spain. In addition to Manager of the Year, I have received several other awards.
All of this became possible because my pets gave me strength, self-confidence, and assertiveness. Moreover, I learned that there were cultural paths other than my own, and I connected the best of various cultures with mine.
This broadened my horizon enormously and helped me form new ideas and innovation as a foundation for a global mindset.