MAKKAH: From an investor-in-training to a competitor on the camel festival’s track, one American learned to appreciate one of Saudi Arabia’s oldest heritages.
It did not occur to 32-year-old Joseph, known as Hasan Yousef, an American from Missouri, when he moved to the Kingdom five years ago that he’d be introduced to the inside world of camels.
He developed his interest in camels from the most basic level to appreciating the fervor of camel beauty pageants.
His interest grew so much that he reached the summit of one of Saudi Arabia’s most reputable heritage events, competing for top prizes at the King Abdul Aziz Camel Festival.
“I moved to Saudi Arabia five years ago and when I later moved to Riyadh, I met up with Faisal Al-Qahtani and a close friend of his Sultan. Faisal being the genuine friend that he is, took the initiative to show me around the Kingdom,” Yousef told Arab News.
“I’m an outgoing person and have visited 40 countries in the past 15 years and when I made up my mind to move to Saudi Arabia, I committed to being active, engaging with the people and learning about the culture, the traditions, cultural values, and norms,” he added.
Visiting Al-Qahtani’s family in the desert, he was introduced to the Bedouin lifestyle, their customs, food and the simplicity of their lives.
“I received a red carpet-style welcome,” he noted.
Yousef was able to familiarize himself with camels for the first time. He discovered the depths of the Saudi experience, their relationship with the desert and their profound traditions. That defining moment led him to the singles race in the fifth season of the Camel Festival.
While working in the education sector in the Kingdom, he acquired a new hobby that would occupy his weekends. As a self-described “city guy,” he found himself heading to the desert, traveling for days to discover new camping sites, sitting next to a bonfire, wearing the traditional Saudi thobe and drinking camel milk.
With time, his passion grew to learning more about the beauty of camels. He began to search for a way to adopt that experience in full, and looked for a way to own his own camel and a caravan for it.
“With 2020 being a very challenging year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I took time to think during the lockdown ‘what should I do once the Kingdom opens up?’ So I started taking online courses at Harvard University and thought I should later apply to get a postgraduate degree in English or international relations.”
But with the prolonged closure, he consulted with his friend Faisal and decided to venture into the world of business in the Kingdom.
Yousef said Faisal suggested participating in the camel federation’s beauty pageant and described it as a “riveting and new experience,” noting that as a foreigner, he’d be welcomed into this new venture as the Kingdom’s leadership has been opening up to the international community.
With the help of his friend, Yousef was ready to invest SR500,000 ($133,000) to find a camel that suited his abilities and aesthetic standards. Faisal took him to Eid Al-Otaibi’s farm to select a camel from the “Tamamiyat” breed. In a field of camels where some can cost millions of riyals, Yousef found his perfect investment.
In his first experience, Faisal said that he should not pay big sums, because he is not totally captivated with the hobby like native Arabs, but that he expected his interest to grow as he explored the field. Al-Qahtani said that what Yousef achieved represents the deep transfer of Saudi heritage to investors.
Their desire goes beyond the principle of buying and selling, he said, adding that foreigners learn to develop a genuine appreciation for Saudi culture.