"Lawrence I am Not"

If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I know that I had at least one previous lifetime in Egypt. My 17th & 18th birthday both arrived and passed by in Egypt while I was serving with the "United Nations Emergency Force" in 1957 as part of the Canadian Contingent. I was in the army for those years, a part of my life that I would happily return to if some way could be found to step back in time.

Big Jim & Camel

We were posted in a small desert settlement called "Rapha." Gaza which is very much in the news today as a center of conflict was about half an hour away and as a driver, I had many occasions to spend time in Gaza. In those days, the presence of United Nations Peacekeeping Forces helped to create a much better general atmosphere than is enjoyed in the area today.

Our camp was called 556 Infantry Workshop. I remember that, during the daytime hours we would walk with arms kept close to our sides because, in temperatures of 150 degrees at high noon if you swung your arms, the air is so hot it would almost singe the hair off of your arms.

There were guard towers all around the camp and in them, men with machine guns. The sten gun looked more like some kind of caulking dispenser than a gun except that it shot real bullets.
Cheops Pyramid
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The dunes around the camp were lousy with land mines laid during various periods of conflict. In that part of the world, there was always some kind of conflict going on. During my time there it was the Arab - Israel conflict which we were there to monitor. When we went to the beach some ten miles away from the camp, the guys used to have me walk out front because I was the only one heavy enough to set off the anti vehicle mines. I never did hit one, happily for me.

Every once in awhile we would see a camel moving along the horizon in the slow and almost sensuous motion that is so unique to a camel's gate. The camel would step on one of the mines, there would be a loud bang and poof, you could see pieces of camel flying in every direction.

Camels are a very obstinate animal with a breath that smells worse than anything you can imagine and if you happen to get too close, it is not beyond the camel to spit on you. Riding a camel is an experience unlike anything else you may ever encounter. I rode my first one on a very hot day under the desert sun, on the Giza Plateau. There are always camels on hand around the Sphinx and the Pyramids to keep the tourists happy. We used to spend many a weekend leave in cairo and visiting the Pyramids was always a fascinating place to go.
Tuts Chair
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On that particular day, we had walked from Cheops Pyramid, the largest of the three, down a rather steep hill that led to the Sphinx. We decided that it would be a lot easier to get back up the hill with a camel doing most of the work.

The handler hit the camel's front knees with a wooden rod which is how they get the camel to lower to the ground so you can get on and off. Once you straddled the animals back and had taken the reins, the camel would stand on his hind legs first causing the rider to almost take a dive over the camel's head. Next he would get up on one front leg then the other, a motion that places the rider on a backward slant so steep that if you were not hanging on for dear life you would be dumped without ceremony off the other end. Once you are up and moving there is no ship afloat that could match the unusual sway with which the camel walks or runs.

My camel was a one humper which means that you are sitting on the equivalent of a hairy needle. The two humper may be easier but I never got to ride one of those. At any rate, we had started up the steep hill that led back to the Pyramid of Cheops. The camel was moving at his slow and weaving pace, its handler holding onto a leash and walking along beside us.
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Almost from the first moment that I had mounted the ungainly beast it began to look back at me with a painful look in his eyes and emitting a grunt that is quite impossible to describe. I believe he was trying to let me know that it should be me who was carrying him up the hill instead of the other way around. I finally began to feel so guilty that I took the hint and told the handler that I wanted to get off, still paying for the ride of course.

I visited the Sphinx and The Pyramids many times after that but I never again placed a camel in danger of getting a hernia on my account. If you should ever go to Egypt and happen to be at the Pyramids and you see a camel who's hump is now underneath instead of on top, that will be the one I rode that day. At least, from that day to this, whenever that camel decided too lay down for a snooze, he can rock himself to sleep with my compliments.

As I said "Lawrence I am Not"
Big Jim & Sphinx
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