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Published: November 20th 2018
Being on this camel adventure with the Raika was nothing short of spectacular. It was unique. It was authentic. It was true cultural immersion.
It was unheard of for westerners to tag along with these storied cameleers and we felt honored and lucky to be able to make it happen. But probably the part that made me the most thankful was their openness to allowing a female to be part of their ritual.
Women do not handle the camels in the Raika culture. It is the male Raika that manage them, shepherd them, sleep with them when they are traveling with them and protect them. The women are just not part of that aspect of the Raika way of life. So, I had concerns that my very presence would make this moment more difficult.
What I discovered along this 6 days of walking with the Raika cameleers was refreshing, heart-warming and eye opening. I feel I would be remiss to not share some of these experiences and observations from the perspective of a female cameleer,
I was carefully aware of my cultural intrusion on this age old practice of moving the camels. I dressed as a western
woman, but I covered my shoulders and such in respect. I wore pants, hiking boots and long-sleeved shirt and often a ball cap, not a sari or a head scarf.
I assumed they were probably not aware of my camel experience and I was careful not to barge right into the camel handling. In fact, I waited a day or two before I communicated to our Raika group that I even owned camels.
I worked hard, followed orders and kept up with them every step of the way. My hope was to earn their respect, but I was fully aware that my very gender might make that impossible.
When dad and I have traveled throughout the Middle East, there is always a respect for me, but they always defer to my father. If there is a bill to be paid, I usually have the money and will do the business transactions for us, but they insist on dealing with my father.
It is nothing that has ever offended me, it is simply an observation. I was fully prepared for that to be the case with the Raika, but I was pleasantly surprised that it was not.
The Raika learned quickly that while both my dad and I loved the experience and the camels, it was me that couldnāt get enough of the camels. They allowed me to take off the hobbles when it was time to walk. They allowed us to engage in every aspect of shepherding and moving the camel caravan. They helped us learn the commands. And once they figured out we could keep up with them, they allowed me to carry the camel stick like I was a pro.
The first morning of the walk was filled with introductions, some simple planning and the expected awkwardness. The moment that I was concerned would create issues arrived that first morning before we had even walked a step.
The Raika and their herd were staying in a village with family members and there was socializing going on before we moved to the next destination. The socializing included a hearty breakfast. The breakfast was served by men of the village to the Raika men. They ate in a courtyard near where they were smoking and conversing.
There was no apparent hesitation when it was time to eat as both dad and I
were invited into the circle and served food along with the Raika. We all ate together without issue despite the shocked look on the faces of the children observing the moment.
Being a female cameleer did not keep me from engaging fully with the Raika way of life. I feel very grateful for their openness and progressive perspective.
As we walked along our 6 day journey, it was hard to ignore the reactions of others who crossed our paths. Heads snapped, photos were taken and disbelief was apparent when others saw a white woman walking with and working the camel caravan. Everyone seemed to repsond a little differently.
I grew fond of the exchanges with the village women and the women perched on the backs of motorcycles. Through their veils there was usually a knowing smile, a nod of approval and sometimes a sisterly wave. The young girls were much the same. The exchange started with surprise and then quickly turned to a metaphorical girl power high five.
The older men of the villages, the male motorcyclists and the male drivers were almost frozen in surprise. They slammed on the brakes, swerved their motorcycles and yelled
questions to our Raika cameleers. The lead cameleer had to explain himself a lot when we were spotted. I have no idea what he said, but I could often make out āAmericansā in his explanation.
The younger Indian men were another story. They could not believe their eyes and apparently they thought Sofia Vagara or Angelina Jolie was walking camels with the Raika. They did nothing to hide their shock and their excitement. They whooped and hollered and they downright demanded photos or selfies. If they were traveling on a motorcycle they would ride up to me and just keep following at an uncomfortably close distance.
It did not matter how focused I was on my job of moving camels or how aloof I acted, it was always an ordeal with the younger male Indians. Thank goodness I had a protective father walking beside me who also has a great sense of humor.
Overall, I think being a female cameleer who forced herself into a male dominated experience was positive and well received by the Indians we encountered and I am so appreciative of their warmth and willingness to fulfill my dream. It is not lost on
me how great this moment was and how unique it was to have a white female walk with the Raika.
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