The misunderstood lives of camels

I have a confession to make: I love camels. I truly love camels. It does not matter if it is a dromedary (one-humper) or a Bactrian (two-humper) camel.  I think camels are cute and adorable.  And I have had the pleasure to ride them in Egypt, Pakistan, China, India, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

That’s why I was so happy to learn the Lazy 5 ranch in Mooresville has camels! That is where I taught my grandson learned his first Urdu word, “unt,” which means “camel.” Unt is also the typical sound a camel makes.  I like the word “unt” much better than the Arabic word, “jamel.”  Playing on Arabic words, whenever I saw a camel in Saudi Arabia, which was practically a daily occurrence, I’d point it out saying “jamel jamelia” – one of the many Arabic words for beautiful.

One of my most unusual and unforgettable camel experiences took place in Pakistan.  A friend and I were taking a car trip to an area called Uiche Sharif, which was just on the edge of the Thar Desert.

At one of the villages we came across on the way to Uiche Sharif we noticed a large crowd gathering and pointing toward the center. We stopped to check it out.

We were dressed in the traditional garb of Pakistani women — shalwar kameez and dupatta.  The shalwar kameez is a loose garment which has a long shirt that comes down nearly to the knees with loose pants worn underneath.  The dupatta is a flowing head scarf that covers the head and drapes modestly down over the front of the body.  Although we were dressed in local attire we couldn’t conceal our Western complexions and hair.

As we walked through the crowd it was like parting the Red Sea as the throngs split before us. Inside the raucous mass were two men, stripped to their briefs and competing in the sport of “bugti,” a form of wrestling.

The only thing more interesting to the crowd was us – two obviously Western women in traditional dress standing and watching the match with the rest of the men. After a few minutes the wrestlers realized the shouts had stopped and they turned to look at us as well.

As we stood dumbfounded, unsure of what to do, a thin voice wafted through the crowd. An old man was singing a native song while poised atop his camel. He wore the traditional clothes of the village elders and his face showed his age as he had more wrinkles than a shar-pei. As his voice got louder and the song seemed to burst from him the crowd turned away from us. As his voice grew even stronger, his camel also caught wind and began to stamp its feet in tune with the music.

The camel was just as colorful as his owner, with a brightly embroidered blanket across its back, a bridle with small bells attached and silver bangles on each of its legs.

The grand finale of the performance came when the camel rose up on its two hind legs and danced while the elder finished the song. This was the first time I’d ever seen such a spectacle and I was honored to see it play out before me.

The end of the song was a silent cue for the activities to recommence.  The wrestlers started wrestling again, the crowd resumed its revelry and the village elder nodded to us with a small shake of his hat.  My friend and I thanked him profusely for the rare and unique opportunity to see not only the amazing bond between a man and his camel but also for letting us hear the rare sounds of the jingle of the bangles as the camel danced.

I took that memory with me to the Lazy 5 ranch. The large animal initially intimidated my grandson but he was reassured when he saw granny snuggling up and petting it like a tame pony. He overcame his fear fully when his dad reached out to pet the camel, drawing out the Urdu “uuuunnnnt” with a smile on his face. Even now, months later, when he sees a picture of a camel he’ll point and say “unt.”

Carol Fleming, who served as a U.S. diplomat to the Middle East, lives in Huntersville with her two cats, and you can read more of her thoughts at www.american She can be reached at

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