“Sultan went over to fetch Umbrausha, the camel I was riding. She was a magnificent animal, a famous thoroughbred from Oman.”
—Sir Wilfred Thesiger, in Arabian Sands
Seema and Fares, our two bull camels, are not famous thoroughbreds from Oman.
They are blue-collar cargo camels from Sudan. They are the dented-up Ford F-150s pickups of the camelid world. Still, like many old trucks, they tend to inspire loyalty. And like the men of a certain age that we are, we sometimes spend an afternoon hosing them down in the yard.
This brings out the color of the animals’ personalities.
Fares is the camel elder at age five. He suffers from what our chief caravaneer, Awad Omran, calls “heavy legs.” This is a term of politesse for incurable laziness. We pour a bucket of warm water over his fatty hump. We rub his filthy, matted fir. At this instant he closes each of his six eyelids (the extra one sliding over each eye, called a nictitating membrane, serves as a shield against blowing sand) in profound ecstasy. He rolls his shoulders under our fingers in bliss. He drools obscenely.
Three-year-old Seema, a camel teenager, has authority issues. He is prone to infantile tricks. (Like taking your entire head inside his mouth when you’re not looking.) He reacts to bathwater like a lot of kids: as if it were acid, toxic anthrax, scalding oil. Tied into a couched position with an agal, a rope hobble that Saudi men still wear symbolically around their headdresses, he lurches up onto his folded knees. He shuffles away bellowing like a dinosaur. This is understandable. When wet, Seema shrinks. He resembles a damp Chihuahua.
We totter after him, arms waving, cursing in two languages. I realize I am the only one laughing. I shut my yap.