treading on camel toes

This morning, Juan and I went to the Birqash camel market, about 45km out of Cairo. We did a very good deal with a smooth-talking guide with car, Tarek, who was hanging around the pension.

I have to remember what the very shady Mr Ali (there are many Mr Alis in this town) said to me the other night, as he held my hand, gently stroking my palm discreetly with his index finger, “Nobody gives you anything for free in Egypt. They will give to you because they will take from you.”

Anyway, the camels were amazing. There were many, many camels. And many camel boys. And camel men, trucks, sticks and much, much camel dust. I had to take a shower when I came home, I smelt like I’d been rolling in camel dung.

The yards are always there full of camels, but sale day is Friday morning. We watched camels being paraded before a dozen arguing men, one adult going for 8500 Egyptian pounds (A$2240/E1150), four little baby camels for just over 1000 pounds each.

The whole process of buying and selling was complete theatre. Everyone was acting. And everyone knew it. The indignation. The anger. The pleading. The refusal and walking away. The disinterest. And finally, the sale.
In between, lively young camels tore away from their owners and galloped through the market, kicking up yet more dust, men trucked in bales of feed, stacking them high on the shelters’ roofs away from long-necked thieves. Naughty little boys stuck sticks up recalcitrant camels’ bottoms, which I particularly disliked.

Most camels had one leg bent at the knee and tied up so it was effectively hobbled. When they load them onto the trucks, they then tie the two back legs. The camels don’t like it, and bellyache loudly. But when they’re all tied down in their open-top trucks, they face the direction of travel and watch the road like hawks, giving their opinion like a bevy of backseat drivers.

They really are very haughty looking creatures, but for some reason I love them, and I didn’t feel unsafe around them at all. Some even came up to my camera while I was photographing them, just for a look. I think they know I wasn’t going to belt them.

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