The Camel Road

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

“As a camel beareth labour, and heat, and hunger, and thirst, through deserts of sand, and fainteth not; so the fortitude of a man shall sustain him through all perils.”

~Egyptian King- 14th Century

camel-s Long gone are the days when camels, also known as the ‘ships of the desert’, were considered mere beasts of burden. Over the past few decades, the beleaguered camel has come up in the world and is often considered, by more than a few wealthy Arab businessmen, to be a crowning jewel in a portfolio of glittering capitalism.

Every year the love of all things with skinny legs and a giant hump is brought out for all to see at the annual Al Dhafra Festival in Abu Dhabi, which started this week and runs until February 8. Located in the heart of Zayed City lies a barren and desolate unpaved road that comes to life but once a year.  Nicknamed “Millions Street” after many a million dollar deal that has been struck up over the years, the mere 3 kilometer long road is an internationally recognized commercial site for some of the best camels in the entire world. It’s also the site of the festival that draws in both a local and international crowd.

Camel owners and aficionados from all over the Middle East descend upon the tiny Gulf emirate in the weeks leading up to the camel show and auction. Organizers treat their wealthy guests to camel beauty pageants, camel petting sessions and an auction fit for a king’s ransom.  As a result of the buzz surrounding this social event, members of the non-camel loving set can also line their wallets with some cold hard cash simply by catering to both man and beast. Savvy merchants often set up tents and offer a host of camel-related gear, from plushies to woven mats, and traditional UAE handicrafts. The municipality has also gotten in on the game by offering meals and water for the human guests while providing fresh fodder for the four-legged ones. There is even a makeshift mosque, camel hospital and a grocery store.

The starting price for one of the perfectly pampered and preened camels is a whopping 50,000 Dirhams and often skyrockets to several millions of dollars. This year more than 28,000 camels are on display with each one carrying its own price tag based on breed and beauty. In the first days of the festival, reports in the local media already revealed that a wealthy local businessman named Hamdan Bin Ghanim Al Falahi bought several camels to complete his prestigious flock to the tune of 45 million Dirhams.

As for the beauty pageant, a team of judges determines which camels are the youngest, most beautiful, possess the best lineage and who are most well behaved. The prizes for the winners of the beauty pageant stand to win an estimated 42 million Dirhams. Owners busy themselves throughout the day fussing over the camels to ensure that everything is picture perfect. Once the sun sets, the festivities hit a peak and last well into the morning. It’s all smiles for the owners who stand to earn millions if one of their camels catches the eye of a ‘cash cow’ of a buyer.

Looking back at past events, several lucrative sales have been made. Most notably were the sales of two camels that had made a name for themselves in the region. The camel named Marokan fetched an estimated 15 million Dirhams while his equally beautiful compatriot Mura’a was purchased for 10 million Dirhams. Camel breeding and herding is big business in the Gulf region which has pretty much catapulted itself out of the global credit crunch with only a couple of scratches. Event organizers hope to continue the event in the future and share a bit of the traditions of the UAE with the rest of the world.

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An Evening with Camels

December 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

From Moments In Words From Hadhramout by noreply@blogger.com (Omar Barsawad)

Arabian-Camel-800x600

Camels. In Australia they are brutally butchered; not for their meat; not for their skins; but simply because they are considered ‘feral’, ‘pests’ and a ‘problem’. The recent ‘culling’ of camels in Australia’s Northern Territory cost its government about 50,000$; enough money to have dug boreholes for the camels which roam from place to place in search of water. The one humped, Arabian Camels were introduced to the mainly arid Australia, for transport, in the mid 18th Century; but since then, they have rapidly been increasing in numbers. As Australians have no other use for them, they have repeatedly reduced the population of camels, by cruelly shooting them either form planes in the air, or by chasing them on moving vehicles. How barbaric. Had some poor, developing country been doing that to marauding lions or elephants – how would Australians have felt?

Camels should never have been taken to Australia; as people there have no liking for or understanding of the amazing animals. Had Australians understood this wonderful creature, they would have known how to benefit from it; they would have known how to use it; and they would have known how to respect it. Benefit from it; use it; and respect and value it as we do here in Hadhramout. 

African elephants, which I have many times seen at very close range – have always greatly awed and amazed me; and so have camels. A few days ago, I spent an evening with these extraordinary animals. Just a few meters from the center of Al Mukalla, is  a market for camels:

Most people wrongly believe that, as camels mainly live in very arid, hot places, the humps that they have is for storing water. The humps are actually a reservoir of fat; it helps in providing nutrients when needed and in a way helps in controlling heat over the animal’s body.

Camels are born without humps; the hump develops as the camel grows . And as camels use the fat within the humps when they have less food, the hump’s size reduces. Or it increases when the camel has more food. Camels can weigh op to 700 kilograms and can grow up to slightly over 2 meters. They gestate for 11 months; usually giving birth to 1 calf at a time. The young reach adulthood at between 5 to 7 years. A normal life span for a camel is 40 years.

A camel’s hump is a giant mound of fat. In a healthy, well-fed camel, the hump can weigh as much as 35 kilograms. The hump allows a camel to survive an extremely long time without food, if need be.

Camels are cud-chewers. Its mouth is very sturdy enabling it to chew dry, thorny desert plants. Its eyelashes have an interlocking system, of three eye-lids, which automatically shut when necessary; like during sand storms. The first two eye-lids have long eye lashes, which keep out sand; the third eye-lid is transparent and blinks side ways like car wipers, and is transparent allowing camels to see even when their eyes are closed. Its nostrils are shaped to protect it from dust and to trap water vapor and return the vapor to the body during respiration. The ears too, are shaped to protect it from dust and sand. Camels release white salivary stuff when they feel threatened; as the above camel is doing when I got too close to it while taking these photos.

A camel’s neck is long. This enables it to reach leaves and thorns which are high on trees. Its thick, hairy coat reflects sunlight and insulates it from intense desert heat or keeps it warm when it gets cold. Camels are unique: they can survive in extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. Their maintenance is cheap and easy as they can browse and eat a wide range of plant species; and they are very resistant to diseases.

Camels can survive without water or food; depending on the heat and how what luggage it is carrying, a camel can survive for up to 10 days without food or water. If it is cool, it can live even longer without water. In the Sahara, they can go all winter without water.

Camels do not only live in some of the most desolate and inhospitable places on Earth; they thrive there. Where most large animals would perish, camels survive. They are able to do this by their amazing body mechanism and their incredible ability to efficiently use the available resources there; and they are omnivorous and able to eat a most varied type of foods.  

Docile and very good when treated well; camels easily become angry and stubborn when ill treated. No other animal is as endearing to Arabs as the camel; it is said that there are about 160 words for ‘camel’ in the Arabic language. To most Bedouins, camels are a symbol of wealth and strength.

Here, camel meat is cherished; and so is its milk. Both of which, especially its milk – are considered medicinal. Even a camel’s urine is used as medicine for treating hepatitis, cancer, skin diseases, toothache, autism and many other diseases. The urine is also used as an antiseptic. I know for a fact, that women who have used camel urine to wash their hair, their hairs became longer, lighter and more lustrous.

Did you know that camel meat has no fat or cholesterol? As the fat is concentrated on a camel’s hump, its meat is lean and better for us than beef and much better than pork. And did you know that camel’s milk is closer to human milk than cow’s milk and thus better for us? It does not curdle. Is more easily digestible than cow’s milk. It has three times the amount of vitamin C than cow’s milk; is rich in B vitamins and iron.  And it also contains anti-bodies and insulin which can fight diseases.

Able to travel for up to 50 kilometers per day in the harsh, hot deserts; camels have long legs which keep it high from the hot sand. Its feet, with broader hooves than that of horses, has two toes – underneath which are fatty balls of leathery pads or ‘cushions’ which enable it to walk easily on sands. Observe closely at the way camels walk: of all animals, only cats and giraffes are known to walk in the same way – moving both front and back legs on one side of the body and then the other legs on the other side.

Camels are used in all Middle Eastern countries and in many parts of Asia. But, surprisingly, camels’ predecessors are from the Western Hemisphere and they are closely related to llamas, alpacas and vicunas of South America. Did you know that, today, of all people – Somalis, both in Somalia and in Ethiopia, have more camels, per capita, than any other people?

And did you know that, although Arabs use both very well; and love and value both very much, horses detest the smell of camels? In wars, when camels are used against horses – horses are known to become hard to control; and many times they run away from charging camels.

All old great Middle Eastern civilizations, very much depended on camels. The Arabs, the Assyrians, the Persians and the Nabateans all used camels. And so did the Muslim armies that conquered the then super-powers: the Byzantine and the Persian empires in the 7th AD. Whenever one thinks of the Great Prophets of old, camels come to mind. The camel is mentioned several times in the Holly Bible. It is eloquently mentioned in Quran Al Kareem: Do they not look at the Camels, how they are made? ………” Surat al-Ghashiya (17-21).

No other people respect, cherish and value camels as Arabs and Muslims do. No other animal species is as important here as is the camel. It has served us very well before. Is still serving us. And will undoubtedly continue to serve us always. With the present, fast World’s changing climate and as quick as food prices rise – as environmentally friendly a mode of transport as it is; as beneficial a dietary as it is; and as versatile, sustainable and adaptive as it is, the Camel will be a most important part of life here, for as long as it and humans exist.  

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Where’s the Beef?

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

Capture7-22-2009-4.40.17 PM

They’re smothered in cheese, pickles, lettuce tomato, and mayonnaise, and are served on a sesame seed bun. But they’re not anything like the traditional all-American hamburger you might be used to. ‘Hashi’, or baby camel burgers, are the latest food trend to take Saudi Arabia by storm.

The camel is one of the most beneficial animals to residents in the Middle East. The camel has long been ‘man’s best friend’ for time eternal, and was instrumental in helping Islam flourish in the region during the life of the Prophet Muhammad (s), prior and since. Camels are prevalent in the history of Arabia as they have served as a mode of transportation, battle buddies in countless wars, companions, and a source of food whether through the fresh and foaming milk camels provide or as a source of highly nutritious meat. Even the camel hair is cultivated and used in the textile industry as it is woven into fine cashmere, which is made into disdashas, blazers or even blankets.

Camel meat has long been a staple in the Saudi Arabian diet. Camel liver is considered to be a fine specialty food and served in the finest hotels and restaurants from Riyadh to Jeddah. The meat is very light and has a delicate flavor. And it is not as fattening as beef, nor as cholesterol-ridden. However, the older the camel the tougher the meat. That’s why baby camels are used for the camel burgers, as the meat is tender.

The camel burgers are the brainchild of three brothers who together own the ‘Local Hashi Meals’ restaurant in the capital city of Riyadh. In a recent interview, one of the owners said that the new menu item was meant to “invent something new” which would tantalize the taste buds of camel meat connoisseurs. So far, the camel burgers have literally been flying off of the grill as customers are eating up the new sandwiches in record numbers.

The camel burgers have helped to revive the family’s business, which had slowed down in recent months due to the global financial crisis. Thanks to the camel burgers, business is now booming. The creators of the camel burger already have plans to expand their business by opening up another branch which could mark the creation of a whole new franchise, in the fledgling ‘camburger’ industry, that could most definitely be a market leader in the Gulf States.

Camel burgers may seem like a unique food that may or may not be a welcome guest on your dining table. However, there are even more unique and weird foods that are considered to be delicacies in the Middle East. How about a slice of sheep’s brain grilled to perfection and tucked into half of a freshly baked pita bread, along with a slice of onion and a squeeze of lemon juice?

Or sheep testicle kebabs grilled on skewers over an open flame until they ‘pop’? No matter which foods grace your palate, trying new foods that may seem strange at first is an excellent way to increase your culinary repertoire and experience a new gastronomic adventure.

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Camel Burgers!

July 16, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Saudi fast food restaurant serving camel burgers

By Nael Shyoukhi

Camel burger - Crown Plaza Hotel, Bahrain

RIYADH (Reuters Life!)-A fast food restaurant in Saudi Arabia is offering baby camel burgers as the latest way for the camel-crazed country to enjoy one of their favorite delicacies.

Specialities such as camel liver have long been on the menu of upmarket restaurants in the Gulf Arab state, but the experiment with baby camel burgers has met with enthusiasm in a country where the camel is a symbol of nomadic traditions.

“The idea…was to invent something new. It is about the love of Saudi people for camel meat,” said Saleh Quwaisi, one of the owners of the Local Hashi Meals restaurant in the capital Riyadh which plans to open a second branch soon and considers to expand further.

Walid Sanchez, managing director of sufraiti.com, a popular Saudi online dining directory, sees a huge market for camel burgers as Saudis like to try out new menus and appreciate the quality of locally made meat.

Some experts also say camel meat is healthy because it is low in fat.

“People like camel meat but no one experimented with camel burgers before…I think it will be a popular thing, it will definitely take off,” said Sanchez.
Customers visiting the packed restaurant in Riyadh on a weekend night agreed.

“I’m frankly trying it for the first time and I really like it,” said Mohammad Naghi. “It doesn’t have much fat, it’s light and has a delicate taste,” he said as he chewed away.

camelburger

Ahmad al-Okaili, ordering “Hashi” burgers — Arabic for baby camel — for him and his children, agreed: “I like their idea and enthusiasm, they’re the first to do this and they’ve become famous with it, which is well-deserved.”

While tremendous oil wealth has brought rapid modernisation to the desert state of Saudi Arabia, the camel remains celebrated due to its connection with the traditional nomadic lifestyle of Bedouin Arabs.

Throughout history, the camel has served multiple purposes as food, friend, transport and war machine.

The Arabic language famously has over 40 terms for different breeds, ages and genders of camel.

Riyadh, which is home to one of the biggest camel markets on the Arabian peninsula, regularly hosts camel races, and every year in various places across the kingdom there are pageants — where a winner could claim hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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