Safih and the camel market

Last Updated : 22 March 2012, 19:07 IST
Last Updated : 22 March 2012, 19:07 IST

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Safih and his little caravan reached Birqash, not far from Cairo. Traders from across Egypt, turbans tightly wound round their heads and dressed in flowing robes, were busy haggling with camel-sellers. How they screeched! And, what was more, Safih saw, to his horror, how cruelly they treated their animals...

Safih lived in a village in Sudan, in Africa, with his wife and son and three camels. His main source of income was to take tourists on camel rides. He earned a meagre sum from this during the winter season, when tourists flocked to Sudan, but it kept him and his family healthy and somewhat happy.

One morning, Safih spotted a caravan of camels setting off from his village. He rushed to find out what it was all about. On his way, he met Khalili, his friend. Safih asked Khalili where the camels were being taken. “There is a rich camel trader in the town of Birqash in Egypt,” Khalili replied. “He wants to buy the camels and he will then sell them for meat to the butchers. Each camel will sell for 5000 Egyptian pounds! Sell off those camels of yours, Safih! This is a golden opportunity to make money. I’m planning to take my herd, too, on the 40-day journey to Egypt to sell them. Why don’t you join me?”

Safih thought for a while about Khalili’s offer. It seemed, he had to admit, tempting. He thought about his family. Well, he said, they could do with some extra money. Suddenly, a thought flashed across his mind. “If I sell my camels, I’ll have lots of money, with which I can build a fine brick house, and buy loaves of fresh bread every day from the market which my wife can sell in the village and make a neat profit. I can set up my own tea shop, too, and still have quite a bit that I can save!”

And so, at the break of dawn the next day, Safih told his wife that he was setting off for Egypt to sell his camels. While Safih’s wife loved the camels, the thought of so much money made her quickly agree to her husband’s plans.

Finally, Safih and his little camel caravan reached Birqash, a noisy, crowded, dusty town, not far from Cairo. The camel market was abuzz with activity. Traders from across Egypt, turbans tightly wound round their heads and dressed in flowing robes, were busy haggling with camel-sellers over the prices of their beasts. How they screeched at the top of their voices! And, what was more, Safih saw, to his horror, how cruelly they treated their animals, selling which they dreamt of turning rich! The hapless creatures had no water to drink or food to eat. They all had one foreleg folded and tied up with thick ropes so that they could not run away.

Safih spotted a batch of camels being carted on to a truck. The trader who had bought them was prodding them with a giant fork, thrashing their backs and legs. To make the animal heed, the trader began throwing handfuls of mud into its mouth and eyes. Safih had never seen such horrible behaviour before.

At sunset, the traders camped in a vast shed in the centre of the camel market. Safih found a narrow stone bench for himself, a little distance away. He tied his camels by his side and went off to sleep, hoping to sell his camels the next day and excited at the thought of the money he would earn. But, that night, Safih had a strange dream.

An old man in a white cloak, a flowing silver beard and a shining face, appeared to him in his dream. “Safih!” he called out, “Why have you come here? Do you not remember that it is because of the three camels that God blessed you with that you, your wife and son have a good meal every day, for they are the source of your income? Were it not for them you’d be nowhere!”

Safih stirred in his sleep, but the old man continued. “Do not sell your faithful camels for a miserable bag of money. Go back home, and take them with you.”

Suddenly, Safih woke up, rubbing his eyes and thinking of his dream. He looked at his camels, who were quietly gazing at the rising sun and the lifting mist. And, do you know what happened? Safih rushed to the camels and, one by one, gave them each a hearty hug. Then, packing three sacks with fodder for them he led them out of the camel market and set off on the road back to his home in Sudan. He did not fear the long journey, for the dream he had seen had worked wonders on him.  

Safih whistled and sang as he sauntered along the road, occasionally looking up at his camels and giving them a pat. He thought of how delighted his wife and son would be when they saw him. How astonished they would be when he told them about his dream! Surely, they would understand and heartily agree with the old man who had appeared to him. How comforting that thought was, Safih smiled to himself.

Published 22 March 2012, 13:27 IST

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