Book of Marvels
Sunday, May 27, 2007

Consorting with Camels in Dubai

I don't usually post pictures of myself here, but I couldn't resist this one. During my two-day stop in Dubai, I went out for a three-hour tour on Friday Most things were closed and quiet. At one point my guide pulled over, led me down a path to the one open gate in a tourist complex and pointed to this clump of camels tied with the slimmest of tethers.

"Go pet the camels!" he said. "I'll take your picture."

I told him that there are many animals that I've longed to pet, but that camels weren't among them. And that I've always heard that camels spit, bite and kick.

"No," he said. "These are very tame camels. They won't hurt you."

So I stood at the edge of their square of dust and shit and leaned gingerly in their direction, giving myself enough room to bolt if one of them looked as if it was going to bite.

"No," he said. "Go inside and stand by them."

He was so insistent! I didn't know whether to walk around this one camel's front end and risk spit or bite, or around its back end and risk a kick. The camel didn't look pleased, one way or the other. But finally, I braved its wrath and stood there long enough for the guide to get his pictures. I did not pet the camel, which glared but didn't attempt violence.

Dubai If I had kept track, I probably could have counted 100 building cranes or more. Everywhere, there are more buildings going up, more faux islands being created for more buildings. I don't know who's moving into these buildings, but the guide told me that the space is all pre-sold. He also told me that when he moved to Dubai from India 23 years ago, the area was largely empty. This is before the massive wave of construction that's brought in all the skyscrapers (including the world's tallest building, as yet unfinished, the ultimate height of which is a state secret), the seven-star hotel, the indoor ski hill. You hear so much about glamorous Dubai, but I found it a boring vista. All the buildings look the same--hospitals, embassies, hotels, malls, banks, schools, even churches--all the same, because they were all built in the same period of time and are made of the same materials. I stayed in the old part of the city--busy, crowded, gritty, redolent of lamb being grilled right around the corner--and far preferred that to the glitz. I don't think I'm a Dubai kind of girl.

Now I'm back in Kabul, sitting at the Cabul Coffee House (free wireless!), enjoying a deliciously balmy noon. Pink roses and red geraniums are blooming outside. The fringe on the umbrella tables is fluttering like crayola-colored flags. Some women have just arrived with children who are trying to lure a skinny orange cat down from her perch on a stone wall. It's a lovely day.
Kris - cute camels. Cute girl. :)

Hey--you're blogging! I'm admiring your camel courage--no way you'd get me in there.
So glad that you made it to Kabul! I don't like camels either. They are stinky and mean. I'm glad that you emerged unscathed from the petting experience
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