Sunday, April 6, 2008

Arriving at Camel Festival 2008

Yesterday M, the kids, and I went to the UAE Camel Festival in Madinat Zayed near Liwa, about two hours southwest of metropolitan Abu Dhabi. I absolutely loved the entire day, including the drive, because we saw what I've been longing to see more of: the desert. (More on the desert two posts down from this one.)

As we got further into the remote western region of Abu Dhabi, there were fewer and fewer signs in English. Once at the festival, I asked a police officer for information about the contest and he replied in French.

Above is the side road to the festival, wherein thousands of camels from the Arabian Gulf are competing for significant prizes of cash and cars, etc.

Everyone but us seemed to have a Land Cruiser and everyone but us seemed in need of getting somewhere in record time. Above is a fair display of the driving mentality on this road: if someone isn't going fast enough you go around him - a philosophy almost every driver seemed to be employing at the same time!

Good thing M was driving, as I tend to get excited when all the cars around me are about to plow into my car.

The above picture was typical of what we saw out our car windows before we parked: camels coming and going from the competition arena. If you click on the picture above you will see that despite the heat and the strong sun, the man leading these camels is smiling, his white teeth bright against his tanned skin.

Camel owners say each camel has his own look, his own face, like people. Most owners also seem to have great love for their camels, whose incredible hardiness and wide feet have taken many people across the desert before cars were available. I enjoyed watching the animals and their owners together.

Spread over the vast open land on either side of the makeshift road, as far as the eye could see, there were groups of camels and bedouin-style tents set up for their owners for this nine-day Camel Festival.

It was a feast for the eyes. Many camels were decked out in specially-made, sparkly bands around their humps and backs; some groups of camels wore their country's flag on their backs; many had thick hair on their humps but were otherwise shaved. Some were dark, like those above, and others were sand-colored. Posted by Picasa


usamom said...

Wow! Great posts, you must have spent a lot of time putting them together. Did it take some time in your 2 years there, to get used to talking to women only seeing thier eyes?
Do you have any thoughts on how to explain this aspect of the culture to my very young children so that they understand the meaning (as much as a 5 year old can)? Thanks

Anonymous said...

great looking blog. my wife and i are living in dubai and have some guests in town at the moment. we have been looking for directions to the camel festival without luck, could you please offer some up or let us know where to track them down. this looks to good to miss. thank you

gavin and tracey

Frances Gunnison said...

Dear USAMom,
Yes, it has taken some time to get used to seeing ladies fully veiled (not that often, but often enough do I see them), sometimes even wearing black gloves and black socks so absolutely nothing shows. I remember as a child I saw ladies dressed this way in London, with the hard mask under their veil so I really couldn't see the shape of their facial features even. I have to admit that it scared me.
However, knowledge changes everything. You might tell your 5-year-old these ladies are just like you, (their mom), and that they may even have children/ grandchildren; they are probably very kind but they are shy when they go out. In their tradition, they do not want men outside their family to look at them, and that they feel more comfortable doing their shopping, etc., when they are covered.

Frances Gunnison said...

Dear Gavin and Tracey,
I hope you see this in time to go to the Camel Festival. We took Route 11 out of Abu Dhabi and headed south towards Tarif. After some time we saw signs for the Camel Festival and we took the connecting road towards Madinat Zayed. It was well marked and the road was very good.
Good luck and have a great time.

American Muslima Writer said...

Ahhh I'm so jealous in a good way! I was dying to go to this but I heard about it too late after it had finished. I'd love to see all those beautiful camels. I'm terribly drawn to them and would love to experience riding one one day. DId you get to ride one yet?
How long did you spend at the show? What was your favorite part?
Good description about the niqab, also you can tell kids that these woman are like Nuns (how they dress) but they feel they want privacy so they cover their faces too because they want to (many of them) feel closer to God.

Frances Gunnison said...

Dear American Muslima,
Maybe you will go to the Camel Festival next year. Especially since you like camels so much, I think you would find it worth the trip. Unfortunately, we missed the morning contests; in the afternoon, we spent about an hour at the competition and would have stayed longer if we understood what the Arabic-speaking announcer was saying.
Thanks for the input re the niqab (veil). I'm always interested in input from Muslims.

rosh said...

I like Camels, and it is true, each has it's own uniqueness, and often seem very human :)

Your blog, writing and pictures are absolutely lovely Frances - thanks so much for this.

ilka said...

ok, i just dont get it...camels are not pretty to me but to each their own. i guess the ones here in egypt arent well taken care of and so they look awful. they also make weird, loud sounds and look funny when they sit but i guess there is a certain odd cuteness to them.

Frances Gunnison said...

That's just it - they're not pretty. But when you consider how amazing they are - taking desert dwellers over the sand, enduring the heat/sun without water/food when there were no roads and cars would get stuck over and over, etc. - then they actually are beautiful noises and all.

elle said...

Why wait for the next contest, there is a permanent camel market in Al Ain. They don't mind people just walking/driving around.

Frances Gunnison said...

We tried to see the camel market when visiting Al Ain last year but unfortunately it was closed at the time. That's a great suggestion, thanks Elle.
We found the history museum in Al Ain to be excellent, the zoo also.
I've heard it's easier to make friends with locals in Al Ain. Did you find that to be true?