Manhatton: Camels' PR Improving - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

11/07/07

Manhatton: Camels' PR Improving

Our Mike Manhatton is just back from Kuwait, where he was covering the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the Third Infantry Division as they train for service on the front lines. Mike will be bringing you their stories on THE News, but in the meantime, here's his latest update.

You've probably heard the rep. Camels. Nasty, dirty, smelly, if you're lucky, they spit on you, unlucky, they bite you. Really unlucky, they stomp on you.

I believed.

I've always kept my distance, whether the few they had, gifts of the Kingdom, down at Fort Stewart after the first Gulf war, or in the zoo. Odd to look at, but not too cute and cuddly.

I've met the camel Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Team. I'm converted. The ships of the desert are working hard to polish up their image.

In case you're curious, most Third Infantry Division soldiers don't have daily camel encounters. They aren't wandering the tents, or even Baghdad, looking for dropped crumbs like pigeons, prowling the alleys and Dumpsters like cats, or begging for stories like reporters wandering the desert. Sometimes merchants with clearance bring camels to the bases, setting up shop by the Shopette or in front of Starbuck's. (Yes, there are Starbuck's stores in Kuwait, at least on the American bases. Right beside Burger King and Subway and Taco Bell and Baskin Robins.)

These merchants know we Americans automatically think sand = desert = camel, and have the urge to climb on top (one hump or two?) for a quick ride and a photo op. For a fee, usually $5 or $10 from what I hear. These guys got the ideas from their cousins, who are now franchising the operation from their stands next to the Pyramids.

So anyway, that's your typical soldier-camel encounter.

This week, while driving through the desert from one training range to another, off in the distance, I spot a herd of camels. We have a little time, I ask to stop and shoot a little scenery. We pull over to the side of the all-sand road, and I start shooting video of the camels, some 50 yards distant. While focusing on one who's focusing on me, I realize he's getting closer. Much closer. Within a few seconds, the camel is now standing by the side of the road. Very politely, stopping right at the rise of sand that forms what could be considered the desert curb.

He's not alone. His brother and sister camels are joining him. There are now 20 or 30 of them, all quietly standing just a few feet away. Their long faces and longer necks leaning in to get a closer look and a sniff. At one point, I have my right hand at my side, not quite sure what the proper protocol is, when I feel a bump. I've been watching the camel in front of me, but another of his brothers is now at my side. His large, fuzzy snout nudging my hand! Thinking I'm about to lose a finger, I slowly rotate my hand over, and open, showing him it's empty. Not quite content, he needs a closer look, and lick, and I suddenly have camel tongue and nostril filling my palm. He looks up, raises his head even with, then past, my eye level, and looks away. Obviously disappointed. We were not bearing gifts. I wouldn't know what to bring a camel anyway.

We've enjoyed our little camel encounter, and it's time to press on to more military matters. I turn to the SUV, and realize, it's surrounded! Two camels at the back, a dozen or more at the passenger side, some in front, and a very large lady camel trying to compare sun skin care tips with our driver through the rolled-up window. Our driver, well, she doesn't care for camels.

I gingerly walk around the camels blocking my way, they don't seem to care, and not a one has asked for spare change. They're just there. The lady camel, giving up on our driver, turns her attention to me, and starts slowly walking close. When you have a head that's about a foot long, followed by five or six feet of neck, you don't have to walk far. Taking advantage of her far superior neck reach, she leans in, nose heading straight for the camera nearly always attached to my right eye.

Like the camel before, one close look is not enough. My lens and viewfinder are now filled with camel nose. Apparently not to her taste, she backs off, slowly turns, and walks past.

But it's then I realize, in that nose-to-nose encounter, she got a little friendlier. Lady camel laid a lip lock on my camera, and took a few quick licks on the bottom of the lens for good measure.

Oh, the things I do to bring a hot story home to you.

Reported by: Mike Manhatton, mmanhatton@wtoc.com

Powered by Frankly