Sunday, May 18, 2008

Camel spit

For some camels, an outdoor market in Birqesh is the end of the road.

Camel traders come to this small town near Cairo from as far away as Somalia and Sudan, selling their stock along the way.

Camels are beasts of burden throughout North Africa and the Middle East. They are still used to transport people and goods across long distances, for farm work, for racing and of course for the entertainment of tourists. They are also raised for their milk, meat, hide and wool.

The souk gamel ("camel market") is most active on Friday morning. The buying and selling of camels starts at dawn. Above, negotiations start for one of the few riding camels available.

Some of the camels are Egyptian, others have crossed one or more borders to arrive in Birqesh (pronounced Bir'esh). After thousands of miles of trekking, followed by an exhaustive ride crammed into the back of a pickup truck, some camels reach Birqesh in poor shape. Therefore, the only use left for many of these animals is meat.

When looking at pictures of camels, I've always thought their mouths turned up a little at the corner, as if they were smiling.

I don't think they're smiling anymore.

These animals survived an arduous journey only to be hobbled (note how the left foreleg in above photo is tied), beaten and sold to the butcher.

Not that I am a member of PETA or anything, but hey. I recognize a hard life when I see one. Plus, camels are kinda cute. They've got personality. I think people can feel close to them, the way people often feel close to horses or other domesticated animals.

On the other hand, camels' size can make them difficult to control, despite the fact that they are herd animals. The environment of the market doesn't help, where they are frequently prodded, yanked around by a rope, and hit with a large cane. Sometimes they get a little freaked out.

Sometimes they run.

You haven't felt fear until you've see one of these beasts charging at you. Unfortunately, that's when I go hide behind the man with the big stick.

Old camels get all wrinkled, just like humans. This old boy was so tired he couldn't lift his head.

A group of camels was subdued with a breakfast of straw before being transported for slaughter.

From the market, the herders load the camels in trucks and drive them to wherever they're going, to be slaughtered or to work.

Humans are the other interesting characters at the market.

Lengthy discussions, fighting and impassioned pleas for mercy can all be included in negotiating the price. With a dramatic flair, traders impress upon each other how much their livelihood depends on getting a good price. It's part truth, part theater and really interesting to watch.

Above, a group of men haggle over the price of a group of Sudanese camels.

An 11-year-old hired hand.

Camel traders browse a courtyard full of animals.

Traders relax in the mid-morning shade of an outbuilding at the camel market.


Thomas Boyd said...

Holly: Nice work over there! I just linked you on my blog. Keep posting!

Tom Boyd
The Oregonian

ingrid barrentine said...

Nice Holly. Nice, nice, NICE!

Pia Hallenberg Christensen said...

Hey Holly - what great shots!! And I agree with your observations on camels -- but then again I love horses, so maybe that's it?
And your 11-year-old hired hand looks like he's 111...

Stay safe - all the best!!

Frank P said...

These camels don't have any spit left. It's terrible to break an animals spirit. I guess thereis a conundrum--can't feed a beast not able to work and earn his keep. The pictures are so sad in a way when I think of our horses and dogs. Good job Holly. Mom