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Published: February 22nd 2019
There was such a bustle of excitement and energy when we brought “our” camel herd into the Pushkar Fair that day.
We had to take 70 some camels through a tight little gulley, wind around a small campsite with trees and other camels, cross a minor ravine and then take these very social, curious animals across the entire fairgrounds past thousands of other social, curious camels.
Actually, dealing with the camels and their anxiety was the easy part. The humans were the obstacle that day.
We were working hard. Six days earlier, dad and I were probably viewed as two Americans with too much time and money on our hands who would never be able to keep up with these wirey, tough old Raika herdsman who had been walking the desert with camels since they were born. But today, we were part of the team.
Dad and I knew the animals, we knew the commands, we had earned the trust of the Raika and the camels and we had proven we could handle anything that was asked of us...so far.
This day would be the ultimate test.
I was in the
No One Hits Our Camels
There is the moment, dad’s walking stick is returned to me. Okay, taken by me from this stranger. Notice the distressed way the camels are holding their heads.
front of the herd with the lead camel and the lead cameleer, enjoying the luxury of an honorary role. Dad was in the back working hard and eating dust.
After we crossed the ravine, everything seemed to speed up and get a little chaotic. The tight camel herd was spreading out a bit and the camels’ curiosity, coupled with an exciting adventure, had started to take over.
In all fairness, they were acting like champs. I swear as our camels walked past other camel herds, they were all just exchanging pleasantries. “Hey, good to see you again. How are the kids?” “It’s been a long walk, glad we are here. When did you arrive?” “Boy, can you believe this heat? Let’s catch up later.”
There was no aggressiveness and the camels did not seem like they wanted to run away, but you could feel there was a need to tighten up the herd and provide a little more guidance. I offered to go back to my usual station at side flank, but the lead cameleer said no. He wanted me in the honorary position.
Then he looked over his shoulder and quickly changed his mind.
Leaving the Situation
Notice the guy staring at me, he was just informed we do not hit camels.
I scooted back to the side and began with the verbal commands so the camels knew not to stray to the right. About that time, dad noticed I had been demoted to doing actual work and offered up his walking stick as I had left my camel stick with the lead cameleer.
(Editors note: the sticks are used for guidance. They essentially make your arm about 3 feet longer, so when you are telling the camels where to go, you can cover more geography. They are not used to harm the camels.)
We were progressing nicely at this point, but also earning our lunch. Sweat was dripping. Concentration was required. Commands were non stop. We had to be on our toes.
About this time I could not help but notice the flurry of attention our camel herd was drawing. People were like moths to a flame as we strode across Camel Hill. There was lots of chatter and gawking. People were already shopping our camels and asking questions about prices and such.
The interesting thing is that people were also gathering to help us move the camels. Basically, all of this meant
Dad Guiding the Camel Herd
He is walking next to Pretty Woman. She always walked in the back of the group, by choice.
that people were getting in the way of us doing our job and in the way of our camels moving freely.
I suppose it was to be expected. We had been told this particular herd had quite a reputation for quality and beauty. But quite frankly, the suffocating attention was a tad bit annoying.
I’ve been known to have a bit of a confidence level issue when it comes to my knowledge about cameleering. As in, I tend to not have any. Dad frequently scolds me and reminds me I do know a thing or two about camels, but I think I know just enough to know there is so much more to know. I also come from a livestock background where my parents knew cattle, my grandparents knew cattle, my great grandparents knew cattle and my great, great grandparents knew cattle. It gives me a false assumption you have to be born into this sort of knowledge.
This meekness may be even more evident when we are in a foreign country where the native cameleers have been living with camels since the beginning of their society.
A bit of overthinking? Probably. I prefer
to call it being humble...
That day at Camel Hill, I was not overthinking, meek or humble. And I pity the poor Indian man who had to meet that side of me.
The camels were moving just as they needed and we were providing guidance to them with commands and body language. We were also working as barriers to protect them from the influx of spectators and the dangers that could come from wandering from the herd. Things were going well. We were clicking as a team and as a herd.
About that time, an unknown man walked up to me and without any words or gestures, reached over and took dad’s walking stick out of my hand. Just like that. He said nothing. He in no way explained. He had no regard for what we were doing (most likely because I was a woman and a gora). He just took it.
For a split second, I just looked at him as if I was about to learn something about camel handling in that moment. Then he leaned back with the stick in a motion that suggested only one thing...he was going
to hit our camels.
That humble girl from Kansas who naively thought she was about to learn something disappeared. Before he could finish his swing, I was the one taking dad’s walking stick and I generously coupled it with a little camel lesson of my own.
“No! We do not hit these camels! They are doing what they are supposed to do!” I turned on my heels, finished my job of guiding the camels and left him looking for his masculinity.
I went from being shocked and angry with him, to feeling all hopped up on confidence. We finished our job of getting our camels to their allotted home on Camel Hill and the next step was to get them all hobbled and tucked into their residence.
My job was to hold the bulls, the only ones with lead ropes. People were continuing to gather and chatter and shop our herd. About this time, some guy had the audacity to try to take several of the lead ropes from me. They wanted to shop and check teeth and such. Apparently they had not heard what happened to the other guy who tried to mess
Being a Diplomat
If you smile when you are telling someone no, it is being diplomatic, right?
with our camels!
I held on tightly and firmly said no. The looks on their faces were priceles. Another tried again. My response was the same. A guy wanted to see the teeth, but couldn’t understand that he could do it right there while I continued to do my job. I even offered to show him how to check teeth. That went over well.
In a final attempt, another man approached and informed me that I was holding one of his uncle’s bulls and it was ok for him to take him. I told him he did not own the bull because I knew the owner and I would only hand the rope over to the owner.
I warned you I was hopped up on confidence and in Mama Bear mode with these camels that had been through enough for that moment!
It did cross my mind that I was brashly stomping through too many cultural norms all at once in this traditionally cultural moment. But then I caught the faint smile of the camel owning uncle and I continued to stand my ground.
Maybe that was the day,
I found some camel confidence. Maybe it was the day a random Indian man decided he hates American women. Or maybe it was just the day the camels dodged getting hit with dad’s walking stick. Either way, it was a boisterous moment for dad and I that concluded in us celebrating with the Raika herdsmen over a the major accomplishment of getting our camels to Pushkar.
VERY SPECIAL THANKS: We were so lucky to have a friend and amazing photographer with us at Pushkar that day. Donna DeMari was leading a tour for photographers and they decided to take on the task of being at Camel Hill when our camel herd arrived. They survived the heat, the dust and the chaos. Donna was kind enough to take amazing photos AND share them with us. Better souvenirs we could never find. Every photo in this blog is the art work of Donna (DeMari Photography). I will feel forever indebted to her for taking and sharing these photos. I hope you enjoy how she captured the absolute very moments I described in this blog. How she captured this, I will forever be in awe. Thank you from
You can tell by the shape of my mouth, I am giving the camels commands verbally.
the bottom of our hearts Donna!
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