The glory of the Sahara Camel Race inspires big dreams for the future for a young jockey.
Moussa, ten years old, will remember the weekend camel race in Niger for a long time. The boy flew across the desert, barely higher than his victorious charger’s knees, to take first place in one of the Sahara’s most famous tournaments.
The sport attracted racing camels from all across Niger – and beyond – to the oasis town of Ingall, which serves as the country’s traditional gateway to the Sahara and hosts the annual Cure Salee meeting of Tuareg and Wodaabe nomads.
Moussa, who is used to long, scorching days tending his father’s cattle in the desert, won the main race on Saturday.
Since he was three years old, Moussa has been riding camels, cantankerous beasts that yell, snort, and spit foul-smelling bile at their foes. He claims he began venturing out alone when he was seven years old. He admits, “I used to be frightened of riding camels by myself.”
Moussa, who stands one metre (three feet three inches) tall, fantasizes of a golden future in which he will have “plenty of camels” and, most importantly, “will win additional races.”
The race is a highlight of the three-day nomad festival, which sees herders from all over the world bring their livestock from as far as 400 kilometers (250 miles) away to converge on three mineral-rich springs that give the event its name.
The celebration, which includes music and ritual dances, courtship and weddings, and vaccinations for beasts and their masters, takes place after the rains in mid-September, bringing relief from the nomads’ increasingly difficult lives – marginalized and trapped in a region riven by jihadist violence.
People would rather have fun than talk about their problems during this brief break.
“In Europe, there is football; here, we have camel racing,” explains Khamid Ekwel, a well-known camel owner.
Hundreds of herders gathered against the stadium’s barricades at daybreak on Saturday to watch the race over two laps, which took place on a five-kilometer (three-mile) track in the desert marked out by white stones.
Several pick-up trucks are intentionally situated to provide the finest view for fans perched on their roofs. Others have brought their camels, which stand around two meters tall at the shoulder, in order to gain some height. Everyone is waiting beneath a blue sky as the sun rises, wagering on the 25 animals in the race.
The camels come shortly after and are led behind a green rope. Brief News from Washington Newsday.