Saturday, October 29, 2011

Running of the Camels

I know--this is not Pamploma and I am certainly no Ernest Hemmingway. And truth be told, there was only a single camel. But for the past three nights in a row, I have been drawn to the window of my apartment to witness a throng of chanting, laughing, squealing, yelling children running through the streets of my neighborhood chasing...wait for it...a baby camel! (I can't make this stuff up, I promise). The first night I was dumbfounded but amused---where in heaven's name did they get a camel in the middle of the city? Was it for some child's birthday know, like renting a shetland pony to take kids around the park for the day? But then, the ugly truth dawned on me...this camel, like the sheep, cows and goats that are starting to appear in pens throughout the streets of Alexandria, is going to be part of the annual slaughter for Eid ul Adha (for a refresher on this Islamic holiday, you can read my blog post for November 8 last year).

I really didn't want to believe that this poor little defenseless (well, except for its spitting capabilities) camel was actually going to be on the chopping block in about a week's time. I mean, aren't camels a sacred animal to Egyptians or the national beast or something so protected that you are only allowed to sit on them to have your picture taken? I was so distressed by this I had to ask one of my Muslim colleages if camels were fair game for the Eid carnage. Sonia is a young, modern Islamic woman whose first reaction was "absolutely not..we use sheep and cows, but not camels." Whew, relief! But then, Teresa, who is older and has seen a few more Eids than Sonia, said that "yes, many people eat camel and it is sometimes (not often) an animal that is sacrificed for Eid." Bummer.

Now, I have no real love for camels any more than I have affection for shetland ponies (ask Steph for that story, as it is too humiliating for me to retell here.) Camels are mean, ornery, smelly creatures that are memorable only in their iconic presence in movies like Lawrence of Arabia, and the Mummy. Even Walt Disney studios chose a monkey, a parrot and a rug as the loveable sidekicks in Aladdin. It's the Arabian desert..hello? No camel? I guess even they couldn't make a camel cute. Too many people knew. Even Rudyard Kipling's camel was just a big, lazy beast. "Hrumph!" Yet, I can't help feeling sorry for this poor guy..he's just a baby, and he has those big brown eyes, lovely long eyelashes and those fat pouty lips. All animals are cuter when they are babies. Yet, these kids are just chasing him around with no apparent concern for his ultimate doom.
I understand the reason behind the Eid slaughter and the idea that one needs to witness the killing of the animal to understand the sacrifice (see details in my earlier posting). But there are some animal activists in Egypt (not many, but a few) who are raising concerns about the Eid animal butchering. According to Islamic law, there are rules for the slaughter that include isolating the animal so it cannot hear or see it's compatriots fall and the act is supposed to be done swiftly and mercifully or else it is "haram" --religiously forbidden. Yet many of the killings are done in small alleys packed with animals and without the talents of a trained butcher. The blood runs freely in the streets, children dip their hands in it and plaster walls with their bloody prints, and the smell of dead carcasses is overwhelming.

So I plan to leave Alexandria next week...maybe Steph and I will head out to the Black and White Desert--sleep in a Bedouin tent, take a dip in a hot spring fed oaisis, and look at every single star in the sky. Out there, they run with the camels...and the camels live.

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