Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Camel Market

About a 45 minute ride from central Cairo into the boonies, we took a cab out to the Camel Market, known in Arabic as Souq Gamal or Birqash at 7:30 when Cairo still waking up. Fridays are quiet and our drive was free of traffic but full of sights of agricultural fields including tall grass near the banks of the Nile with heads poking up every now and again as people worked in the fields to fill their large brown sacks with fresh crops. Turquoise and yellow painted brick buildings scattered the countryside with fresh laundry hung from the windows, fields of cacti growing the famous prickly pear fruit and the burning of unknown things in the distance. Butchers stood alongside their shops hacking up their freshest purchase and women wandered about mostly preparing for the weekend. When we finally arrived at the edge of the Souq (market) we were overwhelmed. The road leading up to it is full of steaming, and sometimes burning piles of garbage- the result of the systematic killing of all the pigs in Cairo during the Swine Flu outbreaks. When I saw the camel carcasses, I knew I was in for something not...pleasant. It wasn't exactly a welcome sight.
We entered the market at the big gap in the wall along with camels that were going to be loaded up in cars. We had to pay 25 LE for our "Tourist Tackets"but we were able to walk around freely without hassle. We were the only girls there, including the camels--they only sell male camels at this market. There was a huge display table full of scary looking sharp knives and daggers for sale and I was so distracted by my proximity to them when I looked up, I was almost trampled by a camel! There were thousands of camels being herded around by their sellers. There were numbers spray painted on their humps designating their owner and when they were sold. The saddest part of all (and it was really sad) was the beating of the animals. The men have huge thick wooden sticks that they use to beat the heck out of the animals in order to 'show off how they move.' The sound was like the loud thump of beating a was so unnatural. There were quite a few times I had to turn away. Animal rights activists would not be able to handle it there. The men stood in large groups all watching the camels and bargaining with each other shouting out prices.
We stood and watched them and Kareem, Brittany and I started asking the men questions. I couldn't help it! I was so darn curious. They were surprised we all spoke Arabic and began chatting away with us. We found out the camels come by boat up from the River Nile over a 40 day journey from Sudan, Somalia and Aswan. The ones sold at this market are usually for food; camel milk and camel meat. The going rate? 4,000LE for the baby camels and the most expensive large camel reached up to 20,000LE ($3,400). They began to tell us in the United Arab Emirates the camels can go for up to 60,000LE because there is a camel racing scene with 7 and 8 year old jockeys for these huge camels. You would be shocked how fast camels can run. Because of this the sellers at the camel market tie up one of the camel legs and yet they somehow still get loose and throngs of people part to not be trampled to death by stampeding camels. It was a crazy experience to say the least.

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