Is there going to be a Middle Eastern version of kiddie pageant show Toddlers and Tiaras? If so, it’s less likely to have women competing in it than camels. TheNew York Times reports on the Al-Dhafra Festival, a beauty pageant for camels held in the desert of the United Arab Emirates. All I know about camels is that bactrians have two humps and dromedaries have one (because if you turn a B on its side it has two humps and a D has one – thank you, Highlights magazine!), but it turns out there’s a veritable wealth of information.
A two-week extravaganza, complete with insider trading (of camels), 11th-hour dealing (camels again), and millions of dollars and hundreds of vehicles in prizes, the Camel Beauty Contest offers a fascinating glimpse of Bedouin traditions, and their clashes with modernity. And, no, there is no swimsuit competition, although talent may be a factor. If you ever wanted to experience Bedouin life, while at the same time staying in a luxury hotel, the Camel Beauty Contest is for you.
The actual competitions — in categories including “father and daughter,” “best bred,” and the vaunted “50” (the top prize awarded for having the most outstanding group of 50 camels) — are pretty esoteric, but the family rivalries for them are fierce. Every category is divided into two types of camels: Asayal, the familiar tan breed that originates from Oman and the U.A.E., and Majaheem, a darker, almost black breed from Saudi Arabia. Decisions are made by a panel of seven judges, who systematically scrutinize each camel, dividing the animal’s body into four parts for scoring purposes before retiring to the Maglis (meeting space) to confer.
Is it bad that I really, really want to go to this? Luckily, someone’s making a documentary, which I am already dying to see.