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Egyptian Camels

By Suzanne Schefcik


            During our stay in Cairo, we ventured to see one of the most amazing architectural structures of its time, the pyramids of Giza. As we ventured through the streets of this quaint town, it became apparent that the entire city was a direct target for tourists. From modes of transportation to market places, the wants and needs of westerners could be found. The dissipation of traditional Egyptian culture was apparent through many different aspects throughout the society.

            The means by which we reached our amazing destination was on the backs of camels and horses. As we hopped on the backs of the humpy camels, they began to moan and whine. When I asked our tour guide if this was okay, he replied with “Don’t worry about it.” I felt that this was a rather normal practice and moved on. As we bumped and rolled through the desert, I saw the way in which the guides treated the animals. Camels and horses were beaten and ridiculed by our tour guides. I could see scars and cuts all over their bodies. They looked as if they were whipped or brutalized on a regular basis. I felt terrible for these animals, and even worse that I was part of the problem.

            The horses on which we rode were malnourished and in bad shape. They also had cuts and scars on their bodies. They were in horrid condition. In fact, one of the horses had a large hole in his forehead. Our guide told us that he had been shot in the face, but he was still an asset to the company. I truly could not believe that this horse was still used to haul tourists through the desert, or that it was even alive for that matter.

            The pyramids are located near the large city of Giza. In all actuality, there was no reason why animals were necessary to bring tourists to them. A fifty foot walk from the city limits was manageable by all of us. However, being the tourists we are, we decided it’d be an experience to ride camels there. It was apparent that the tourist industry has reshaped the face of Giza, especially around the pyramids.

            Along with camel and horse stalls lining the streets, papyrus stores, handicrafts and trinkets were everywhere for tourists to purchase. Our tour guide had us stop in his sister’s store on the way back from the pyramids to buy merchandise. When we refused to buy anything, our guides became frustrated and outraged. Apparently, it is customary to buy all local tourist garb, or at least a common trend. Another tourist attraction, the laser light show, was directly aimed at westerners. The loud booming voice that flooded across the entire city was, of course, in English. At its entirety, the show merely explained pharaohs and gods. The history of the town of Giza and its people were too unimportant to mention.

            According to Ikram in the article titled “Remaking the Modern” written by Farha Ghannam, “Investments in tourism were especially important because they were expected to yield high economic returns and provide substantial foreign exchange and well-paid employment.” This began taking shape during the 1980’s under the ruling of Sadat. Sadat felt that Egypt needed to look toward the West in order to face its own problems of unemployment, housing shortages and a lack of adequate services, Ghannam points out. Although this change in Egypt did indeed create jobs and an influx of money, their traditional culture has begun to dissipate in order for western norms to infiltrate. 

            Through the various modes of transportation in Giza or a stroll through town, one can visualize the tourist industry booming. The use of animals, which is completely unnecessary, to conveniently transport tourists to sites, is widespread. Is the misuse or abuse of animals and loss of cultural identity on the rise in Egypt due to the influx of foreign services and tourism?

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