BIRQASH, Egypt – It’s a brief moment when a series of journeys collide in a mass of humanity, capitalism and manure. And just hours after it begins, the camel market falls silent.
Thousands of camels and hundreds of camel herders make the journey from Sudan, on foot and by truck, en route to the camel market at Birqash, just north of Cairo.
Camel herders bring the camels, often illegally, across the border with Sudan somewhere along the expansive unguarded desert border.
The camels are then sold to middle men at one of a number of markets in south Egypt. Loaded onto trucks, the camels are driven to just north of Cairo where, every Friday morning, they’re sold.
Dealers manage their own herds at the market, often tying one of each camel’s legs to prevent it from running. Auctions spring up across the market, as the healthiest looking camels are sold off. Opening at dawn each Friday, the market is quiet by noon.
Few of the camels sold at the market are bound for the glamour of ferrying tourists around the pyramids. While some are used for labor, the vast majority is sold for meat. Camel meat is a staple of the Egyptian diet, and it’s a key ingredient in kofta sausages, an Egyptian favorite. It’s high in protein and inexpensive — perfect for a low-income country like Egypt.
Most of the butchers in upscale neighborhoods around Cairo don’t offer camel meat. But head to the city’s slums, and you’re sure to find racks of meat baking in the sun as butchers cajole passersbys into buying.
The photos here represent the camels’ journey from their arrival at Birqash to their presentation at the butcher shop.
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