Abba, our fixer, translator, driver and friend pulls over and creates a red dusty cloud as he stops the Land Rover on the sandy shoulder of the road. We are on our way back to the camp after meeting the Saharawian minister of Health. The sun is about to set and the desert is wrapped in beautiful orange light.
“What is the problem? Did you forget something in the ministry?” Abba looks confused.
“No, no”, we assure him.
“Don’t you see the camels over there?”
“Yes, but they are just ordinary camels”
“Exactly, ordinary camels are quite extraordinary for a Norwegian. Let’s go over to the shepherds and talk to them”
We get out of the car and start walking towards the coral where two young men are leading the last of their eight animals in behind the metal fence.
Abba has some business to attend to with Mekka, and while he is putting his forehead to the ground we greet Hafdala and Hulai and one of their four legged sources of income, Sbeyii. Unfortunately the two men are as bad in English, Spanish and Norwegian as we are in Hasenia, the local Arabic dialect. The situation is awkward – we know what we want but are unable to ask. Hafdala and Hulai finds our sudden interest in camels pretty strange. Hulai gives me the end of the rope around Sbeyii’s neck, thinking maybe we’re there to pose in front of the camera as Otto and Øystein of Arabia.
Finally, our Muslim translator gets up and wipes the sand of his knees and forehead. The lingual barriers are broken and Hafdala starts telling us how he borrowed money to get the camel-business started. Now he kills an animal every morning and buys a new one in the marked once he receives the money for the meat.
“I love this job. I love all aspects of it. The hard negotiations in the Algerian market when I buy new camels, the slaughtering, the feeding, the pride I feel when I return from the butchers with a nice profit in my pocket. The only thing I don’t like is the frustration when I know I have done a bad deal. Fortunately most days are good”, Hafdala smiles and lights a cigarette.
Then sun is dropping behind the sand dunes and robs Otto of his photo light. We say goodbye to the two men, the seven lucky camels and the unfortunate one with only a starry night left to live. Nine hours from now, when a new day is born another camel will bite the dust with blood pouring out of its neck. Show must go on in the desert.
In case any of our readers plan to give Hafdala competition in the camel-business it might be useful to know that camels can be bought at approximately 1500 dollars a piece.