Recently I had a chance to spend a day with Mary Anna and Miriam Bode (my 1st cousins once removed). Mary Anna, as a teaching missionary for the Presbyterian Church, taught and administered schools in the Sudan, Egypt, and Iran. She now lives in a retirement community in North Carolina. The following story is printed here with her permission:
Camels are said to be arrogant creatures because they know the 100th name of God, or so we are told in the Middle East. They plod along, kick, bite, and are indispensible in many parts of the world, and one memorable day I watched fifty of them play musical chairs.
I was living in Gedaref, close to the Sudan – Ethiopian border. The town had no electricity or running water but it did have a military cantonment and a division of the elite Sudan Camel Corps was stationed there.
November 7, 1960, was a national holiday and we four Presbyterian missionaries in Gedaref were invited to a military revue.
We sat with local dignitaries on bleachers facing the training field which must have been the size of three football fields placed side by side. During the festivities ware machines were displayed, soldiers marched and martial music filled the air.
To close the events a huge circle of chairs was put in place and fifty camels ridden by corpsmen in full military dress paraded onto the field. With a roll of drums each camel moved into position behind a chair. There were a few seconds of silence. Then a second roll of drums. The camels turned and sedately walked clock-wise around the outside of the circle. When martial music replaced the drumbeat, the camels began to run. Their speed increased until the music stopped. The camels then stood beside the nearest chairs and knelt. The corpsmen dismounted, held the reins, and sat in the chairs. But several chairs had been turned upside down.
All of us know the rules of the game. The camels and corpsmen without chairs were eliminated. When the music began again, riders mounted, camels rose, turned clock-wise and again began to run. We cheered enthusiastically. The game went on until only tow chairs, equal distant apart, remained. The three camels raced with tremendous speed. The music stopped; one more elimination. The two remaining contestants faced each other across the huge circle. A single stool stood in the center. When the music began, the two camels ran at unbelievable speed. Again the music stopped. Each camel turned, streaked towards the center, and the game was won when one corpsman slid onto the stool a split second before the other could reach it.
There was a tremendous uproar from the spectators. Martial music again was played and the entire Camel Corps returned. Wreaths of flowers were draped on the winning camel and rider and they were paraded from the field to the cheers of all of us. These protectors of the Sudan border had played a memorable game.
Perhaps camels in far away lands truly do know the 100th name of God.