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Published: March 12th 2019
I drink camel milk.
There. I said it. It is out there.
Now cue of up the parade of responses I have grown so accustomed to getting when I divulge this tidbit of information.
There is the “have you lost your mind” side eye.
The “are you messing with me?” uncomfortable laugh.
My favorite is the “oh Valeri” eye roll.
Sometimes, it’s the “WHY?” judgement.
Then, there is the most common, the ”I am so disgusted I can’t even speak” wrinkled nose.
Every once and awhile, I get the “tell me more” curious lean-in. To this one, I respond with the explanation that I am allergic to cow‘s milk, but camel milk doesn‘t cause inflammation. Then I launch into a very brief summary of how camel milk has more protein, less fat and more vitamins than other milks. And, right before their eyes glaze over in skeptism, I talk about how camel milk has proven effective in helping to heal GI issues, skins ailments, diabetes and so forth.
By now I have lost them and the only question left to answer is “how does it taste?” I can
tell you no one believes me when I say it tastes good. No one.
Aren’t we humans funny? Depending on where we will live, we get very unshakeable ideas about what is food, what is proper and what is gross. Those ideas and beliefs get so ingrained in our heads they can leave us closed off to new ideas, or in this case with camel milk, very old practices.
During my time in Kazakhstan I desperately wanted to visit a hospital I had heard about that subscribes so closely to the idea that camel milk has healing properties they rely on it as medicine. Living in a country so entrenched in Western medicine that chiropractors are practically considered voodoo, it is hard for an American to imagine a hospital that cares for it’s patients with camel milk. Can you imagine turning that bill into an insurance company?? Aruana
Aruana is located in the steppes of Kazakhstan about 150 km outside of Almaty in a tiny village. It is isolated and situated in a desolate part of Kazakstan, but it’s treatment concept is cutting edge.
The hospital is located with a small camel dairy owned and operated by the same family that runs Daulet Beket Camel Dairy and SYDYK restaurant. The camel herd located on the hospital campus solely meet the needs of the patients in the hospital. The milk is so fresh, the camels are milked only when it is time to serve the patients and only the amount of milk needed is gathered.
I arrived at a milking time and was lucky enough to be invited into the barn that housed mamas and their year old babies. The babies were being kept separated in a little pen in the barn where they could interact with their mothers, but not nurse until it was time.
A couple of babies were released into the mass of camels and they were given an opportunity to find their mother. The nuzzling and reuniting resulted in the mother dropping her milk. This meant the baby could nurse and the attendants could go to work milking.
The milking is done by hand and the camels are milked without being tied up, the only restraint being a small rope around the
hind leg so the mama couldn’t kick.
The camels seemed very gentle and once they were being nursed and milked, the mama got that relaxed, glazed over look in her eyes I find so endearing.
We milked for a few minutes and, yes, I took my hand at milking. (I won’t be quitting my day job!)
Before I knew it, we were finished. When I acted surprised by how short of time we spent milking, I learned that we were only milking the exact amount needed for the patients at that time and other small milking sessions would take place multiple times throughout the day.
I ate lunch at the hospital and tried to explain to my hosts that their food did not even come close to resembling hospital food in America. Regarding food, the hospital believes that like the milk, everything must be all natural and fresh. The meals are health oriented and lack the ingredients we love so much in the United States: salt and sugar.
Our lunch included a broth based, hearty soup, pickled beets, homemade bread,
pumpkin dumplings with a handmade sour cream, camel milk tea and a large glass of shubat (fermented camel milk). Every bite was absolutey delicious. It was flavorful and filling. I ended up eating much more than I anticipated, but in true confession, I did not drink the glass of shubat that was sat in front of me as I already knew what I thought of it.
At lunch I was able to see the clientele who were staying in the hospital. Most seemed to be middle aged to older men and their ailments varied from skin issues to issues too complex for Google Translate. I was told there were patients from within the country and from as far away as Turkmenistan. It seems the popularity of the hospital had spread to neighboring countries.
My hosts confirmed the hospital always has patients and their stays vary from a few weeks to a few months. Each patient is examined and put on a regime that includes camel milk and possibly camel urine. (Want some true entertainment? Discuss the health merits of camel urine using Google Translate.)
There is a doctor on site that monitors the patients and creates treatment plans. Patients are also allowed, maybe even encouraged, to bring in their own doctors to periodically check on their progress.
I almost choked on my lunch when I asked about the cost of staying at this facility. Each patient pays $20 per day to stay in the hospital, receive treatment and eat all their meals. If a patient wants to up grade to a suite with a private bathroom, they will pay $25. I was not able to convey to my hosts that there is not any medical treatment of any sort in the States that could be had for $20.
The hospital owners explained that one issue they are dealing with is the location of the hospital being so remote that some patients feel too removed and maybe even bored at the hospital, so some were leaving prematurely. The patients have access to tv, WiFi and can have family members stay with them.
Camel Milk Benefits
The camel dairy owners said they became aware of the benefits of camel milk when someone
approached them and asked to “borrow” one of their camels. They learned the person wanted to borrow the camel so they could use the fresh milk for treatment of a severe skin disorder. A few more requests like this led the camel dairy family members to do a little research about these claims. Skeptical at first, they became believers after seeing incredible success in multiple cases.
My hosts asked me if I had ever heard of camel milk having medicinal properties or being used to promote health. They were shocked when I confirmed this was not a new concept to me and that I was aware the Bedouin culture revered camel milk for many, many generations. They were also pretty surprised that I consumed camel milk in the United States.
Furthermore, they could not believe I had ever heard of using camel urine for healing practices. While I could tell them I consumed camel milk myself, I could not own up to ever trying camel urine. Maybe that will be on the agenda for the next trip.
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