Monday, December 6, 2010

The Life of a Camel Herder


Just a few minutes by car from the busy seaport city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, are many outposts where the native one-hump dromedary camels live, herded in by rickety barbed wire corrals. Fresh and frothy warm camel’s milk is available for sale (about $5 US per gallon), and for very special occasions, one can also buy whole camels for their lean meat as well (about $1000 US).



However some camels can fetch a much higher price for their great beauty – earlier this year at the famous King Abdul Aziz Festival, the camel beauty contest offered prizes totaling 70 million Saudi Riyals (that’s 14 million Euros).


But this story is about Hussan. He is from Sudan and he is a camel herder. He is a content man with simple needs, not many worries, and very limited means. His cheeks are freshly shaven and his graying mustache and beard are neatly trimmed. He has beautiful white teeth and a ready smile. I have to admit that not all the camel herders I have seen here are as clean and well kempt as Hussan.


Hussan and several other men from Sudan take care of a herd of probably more than a hundred camels altogether. They feed and water the camels every day and milk them on the spot when a customer comes by and requests fresh camel milk, which is arguably a healthier alternative to cow's milk. It is very nutritious, and compared to cow's milk, is higher is Vitamin C and is more easily digested, which makes it better for those who are lactose intolerant. Another interesting fact about camel's milk is that is doesn't curdle! It also has wonderful health benefits, such as controlling diabetes due to its high concentration of insulin and being great for one's skin because its content is so high in fatty acids like lanolin. Camel milk is an important dietary staple for many people in the world.


The camel herders live out in the scorching desert heat with the camels that they tend, in very primitive and simple living arrangements.


Not far from the stately luxurious palaces and the spacious tiled villas of Jeddah is where Hussan and the others live on the outskirts of the city. It is just a few feet from where the camels sleep in their barbed wire corrals. The camel herders’ shelter is built from odd and ends of discarded wood, plastic and canvas tarps, and several large old prayer rugs. If you look closely, you can just barely see part of an old Saudi style bed frame where he sleeps. I saw at least one more bed inside, and there might even be a third. The beds are elevated from the desert sand floor and are covered with old bedding.


The harsh climate of Hussan's humble desert abode must be brutal for him to tolerate especially in summer’s hottest months, yet his warm smile and polite demeanor always greet his customers unfailingly. I saw large water jugs about, but I'm not sure how or where he and the others bathe. I also noticed a large white tent nearby that might possibly be used for their toiletry needs, and there were buildings off in the distance, including a mosque, not too far of a walk away.


Several of these makeshift shaded bunks where the camel herders nap were here and there, crudely built of old pieces of wood and draped with various fabrics and bedding. You can click on the photos to enlarge them, and in this one you can see one of the guys actually napping inside the shaded bunk.


I also saw in the surrounding desert area several pieces of dusty old discarded furniture that the camel herders could use for resting. It's common to see old furniture outside apartment buildings and businesses in the city, where the building caretakers can sit.


The life of a camel herder must be very tough and physically grueling, but from all outward appearances, they all seem very happy to me. There is something to be said for their non-materialistic simple lifestyle without the pressures and trappings of a modern-day existence.

21 comments:

  1. Thank you. That was very interesting. I know very little about camels, but feel I've learned something today. They are beautiful creatures.

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  2. This is very interesting, I have known of camels for a long time, but have not read before of camel herders. It seems that animal husbandry is not so different from one part of the world to another, and I agree with your observation about a simple, non-materialistic lifestyle

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  3. The herder looks like a very nice guy. I can't imagine getting any fresher milk than having it milked while you wait. I am very curious as to the taste. I've never had anything but cow milk my entire life.

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  4. Nice blog post, Susie. It made me homesick for Sudan. The pictures could have been taken in Sudan - same terrain, same way of camel herding, etc. If these guys can't get themselves clean at camp they get clean when they go to the mosque.

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  5. Yogi - I think it would be hard for most people to tell the difference in the taste of camel milk compared to cow milk. I can tell because I have only been drinking skim milk for so long!

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  6. I love the pictures Susie especialy the genuine smile of Hussan. I am amazed at how they are able to subsist in such tough conditions without the privilege of an airconditioner or a decent bathroom. Btw, i so love your blog.

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  7. Lovely post about a different and simpler world than our own...

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  8. Tonight I had the pleasure of fondling the fiber of a camel and also of a baby camel. So soft! Gorgeous.

    Your camel 'farmers' might consider selling their animals fiber (through combings/brushings?, have no idea) to spinnners throughout the world. Their fiber is absolutely over the top gorgeous.

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  9. نــــــــــاصـــــــــــــرDec 7, 2010, 3:44:00 PM

    Completely off-topic, but I was hoping you'd write something about us (Qatar) winning the WC 2022 bid, seeing that the celebration was far reaching and its such a huge accomplishment not just for the region, but for the Arab and Islamic world at large, and not to mention our close proximity to Saudi. And on that note, when will you come visit us? (lol as I would officially like to extend that invitation to you) I noticed, or at least I'm under the impression, that you haven't traveled much around the region, why is that? there's much to explore in this area and I think you ought to take advantage of that :)

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  10. Great photos. I would very much like to drink some camel's milk. If it doesn't curdle how do they make cheese? I think I had some camel's milk cheese once, similar to "la brousse" (brocciu).

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  11. Hi djd - I haven't seen camel cheese here (but I haven't really looked for it either!), but I did find this quote from the NY Times: "Though camel milk has long been a staple in desert nomad populations, camel cheese is fairly new. This is because milk from camels doesn't curdle like other milks, such as cow and goat, and it took a discovery by a French 'camel expert' of an enzyme that fosters curdling to make it happen."

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  12. Hi نــــــــــاصـــــــــــــر -
    Unfortunately I haven't done much traveling around this area of the world like I had hoped before moving here. My husband and I are both not working here, so money is the problem. In the 3 yrs I have been here, I have made 4 trips back to the states to see my family though - I have 2 grandkids who are growing like weeds and I simply must see them periodically before they are all grown up! That is exciting news about the WC!!!

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  13. Hi AmyInBC - Somehow I doubt that there is much camel hair grooming going on here, except for those who are being entered in the beauty contests maybe! Many camels do have some pretty tufty looking parts on them.

    Thanks to everyone else for your comments!

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  14. You present the camels and the herders' life so nicely. I can understand their attraction to this life.
    Great picture of Hassan.

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  15. We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.

    -----------------------------------

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  16. Hi mam! As always, you made his story enticingly interesting. Nice pics! May I know, where he's at mam? Maybe I can visit him sometime, coz' I've been eager to take shots of camels but with a little arabic in my sleeves, I'm afraid that's either they'll ignore me or misinterpret me. Hehe! More power on your site & God bless!

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  17. Hussan is so cute. :) Enjoyed the post- thanks!

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  18. Can you tell me the locations where i can get the fresh milk myself. i have been searching no one seems to know.
    Great post by the way
    Thanks!

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  19. It's really hard for me to explain how to get there since I don't drive, but I'll try my best - If you head north on Al Haramain Expressway, you'll pass the airport on your left. After the expressway makes a big curve left and then right again, you take one of the exits to the right called "Usfan" exit. Go a little ways and the camels should be on your right, back off the road. Hope you can find it!

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  20. Go to Somalia it has the biggest population of camels in the world and your bound to find fresh camel milk there but now it's not safe i know that but it's getting better i experienced my self as a somali camel herder compared to the other ones, in somalia the camels tend to be most outside the city around atleast 40 miles, there are ones near the city thats for comercial use but the camel is much more expensive especially the ones that are tended for outside the city and there is no barbed fence only bush fences and also the job is physically demanding as you have to sleep out not in.

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    Replies
    1. I just saw a show on Discovery Channel that said that Australia has the largest camel population in the world. It's become such a problem that ranchers are taking matters into their own hands and a "camel holocaust" is happening there. It's sad. Anyway, thank you for the info about the life of camel herders in Somalia.

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