Having texted the people I cherish wishing them a Merry Christmas, replied to the ones who remembered and wished me on such a day, each with a very personalized message, I had the feeling I’ve done my share of loving, caring and being considerate for the next 6 months.
Considering my options for the day, I settle by noon time on heading to the Al Dhafra Camel Festival. Yes, on Christmas day! Hey, doesn’t the Bible say that “the three wise men travelled from afar on CAMELS to visit the infant Jesus as he lay in the manger”? so I’m not completely out of sync with the rest of the world today.
The festival is taking place in Zayed City in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi, around 2 hours and 30 minutes away from my place. I was on the road for almost an hour before I realized my existence seems a bit too quiet. Grabbing my bag nervously, please God, I know I haven’t been that good of a person this past year but don’t let it be … oh damnit, I forgot my cell phone! On the day I go on a drive in the middle of the desert! By myself! To a place I’ve never been to before! Wait! To a place I’ve never read about before this morning! Ughhhhh. It kinda made me laugh seeing this sign (—>) later for the first time in my life in the UAE, how convenient! Maybe I should believe again in this whole Christmas thing? and make my mother happy and proud.
I take few seconds and decide to keep going. A cell phone or lack of it in this case is not gonna stop me!
I kept holding on anxiously to this thought for almost 40 minutes later when I couldn’t ignore the screaming of my mind asking me where in the world we are. The only answer I had for him was ‘it looks we are somewhere with lots of sand around’. I keep reading the names mentioned on the Abu Dhabi Week little map, on road signs, however, strangely enough, they don’t seem to be in the same sequence; they don’t seem to be in the reverse sequence either; it’s like I keep jumping into this map from a road outside the margin of the Abu Dhabi Week page.
It all comes to a head when I follow what is obviously a wrong sign and reach a dead-end road. This is where my mind takes hold of the steering wheel when I’m at my most vulnerable place and I let him.
‘See? I told you this was a bad idea’.
‘Oh just shut up and drive!’
‘Listen to me. I’m doing this for you. You don’t know where the hell you’re going. You have no cell phone to call to find out. If you go any deeper, chances are you won’t find any humans to ask them for help. And by the way, did you see the last ones standing on the road a while ago? Do you want to take your chances and ask them for help?’
Nodding a ‘nope’.
‘And you barely have fuel to just make it back. Remember no cell phone. Are you planning to hitchhike in the sun? in this place?’
Nodding one more ‘nope’,
‘Does anyone know you’re here today? in case?’
I sigh, sit straight, take control of the steering wheel and head back, following the road sign ‘Abu Dhabi’ i.e. home. Hey, I tried but I guess we’re done for the day.
Until I come across this sign (—>).
It takes me few seconds to realize it’s too late to let it go now, I’ve been driving for almost 2 hours. I’m not going back home just like that. Since when did I give up so easily? I know the answer to that: since the last 2 years, mainly giving up on people in my life, confusing it probably with ‘letting go’ which I became an expert at, but then again that would be the subject of another post. Now, there is barely enough time to just take that turn and get me, myself and I on my way back to the festival. My mind is baffled and speechless. I switch on the music before he starts.
The Al Dhafra festival is now an annual event, probably the largest gathering of camels, attracting camels and camel owners from the gulf region: Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman in addition to the United Arab Emirates. It includes a beauty pageant where camels are awarded points based on attributes like nice whiskers, firm ears, a good-shaped nose, a long neck, good posture and strong legs. Part of the activities as well are the races for each of the Asayel (pedigree) and Majahim (dark-skinned) camels and the auctions –some of them are priced at a million UAE dirhams!
Last year, more than 28,000 camel owners participated; many of them drove their camels for hundreds of kilometers from the entire region. The prizes amounted to 42 million UAE dirhams.
I spent quite some time taking photos of the camels, watching them flaunt their big asses, enjoying the road priority given to them by the police, because guess what, they don’t stop! I doubt they even see humans in their cars from up there. If you look closer, they seem to have an arrogant air to them these camels.
At one point, I got full with the stinking smell, yes, they smell and they smell bad, I head towards the traditional market aka the souk. There are too many shops, all built in a very traditional way, selling Emirati items, from food to frankincense, perfume and clothing.
Oh was I so lucky that I arrived to the souk right before the Emirati traditional song and dance start. It’s at times like these that I wish I had a cam recorder. Hope you enjoy the pictures nevertheless.