Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Kuwaiti Camel Racing Club

Since our first week in Kuwait, I have wanted to attend the Kuwaiti Camel Races. In my mind, it was just like a Middle Eastern Dick Francis novel. A large oval track, grandstands rising on one side, jockeys in bright colors and camels, lots of camels. I imagined a day at the races. Maybe, I would wear a large hat, maybe I would sip a mint julep, maybe I would bet on the winner, but I was positive, no matter what, it would be a exciting.

The first week of January, I began to hear whispers of Camel Racing. A friend mentioned that they had begun and were taking place every Saturday at 2. A few buttons on my phone and Google maps gave me the location, just a short, 45-minute jaunt into the desert – the Kuwaiti Camel Racing Club.

I convinced B to join me. He was not as excited as I was. He listened to the day I described and then interjected some reality: I did not own a big hat – a hijab would be more practical, I would not be sipping a mint julep – I would not be sipping any alcohol at all, as it is haram (illegal), and finally, there would be no betting on the races, unless I wanted to get arrested. These were all good points, but I was still hooked on seeing camels’ race. I pulled out my secret ace: When a camel runs all 4 feet come off the ground at the same time, didn’t he want to see that?

Turns out he didn’t, but he came anyways - he is sweet like that. So on the first Saturday we could, a group of us climbed into our jeep and headed to the desert.

Upon first impression, the Kuwaiti Camel Club was not what I expected. There was no racetrack and no grandstand. People milled around along a stretch of rope and 4 feet in front of the rope was an orange fence. This fence lined the “track” which in reality was just a flat stretch of sand.

No one knew when the races would start and there was no announcer or scoreboards. Desert stretched out in all directions – no food stands, no shops, and very little shade, literally a fence and a hundred Kuwaiti flags billowing in the breeze.

6 men had brought camels and were offering to give people rides. Since the pregnant camel incident in Bahrain, I have continued in vain to ride a camel. This was my chance. I approached a man and gestured to his camel, he nodded and I awkwardly climbed aboard. Dozens of people stood around taking pictures and climbing on other camels. The man shook the rains of the camel and shouted at him to rise. The camel threw me forward, rose halfway, gave a scary bellow and then sunk down – refusing to move. I had yet again, failed to ride a camel.

The man gestured to me to climb off. I stared aghast as person after person climbed aboard various camels and rode around. What was it with me camels? Why can’t I ride one?

Suddenly, people started to shout and move toward the rope. Off in the distance we could see a huge dust cloud. The camels were coming.

As they neared, it became clear that on either side of the camels were dozens of trucks. The trucks were literally racing across the desert ‘herding’ the camels to race. The camels trotted past. Foam poured out of their mouths and they looked exhausted. We watched as they crossed the finish line.

There were no jockeys on their backs. Instead, there were just little metal boxes with whips attached. We later learned that the men in the trucks controlled the whips as they drove along next to the camels. The race we had witnessed had been 11 kilometres. The camels had started way before we had arrived, but we only saw seconds of the actual race and, without an announcer, it was hard to follow what was happening or who was winning.

We stayed for 2 hours. In that time, we witnessed 3 sets of racing camels cross the finish line. They crossed in a slow lope, usually bunched up, with maybe one or two crossing a little behind the rest. A winner was never announced and no one really cheered. All in all, it was less than exciting, but an experience nonetheless.

As we went to leave, I decided to attempt one more camel ride. I chose the largest camel. I climbed aboard and held on tight. The camel rose high into the air. It was like riding a bucking bull as I was tossed forward, backward, forward, but suddenly, there I was, looking down at all our friends. The man led me in slow circle. It was crazy how high I was. The final race was coming toward us and I got to watch the trucks and camels cross the desert from my sky-high perch. It was awesome.

So although we will, probably, never again attend the Kuwaiti Camel Races, I will always count it as a success - because I finally rode a camel.

(New goal: Ride an elephant.)

No comments:

Post a Comment