National Geographic : 2009 Aug
• Singers gathered, and loudspeakers blasted their voices into the tent. Helicopters circled overhead, tilted on their sides so this or that royal family member could see the proceedings. Meanwhile, the cousins sat with matching nervous smiles, as though a ected by some shared rictus. At last the announcement: Bin Tanaf. In a t of exuberance the men of Bin Tanaf s family flung their headdresses into the air, shouted praises, and lifted their beaming sheikh onto their shoulders. Still unsatis ed, they climbed onto a marble table and lifted him higher; the whole pile came down when the table broke, projecting oranges, grapes, and men o the front of the grandstand. ey regrouped on the ground below and danced a wild dance, swinging their camel crops overhead. A contestant protests as it is hoisted alo for a massage to limber it up for competition. A er the pageant most of the camels revert to their workaday role, trekking along ancient routes on the long journey home. various winners---framed the staging area. e judges awarded secondary prizes to single cam- els, to very young camels, even to male camels. On the climactic day of the greatest contest--- the caravan-size parade of females---Bin Tanaf and his cousin Rames looked over their cam- els. eir spies had chosen well in the night. By sunrise Rames had secretly spent two million dollars on several remarkably fetching camels. Bin Tanaf had spent more than a million on just one. Now the men moved unhurriedly, even as the sun rose into the sky. eir culture, rooted in the nomad s need for perpetual motion, val- ues the relative luxury of stillness and calm. To be waited upon indicates rank and status. So each man wanted to show up last at the arena, to make his appearance with a peacock-like dis- play of poky grandeur. One of the contest organizers arrived at Rames s camp to nudge him into action. "Rames, I worry that the judges will close the gate." Rames gazed about serenely. He carries him- self with the stature of a king. "Do not worry," he said. " ey will not close the gate." Some distance away Bin Tanaf paced among his camels, awaiting word that Rames had le his stables. Bin Tanaf is the sheikh of his tribe, which gives him a position of authority, even over Rames. But in recent years Rames had cultivated a friendship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan---who, as it happened, was the festival s patron---giving Rames an advantage, perhaps, in a airs of both camel and family. Bin Tanaf waited. Then his cousin started moving toward the arena. Bin Tanaf signaled for his camels to move as well. Gradually he drew near the arena, and---horror! e upstart Rames had draped his camels in blinding silver capes, like a whole company of opera singers heaving in from stage le . Rames had spent $20,000 a month on special camel food, and it showed. At the gate his caretakers whipped o the cam- els capes to display their enchanting necks and undeniably symmetrical humps. e two groups of animals paraded before the crowd. en the two men took seats of honor in the grandstands to await the judges decision.