Sharing a Camel Story
Posted February 1, 2012on:
You may or may not know this, but I have a fascination with camels. After riding a camel in the United Arab Emirates, attending a camel race and learning more about these amazing creatures, I decided to include camels in my first novel, Amanda in Arabia-The Perfume Flask. Ali Baba and Sheba have become many of the childrens’ favourite characters in the book. Over at A Hopeful Sign, Catherine Sundher posted a wonderful article on camels and has given me permission to repost it on my blog. I think you will enjoy it!
Preserving Ancient Traditions in Modern Times by Catherine Sundher
Each year, the United Arab Emirates celebrates one of the largest beauty pageants in the world — for camels! During the festival, this normally sleepy western region comes alive. It’s an incredible sight when over 20,000 dromedaries (single-humped camels) from as far away as Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, saunter across rust-coloured dunes alongside caravans of kin, keepers and tribe members. Many traveled weeks, just to attend this popular 10-day celebration where ties are tightened and heritage is celebrated.
Only a handful of women are among the thousands who regularly attend the Al Dhafra Festival. Nonetheless, I was given a warm royal welcome and directed to elaborate gold armchairs lining the stands. Spectators are treated to copious amounts of Arabic coffee and tea, while watching camels hoping to stand out from the rest, sporting fancy tassels and elaborate embroidery around their humps. Judges in crisp white kandoras have the arduous task of deciding which of these beauties who’ve been lavished with generous amounts of money and attention, are true champions.
Stakes were high with 155 brand new 4×4’s and $11 million CAD in cash up for grabs and equally important, status and prestige—everyone wants to be number one. Like a lottery, winning equals instant wealth so strict rules and regulations must be in place, eliminating contestants tempted to enhance their chances of winning, using extreme measures. The main thoroughfare called “Million Street” lives up to its name and reputation with the amount of money that changes hands here each day. Every evening this busy stretch of sand hums with excitement and anticipation, as numerous deals are made and camels are sold back and forth.
As night descended, steady streams of trucks were still making their way along roads of packed sand; filling water tanks, delivering camel feed and supplying wood for the hundreds of campfires beginning to dot the horizon. Elaborate campsites looking more like fortresses with hundreds of lights and national flags, stood alongside humble Bedouin tents. Old friends and new, dashed back and forth between camps discussing events of the day, performing the age-old tradition of reciting poetry and socializing well into the night—the animals united them! As I observed countless 4×4’s navigating the dark “roadless” dunes, I began to understand the source for their notorious assertive driving habits. The desert’s their playground; they came from it, love it, respect it and take every opportunity to return to it. It’s their heritage.
Camels are held in very high esteem among the Bedouin people as throughout history, they’ve played a vital role in their lives. Although somewhat intimidated by their size, they were very gentle and all too often, overly-friendly! Once I discovered they had no intentions whatsoever of biting or spitting, it was very easy warming up to their beautiful eyes with mile long lashes. They’re a very gregarious creature that hates being separated from one another. When babies (who remain very close to their mothers for several years) were taken away for judging, their desperate cries filled the stands until the event concluded and once again they could cuddle with their moms.
It wasn’t uncommon to see camels wearing muzzles, as they often mistake plastic for food. Left behind by strong winds and way too many reckless campers, once digested, it turns into a calcified mass blocking their intestines. Some of these masses have been as large as 128 pounds which all too often, result in long and painful deaths.
I had no idea what to expect when making the trek to this festival, but what I came away with was a fascination and respect for the deep-rooted cultural heritage of the very hospitable Bedouin people. This festival ensures that age-old traditions among Sheiks and tribes continue to carry on, reaching future generations. It was a great day and just a taste of what I experienced at the Camel Grand Prix!
Catherine Sundher, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Catherine is a West Coast girl who feels fortunate to call Victoria, British Columbia (Canada) as her “home-base”. She’s happily married to an educator and has two grown and independent sons. Curious by nature and with a perpetual desire for new challenges, Catherine has moved from the “Travel Industry to Design” with numerous stops along the way. As Gilbert Chesterson wrote, “Why Not” is a slogan for an interesting life.