Birqash Camel Market, 2017
The camel market in Birqash, Egypt is a central trading point for camels in northeast Africa. Today the camels here mainly come from Egypt and Sudan, but before the current drought in the Horn, camels from Somalia could frequently be found for sale too.
Every Friday starting just after sunrise, the Birqash Market begins, with many Nubian traders in Galabiyas selling Sudanese and Upper Nile camels brought from the Daraw market in Aswan. There is shouting everywhere, with people calling out different prices for their animals, depending on age, shape, health, and other factors only seasoned market attendees know to look for. Young boys run after escaping camels with sticks, and I weave in and out of the chaos, trying not to be trampled.
Historically, camels have been raised and traded as pack animals, for milk and meat production, and as capital for pastoralists. Increasingly, they are bought and sold for tourist use, with buyers earning income from selling rides to visitors or offering caravan tours via camel.
The contrast between modernity and traditional livelihoods comes to a head in Birqash; traders converse on cell phones while the age-old practice of camel auctioning commences. Shisha is smoked in the shade while Mercedes-brand cargo trucks careen through the mud, carting camels to various pens, auction stages and butcher stands.
Sadly, under the pressures of urbanization, tense political borders and climate change, sights like the bustling Birqash Market are slowly disappearing. In the face of ongoing drought, and the water scarcity & food insecurity that results, pastoralist are losing their livelihoods as camels and other herd animals die off and are sold for a fraction of their past price to make ends meet.
Here, two young traders smile and show me their camel's teeth, asking me if I'd like to buy it while I take their picture. Maybe next time...