Wishing for dead camels

Hyenas are extremely interested in camels. Primarily because if a camel falls sick on the long uphill journey to Harar, the hyenas get to eat it. I’ve seen times where a lame camel has been sick and unable to stand, so lying beside the road that circumvents the old town, and at such times there’s usually a couple of young lads posted on it to watch over the beast in case it comes good. They sit up all night on a mat with torches and if a hyena comes close they chase it away. If the camel doesn’t come good it’s abandoned and the hyenas put it out of its misery. Whenever there is such a camel on the road the hyenas are very interested indeed. They make sorties from the hill to the road to go and look at the camel, in the same way as I make sorties into the kitchen to see how dinner is coming along. And they surely know that a meal is on the cards if only the sick camel won’t recover. If only.

There have been times when hyenas I’ve been observing have gotten up and gone off in a certain direction that they don’t normally take and I’ve wondered as I followed, why are they heading this way? Then inevitably they’ll round a bend and spread out in a clearing will be a swathe of lumpy bodies with heads on Mr Squiggle necks jutting out as if suspended on strings; and the answer comes: Camels. The hyenas will take a good look and maybe lie down and stare for a while and then wander back to wherever it was they were sitting. Then half an hour later they’ll go again for another look. They really love to look at camels.

Last night there were thirty-three camels laid up in the clearing beside the hyena-man’s house just below the road. I didn’t know they were there at first and I wondered where all the hyenas were before I got to the hill and saw a group of ten hyenas lying together, all staring at the camels about 40 metres away. Beyond the camels was the old town beneath a crescent moon and it would have made a beautiful photograph had I the space-age camera gear required to include all that subject matter in near darkness. But sometimes a camera detracts from the scene at hand and it was satisfying enough to be looking over Dibbey’s shoulder at the mass of dust-pale, lumpy bodies.  And I came to realise: if you sit on a hill in the moonlight surrounded by hyenas, all facing in the same direction, and you stare long enough at the sea of humps and ungainly heads with those big eyes and long eyelashes, you too will find yourself obsessing over camels.


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