Saturday, November 24, 2007

Camel Country

We were driving home from the bus stand the other night. Caito turned the corner onto our street and there was a huge camel! In front of the massive animal, sitting on the porch of a house, were about 15 people and a bunch more kids. They just watched in silence from afar. We laughed at the strangeness of it and drove down the road.

That was almost three days ago and what’s even stranger than the camel is the fact that the The Baobab Home has been almost completely silent since the camel got to town. All the kids in the neighborhood have been camel gazing. They visit, touch, listen, mock and feed the camel. Naturally, I wanted to know where she came from and what she was doing here. It’s been hard to get an answer that is not shot out in rapid fire Swahili from the sheer joy of the experience, but this is what I got.

She is a sacrifice. About once a year someone in Bagamoyo decides he wants to thank God and have a party. The going rate for a camel in these parts is reportedly over $1000, but apparently it is not bought but donated to a Muslim religious teacher. Right now we are in the buildup period. The camel is admired and loved and taken for long walks that are more like parades. A banner is carried in front of her and a stream of kids follows her everywhere. Rarely do people climb on board the camel, but occasionally. From what I have been told, the men in charge talk to the camel and read to her from the Koran. They pray over her and they pray in her honor. They cajole her. They ask her first very politely if she wants to be sacrificed. The amazing part is that everyone I have talked to says that the camel eventually cries true tears, and lays down in agreement. It turns its neck and is cut. Many people don’t stay to watch that part, but then a feast ensues with camel meat for all and special spiced rice. Christians and Muslims are all invited. Absolutely anyone is welcome until the meat runs out. What happens if a camel does not agree? Most people said that you have to continue to “bembeleza” the camel, to soothe it as you would a cranky child. A few people remember cases of when a camel would not agree and was forcibly cut. When that happens, the meat does not taste as good.

Last year the man who organized the event added his own excitement…he had a “dream” that a ring was inside the camels stomach. Lo and behold a ring was found (or produced) when they cut the camel’s stomach. Everyone cheered.

As I write this, there is talk that the camel is pregnant, in which case the sacrifice is off and someone has to come up with a cow in place of the camel. My instinct is to root for the camel of course, but I sit here and debate whether it matters much. I’ve seen a bullfight in Mexico and a massive pig slaughtered in Spain after being chased through town. Chickens killed by the hundreds for fast food in the USA and turkeys are decorated and praised on a table. I could get high and mighty and claim vegetarianism, but I love fish and squid. I guess that I will just attend the event for as long as I can and decide based on fact not theory. ...developing.....

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