There’s a reasonable amount of arrogance dished out by travellers you meet on the road. They tell you the number of counties they’ve ‘done’, the height of things they’ve jumped off, the remoteness of the tribes they’ve visited, and generally the number of things they’ve ticked off an arbitrary list. How far, how fast, how many.
By chance we met a man who would humble them all. On our way from Dar es Salaam to Arusha, we camped out the back of a small motel. As we were setting up our tents in the dusk, we noticed two camels tethered to the trees. A wiry Arabic man of about fifty then approached us with a beaming smile while enthusiastically gesticulating at our tent. At first I thought he was just grunting at us but then I realised he was in the curious bind of trying to speak to us in English while knowing almost none. Through a complex series of hand signals and ticks he managed to communicate to us that his tent (or “umbrella” as he called it) was different from ours, which, either through a sense of courtesy or just plain misunderstanding, we set up for him. He then happily took the tent back down again. I still don’t understand what his intention was there.
However, after this false start he somehow explained to us that the camels belonged to him, that he was from Yemen, that he was travelling from there to Cape Town on the camels, that he’d already been attacked by lions (“Ah simba, arrrrrgh”, while baring his teeth) and men with machetes (“Chopping”, while slicing the air with his palm, which he found hilarious), and that he was on personal terms with the President of Yemen. I quickly got the impression that he is well-practised at using his enthusiasm to overcome language barriers. This was not his first trip – he has previously travelled to Scandinavia and Australia by camel. His mission is simple – to spread the word of peace and unity throughout the world.
His sheer authenticity and genial brand of self-belief were so striking that I wasn’t surprised when I later found out online that everything he told us was true. His name is Ahmed Abdo Zaid Al Qasimi and he was quoted in the Tanzanian press, his words as articulate as his gestures:
“As you know to travel by camel from Yemen to African countries is very difficult, we had many problems on our journey that started from Djibouti through Ethiopia, Kenya to Tanzania.
We suffered from diseases and rain. And our camels were affected by the change of climate and weather prevailing in those areas.
We are not here to see people, but we are here to promote peace around the world people and that is the message that we have carried on camel”.