Camel Farm visit – #3 at Salem’s farm
This time, Mom and I didn’t call ahead because Salem said, last time, “no need to call, just come. You are welcome any time. My farm for you.” He was pretty adamant, I swear. We arrived this time just as he was driving off in his Land Cruiser somewhere (Land Cruisers are de rigueur for any self-respecting Emirati Bedouin). He drove over to us as we were standing there sorting out if we were in the right spot. Big smiles and greetings and welcomes, and then, “Why you no call to tell me you come now?”
I was indignant, because “you told us NOT to call last time! You insisted!”
He laughed at me, and then explained how I had missed the subtext and been over-literal: “But this because I want you understand: no problem, come any time, is like your home. But you should call to tell me, because if I am not here, then I will come, and sit with you. Anyway, no problem. Very happy you are here. I must go now for a little – I have two camels over there, and I must help to make,” pause, “married between two camels. Understand?” followed by hearty laughter.
So he sent us to wander around, take photos, visit the camels and generally entertain ourselves, until the camel wedding was done. We spent the next 20 or 30 minutes wandering accordingly, amazed at all the little flowers and grass that had sprouted up from the thunderstorms that have swept over the country the last couple of weeks.
Greenery is quick to sprout up after a good bit of rain
The three tents that were there last time – two white sleeping tents and a black wool visiting tent – were nowhere to be seen. When Salem, and his friend and helper in the above operation, Abu Ali, who turns out to be an uncle of some sort (I think – family relations can get complicated and intertwined here), returned and we were all settled down around the fire, the missing tents came up. And, yes indeed, just like our rooftop tent that was completely demolished by a storm last year, Salem’s tents were flattened by the storms we had this last month.
Last year, when he heard about our much laboured over roof-top tent’s demise, he was highly amused, teased that it was because a Bedouin hadn’t slept in it, and generally expressed no sympathy. So, you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly crying into my tea for his misfortune. In fact, the word Schadenfreude comes to mind… He was a lot less emotional about his tent disaster than I had been about mine, and actually was laughing as well. He told us there was an old Arabic saying, that if you enjoy another’s misfortune, the same, even stronger, will come to you, and then he pointed at himself, with a ‘well-I-had-it-coming, didn’t I?’ smile.
Rasheed, the young man who was there the first time we came, to make tea, coffee, etc, ran away as soon as he got his first paycheque. Off to make his fortune I guess. This seems to amuse Salem as well. Unusually, Rasheed had possession of his own passport, because Salem says he doesn’t believe in keeping his employees’ passports. So Salem was the host, and the chef and the tea and coffee maker as well.
We had tea and coffee – which is called qawa, and has cloves and cardamom in it, but not much actual coffee as far as I can tell – and then he said, “Come with me. Bring your camera. You have a flash on your camera? I have a surprise for you.” We followed him some 300 or 400 meters into the dark – no moon, only starlight, and then we saw: a small dark shape in the sand, and a much bigger one standing over it. He told us it was a two-day old baby camel with its mother, and she was out here to eat the greenery and just be alone with her baby. The baby struggled to its feet and then walked awkwardly but directly over to us. It was all very heart melting, of course. Silky soft like a new puppy or kitten, and friendly, or possibly just confused, but it kept coming to us and bumping us with its head and then just standing there while we pet it. It may have been looking for milk. The mother, Sharifa, stuck close, but she didn’t seem aggressive, though Salem was clearly concerned. He kept saying, “careful…” and calming things to her like “Hup! Hup! Ehhh, Sharifa…” and then a sort of blowing through his lips, like horses do.
Even more adorable in real life!
Mom and I were floating with the delight of it all, and went back to the fire with big, dumb smiles stuck to our faces. Salem took a phone call, and then said “Ah, my father is coming. It will be good for you to meet him!” Ten minutes later another Land Cruiser rolled up into the sand near us and two more men in kandouras (long white kind of shirt/dress) joined us round the fire. One was Salem’s father and one a business friend of his, an old man from Yemen. We all sat for a while and Salem told his father I was taking Arabic lessons and he should try talking to me, so he asked me about my father, my brothers and sisters. When he heard there were only three children in my family, he laughed and told me he had 18 children, though 3 had died. He gave me a breakdown, this many girls, that many boys and 3 dead. I said oh, hazeen, meaning sad. And he turned to Salem and asked why I was saying sad? I thought, shit, I must have said it wrong – this is always happening with my rare attempts at speaking Arabic. Salem explained that I meant that it was sad that three had died. And the father turned to me, laughing again and said, “Hamdillilah,” as in, thanks to God, we mustn’t get worked up one way or the other, He makes these decisions and we have to just go along. Then Abu Ali, told me that of his 18 children, 9 had died, which I thought pretty bad luck, but now decided I wasn’t supposed to express such unhappiness for, so I just sort of said, oh, and how many boys and how many girls?
There was lots of chatter and lots of joking, most of which went over mom’s and my head, but Salem translated some of the stories his father told into English for us, like how they used to sit out by the fire with a gun, keeping an eye and an ear out for wolves and tigers, because they would kill the baby camels. I know, you’re probably thinking, tigers, in the Arabian desert? What tigers? I don’t know, I’m just reporting; that’s what he said.
As this story closed, Ghasim, the man who takes care of the camels, was around the passenger side of the car looking for something and then he closed the door. The thing is, none of us knew he was there, and when the door shut, everyone looked with surprise at the car. Salem’s father called out, and when there was no answer, he called out again in a more, you-better-answer kind of tone. Then Ghasim appeared and Salem’s father relaxed again. So I said, (in no doubt, very bad and broken Arabic) “maybe you thought it was a wolf or a tiger?!” Well, this hit the man’s funny bone (not difficult, as we was a very jolly guy), and he laughed and told the other guys what I’d said, and they all had a good laugh too, and then he told Ghasim about it, but said, I think you are a fox, and I would be the wolf! I couldn’t remember for sure if I understood the word for fox correctly and so it took me a minute to get this sorted out via Salem …
There are three loaves of bread in there – our dinner!
After some more time, Salem and Abu Ali made bread. They made it from scratch, with water and flour and salt. The process was actually started much earlier when Abu Ali started mixing it, then it was allowed to sit for a while, and then Salem rolled up his sleeves and took over kneading the dough. He separated it into three pieces, which he made into round loaves, and they were placed into the coals in the fire. After half an hour or so, a little oven was dug into the sand under the fire and the bread was baked in there.
We ate it with a kind of a bean stew and fresh camel’s milk and it was all delicious. I ate till I was stuffed. After the meal Salem took the leftover bread and put it into a bowl for the new camel mother. I said, “I’ll take it to her!” and his father told him to go with me, so I wouldn’t get lost. Her baby was resting when we got to her and she came over and ate all the bread with gusto, almost taking one of my fingers in as well once. When it was gone, and we turned back, she followed us for a bit, hoping for more, till Salem went back to her and showed her the bowl and tapped her on the neck with it to go back.
When we returned to the fire, I learned that Salem’s father had handed his phone to my mother and asked her to call Canada. She tried my brother and sister, but there was no answer. Ah well, so he called a friend of his to chat with. He is a very social, cheerful character. We left shortly thereafter, with a container of camel’s milk, two bottles of water, and a container of chewing gum from Salem’s father. It seemed he just didn’t want to see us head off with nothing from him, and that’s all he had handy…