Runaway Camels in Cairo

Every Friday, in a small suburb close to Cairo’s bustling bazaar a congregation of camels gathers. Coming from as far away as the Sudan, the Camel Market at Birqash, on the edge of the Nile delta, is an opportunity for buyers and sellers to come together for trade. Animal lovers and PETA activists beware, this is probably not the place for you. The camels are not treated like royalty- some of them have one of their legs tied up in order to prevent them from running away. And large sticks are often beaten down upon them to make sure they behave.

Although I felt sorry for the poor camels, it was a lovely way to spend a winter Friday morning. Mingling among the buyers and the sellers and trying to guess where they came from, watching the little children lord over camels 3 times their size and to see the poor camels desperately trying to run away. To catch the action, getting there early is quite essential- the market winds down after 10am. Despite having slept only a few hours, I was happy to sacrifice sleep in order to interact with the people in this unique marketplace and of course, to hang out with some camels and to observe this tradition in person. Nobody really pays attention to tourists, they are all busy meeting friends and trying to show off their camels. It was a great, pleasant introduction to Egypt.

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Bilal was very proud of his camels. His father had left him and his little brother in charge of them while he was off somewhere. He took his job very seriously.

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Despite having a leg tied up, camels are incredibly fast. And once one starts running, all of them try to make a go of them. It requires constant effort and monitoring from their owners to keep them in one place.

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The market is also an opportunity for old friends to come together and catch up on some news.

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The dressed up camels are the most expensive ones. They are usually intended on being used at tourist sites for riding. The seller is showing off how tall and well-behaved this one is.

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Showing off his prize-winning camels that are well kept and decorated.

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