Thursday, January 29, 2009
The Camel Market
Last Friday, Jeff and I participated in a "CLO on the Go" trip. (The CLO is the Community Liaison Office, an office within the embassy that produces the newsletter, provides orientation briefings, organizes fun trips, and basically provides information and tools to make this whole living abroad thing as stress-free and fun as possible for mission members and their families.) This particular trip promised to be unique and entertaining . . . the Camel Market!
Jeff and I, along with several other mission members, showed up at the Maadi House last Friday at the unfortunate hour of 7a.m. We piled into two of the embassy's vans and pulled out around 7:30. (We were delayed because the second van had gone to a downtown housing compound in order to pick up people who never showed, so it had to wait on them, delaying all of us. Shame on those inconsiderates!) We headed out to the Corniche and drove north to the Ring Road, which we used to cross the Nile. We took the Giza exit and headed north, passing close by the Giza pyramids. But we didn't take the main road that headed north; we stayed on a much narrower road that . . . I think it was dirt. I don't remember. Anyway, we headed north, then eventually took a left onto a road that definitely was not paved. After another left, we arrived at the gates to the camel market.
Our CLO representative paid the entry and camera fees, and we walked in. This is the sight that greeted us:
The camel market was a single, wide road, with enclosures on either side. There were camels everywhere. There also were many Egyptians, mostly men, with a few children and even fewer Egyptian women. We were told to watch out for camels and trucks, because neither would likely do much to avoid us.
Basically, while we were there, we just walked down the road, looked around, took pictures, and then went back to the vans. We were there for maybe an hour or so. But some of the pictures were amazing, so that's what I want to show you, with just a little commentary added in.
Almost all of the camels had one leg tied up. This was to make it easier to catch the camels when they tried to run away. At first, I thought it was to prevent them from running away, but I realized my mistake quickly when I saw a camel making a run for the gate on three legs. It was going pretty fast. The dash for freedom was unsuccessful, but if it hadn't had a leg tied up, the outcome could very well have been different.
This is how the camels were transported to and from the market. It's the first time I've seen that many camels in a truck, although I have seen pickups transporting a couple of camels in the back. The camels seemed pretty willing to sit down when their handlers wanted them to, and they were content to stay seated rather than trying to stand back up, so I guess it was safe enough to travel with them in the back. Of course, in Egypt, it doesn't always matter if it's safe.
While we were there, I also received a lesson about the attitudes of Egyptian men toward women. This man was in charge of a camel that was targeted for petting by one of the women with us. He was very cooperative, allowing anyone who wanted to pet the camel. He also showed us how the camel could "lip" someone--like biting, but using only the lips, with no teeth. He was very insistent on having many of us experience this, including me. I allowed it, knowing that Jeff was there if there were any problems. Then, he indicated that he'd like to have Jeff take a picture of him and me, with the camel in the background. During the picture, he took the opportunity to reach over and give me a big smacking kiss on the cheek. I shoved him away, but he was still pretty proud of himself. Of course, I didn't learn my lesson, because I allowed a picture to be taken with another Egyptian man, who started with his hand respectably (by our standards) in the middle of my back. However, that hand slid a little lower before I put a stop to it, and that particular man almost left the camel market with a nice big bruise on his cheek.
There's no particular story for this picture. I just thought it was cute, so I decided to include it. For some more pictures from this excursion, click here. I don't think I've put most of the best pictures on the blog, because they don't have stories, but there were some that I thought turned out really well, especially given the conditions. It was really bright and dusty, and most of the time, I wasn't able to actually see what the picture would look like when I snapped it. I just pointed toward something interesting and hoped it turned out!
This fellow was quite happy to pose for me in such a way that highlighted the stick that he's carrying. In fact, when I first started to take the picture, he was just standing there. When he saw my camera, he chose this pose for himself with no prompting from me. Most of the men and boys at the camel market carried sticks like these. They were used to "encourage" the camels to do whatever the person wanted them to do at the time, be it sit, stand, walk, stop running, or whatever.
Obviously, the camels are hit with the sticks. Most of the camels showed no obvious sign of injury, although there doesn't have to visible injury for it to hurt. One man, however, was sporting a gallabeya that was stained with blood from a camel that had resisted being put on a truck. My stance of trying to understand the Egyptians' viewpoint, rather than just seeing the camels' pain, didn't work so well when I realized what had caused those stains.
I don't remember if it was this little boy or another one, but one of the kids did infuriate me because of his cruelty, which went beyond a simple lack of empathy for the camels. He was roaming around the market with his stick, randomly hitting camels that were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing. He'd just walk down the street, hitting whatever camel happened to be nearest to him. The camels obviously were accustomed to this type of behavior; they just stayed sitting or standing wherever they were, while the boy roamed on down the street. I didn't see adults engaging in this type of wanton cruelty, so I really hope that the kid will grow out of it. Of course, no one stopped him, so maybe the adults just weren't bored enough to go around hitting the camels like the kid was.
All in all, I'm glad I went on this trip. The camel market isn't someplace I want to go again and again, but it's definitely a good place to go once. I'll close with just a couple of my favorite pictures that don't necessarily have a story, just to encourage you to visit my Picasa page.
Oh, and here's a short video that Jeff took. It shows a little bit of what it was like to walk through the market.