one of the few things i looked forward to in the recent trip to tunisia and the arab emirates is to be able to see camels and donkeys. i did, but most of the time, it was more like chasing camels and donkeys from alongside main highways and roads.
in tunisia, i never saw a live camel. the closest came from a small camel replica made of camel hide or just the camel stuffed dolls. i was fortunate enough, however, to see a donkey while on a taxi. it wasn't as small as donkey in shrek but the features were utterly similar, albeit bigger. it did remind me of images of... a pregnant mother mary with joseph leading her on a donkey to nazareth.
the closest i came to a donkey was in arab emirates on the way back from fujeirah to dubai. they were eating on the other side of the main highway, which made any nearby u-turn almost impossible and impractical. the donkeys looked very, really magical, it was as if seeing a silvery unicorn.
i was more lucky to see single hump camels in arab emirates, which were either standing or running. if donkeys looked like magical unicorns in the desert, camels were more of small skinny brown dinosaurs 'galloping' in the desert. as with donkeys, i never came close to a camel except the large-sized replicas in the burj al arab or the dubai mall. the closest encounter was an almost camel chase by the roadside. were it not for a four-wheel drive vehicle trying to frighten the camels from running, i could have, really have touched that tame and all-important desert dinosaur.
what could be more interesting about camels, specially in tunis, was that camels come to be an important aspect of conversations about women. it could be because camels have great importance and significance in tunisian local life and culture that the value of camels came to be associated with having woman/women.
my first encounter with this was when i was bluntly asked by a local carpet dealer... "how many camels do i have and want?", unknown to me that this may have reference to the number of women i want and have, or the number of camels i have for a lady-friend i was with. this was further followed jokingly by the dealer who toured us in a medina rooftop if i were willing to have 15,000 camels in exchange for my lady-friend. taking this lightly, it would have been very offensive but the jocular exchanges between us seemed to express the flattery of being valued at more than 10,000 camels, which, unfortunately, the dealer could not deliver and send to the philippines. a further offer was added and addressed to me personally, whether i want "something good for rickity-rickity" which i immediately understood as referring to... which i don't need to elaborate on.
that something was about perfume oil. one good for and to enliven that, and another as a post-activity scent. his offer came too late however since i already had discovered and been able to purchase vials of that extraordinary fragrance.
a second encounter came with a surreptitious offer by the taxi driver to me, apparently having been overheard by my companions seated at the back. he offered jokingly, "you want 2 camels, i give you, leave her with me," mistaking me again as a husband or boyfriend, to which, in the art of haggling, offered, "you very cheap, in medina, 15,000 camels for her, you, only 2 camels." "taxi gratis. no pay. 2 camels and no pay taxi." "give me taxi car and 2 camels, and we have deal." the conversation went on until we reached the hotel, with him not budging with his final offer, aside from offering me a pack of postcards for free.
culture. camels. dowry. value. women.
it could have been that once in our culture and language, water buffaloes could have been equated with women. it may sound offensive and devaluing for women, but, as reflected by a bhutanese friend, this could mean otherwise where camels, water buffaloes perhaps in our culture, have had extremely remarkable value in the survival of a community, a centre figure of their culture.