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Published: December 30th 2014
So we have arrived at the prized destination: Al Dahfra Camel Festival. We are here to take care of one of my bucket list items: to see the main event, the world's only Camel Beauty Competition. Yes, my heart is pounding just typing this!
The festival, lasting two weeks, draws over 25,000 camels from the Gulf countries of United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Jordan and Yemen. The camels involved in the judging are either Asayals (purebred tan camels who originated in UAE and Oman) or Majahims (purebred black camels who are from Najed, in Saudi Arabia).
Both breeds are gorgeous, but very different in disposition and appearance. The most striking difference is the size. The Majahims are massive, absolutely huge. They are more spirited, talkative and downright intimidating. When the Majahims come toward us, we move completely out of their way. But, they are so magnificent I can hardly take my eyes off of them.
In the classes where they are judged, the Asayals are led with halters. The Majahims are herded and are always swirling in their pens.
The Asayals are more slight in the hind-quarters and their humps are much smaller and
sit more toward the tail.
We have been learning the finer points of how to judge the beauty of each camel, as the judging is taken quite seriously. The team of judges must take oaths and are sequestered during the festival. Serious consideration is put into the evaluation of the camels. Classes can take hours to complete and are not concluded until the judges can come to a unanimous decision.
We befriended one of the judges' son, a very bright 7th grader, who has taught us a lot about the process and the finer points of camels.
Our days are spent hanging around the grandstand, watching the process, walking through the pens, waiting for the announcement of winners and celebrating the big victories at the end of the day. When the winners are announced, there is cheering, dancing, shouting, the throwing of headscarves, and soaking the camel in an orange concoction that incudes saffron (smells great). The winning camels are then paraded around with their orange heads and victory blankets as the media attempt to get interviews and photos.
The celebration is duely warranted since the first place winner gets a Nissan SUV, second place gets
a Chevrolet SUV and third place gets a Nissan pick-up. The fourth place and below get monetary prizes (close to $10,000). This year, the prizes include 225 cars and over 55 million AED. Not exactly like the blue ribbons we used to get at the county fair!
We have felt very welcomed in the grandstands, among the camels, in the celebrations and even in the classes being judged. As you may have guessed, most of the time I am the only woman in the stands or in the pens. We are allowed to wander wherever we want and to interact with the contestants. We have been in the grandstands designated for the locals and the grandstands reserved for VIP. The VIP section is divided into a section for millionaires and a section for multi-millionaires (particularly the owners of the winners). We are allowed in the millionaires section. When we first sit down each day a young man comes by with Arabic coffee and stands until we finish the "welcome drink" and later someone will be by with a selection of teas, dates and bottled water (all free, of course).
We have made ourselves at home at the festival.
We have now been around long enough that people recognize us and come over to talk to us. A tourist who stopped by the grandstand today asked us if we lived here. She said "everyone here seems to know you!" What can we say, we are surrounded by people who spend two weeks every year celebrating their love of camels--I am with my kind of people!!
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