It is not always you see a camel racing in the streets of Muscat. It galloped past houses and brought cars at a complete halt. Everyone looked at it because we normally associate camels with the desert and not the paved streets.
It stopped under a tree and started feeding on leaves. There was a Land Cruiser next to the tree and for a minute, I tried to find something common between the vehicle and the animal.
I took out my mobile, got closer and tried to get a picture. The camel sensed my presence, turned its huge head and peered down at me. I hesitated and stepped back. It was the first time that I got within ten yards of a camel. I was nervous because I know its kick can kill a person instantly. But I had to take my picture and the camel challenged me by staring down at me. Then an old man with a bushy beard appeared from nowhere. He stopped and looked at me. It was an embarrassing moment. I knew the man owned the camel. For a few seconds, both man and beast backed it each other and their body language was saying,” what’s your business here?”
I started to retreat towards my car. Then the man gestured me to come forward. He went to his camel and I watched him whispered something at the animal. Amazingly, the camel turned its head and concentrated on eating the thorny leaves. The man then told me that I could take the photo. With a renewed confidence, I stepped closer and got my picture.
I was curious. I wanted to know what he ‘told’ the camel. He gave me a toothless smile and said, “I asked for its permission. Camels have feelings and pride, you know.”
I thought he was trying to be dramatic. For all I knew, he calmed down its nerves so I could take the picture. Anyway, I was not going to challenge him but I thanked him and drove away. I felt a pang of guilt for ‘accusing’ the old gentleman of fraud. So, I made a U-turn and drove back. He and the Land Cruiser were not there but the camel was still feasting on the tree.
But there were other people mesmerized by its sheer beauty. The animal was really a welcomed visitor to the town. But it was not used to the crowd. It became agitated as the children talked noisily. As the crowd grew larger, the camel suddenly bolted and ran to the direction of the highway. The barriers stopped it from entering the road but it just kept running parallel to it. I am sure its owner would not have been be pleased.
The funny thing is that camels have been roaming the desert for thousands of years before we built concrete houses on the sands. Now, they are barricaded within the confinement of villages restricting their natural instincts.. There are on the decline though the situation is not yet alarming. With scientifically modified food they eat and water tainted with chemicals, is diminishing their ability to breed well.
The camels are now only valued by their abilities to win races so they can be sold at premier prices. Breeders have stripped their tag as the ‘Desert Ship’ reducing its status to just beasts who become a nuisance when they wander into towns.