Congratulations to Christina Adams, whose book Camel Crazy just won a silver Nautilius Book Award in the Health, Healing, Wellness & Vitality category!
How and why does someone become the first person to obtain federal government permission to import camel milk as a treatment for autism? And why should anyone care? This armchair adventure answers these questions and then some. When Christina Adams suspected that camel milk might help her son with autism, a faraway doc helped her smuggle some into the United States. Her son got dramatically better overnight, and off Adams went to find camels and discover why they are cherished as family members and hailed as healers. She visits the camel farms of Arab sheikhs and meets passionate Amish farmers, elusive Indian camel caregivers, and white-swathed Tuareg nomads. But the most fascinating characters are the camels themselves, cute and mischievous but also adept fighters. Their imposing teeth and height scared Adams even as their soft lips and gentle, curious eyes won her over. Readers, too, will be won over by this moving and rollicking ode to “camel people” and the creatures they adore.
We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt — from the introduction and a later chapter — from Camel Crazy: A Quest for Miracles in the Mysterious World of Camels.
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Before camels entered my life, I rarely gave them a thought. They seemed like relics of history, marooned in time amid palm trees and pyramids. But when I met a camel in suburban California, I suddenly realized that its milk might help my son. Only instinct drove me to find it. Back then there was no online information, no expert or book to consult about the sources or benefits of camel milk. Little was known about camels outside (or sometimes even inside) the countries they’ve inhabited for eons.
As camels became part of my life, I grew entranced by them and their keepers, whose stories glittered like potsherds in sand. As my camel friends piled up, so did the gifts they offered. I have statues, photographs, bracelets carved from bone. Farmers tossed me camel baseball caps, veterinarians gave me scarves. I have a camel T-shirt from Dubai and a silver camel necklace from Israel or Palestine, depending on who you ask.
In the house where I write today, three tiny jeweled camels prance across my desk. My kitchen shelf holds a chocolate camel wrapped in gold foil, from Dubai. He guards camel milk powder in bottles and sky-blue packets, bagged industrial samples and beribboned Indian chocolates. There are energy drinks labeled in purple Arabic script. My refrigerator holds raw and pasteurized milk, colostrum, and kefir, a cultured milk that I hate but nomads and health fanatics love. My cellphone, on the dining table, holds a photo of camel-hump fat. The only camel items I don’t have, besides meat, are cheese (it’s hard to make) and urine — and if I was terribly sick, I might try that too.
I am not a crazy camel lady. I don’t have a camel farm. But I am camel crazy. It’s a natural consequence of seeing those bottles of precious milk work a miracle in my son. As a writer and researcher, I’m compelled to tell our story, and the wonders of this amazing animal.
Until now, the secrets of ancient camel peoples have been preserved mostly in oral legend. In India today, camel keepers still stand on one leg each morning as they balance a pot on their other knee, milking the teat of a she-camel into a foamy bowl. They drink it along with a mildly narcotic tea to start their day. But camels are mainly seen as curiosities, roadside tourist attractions, zoo animals, the toothy cartoon on a cigarette packet. Even the great camel cultures of the Middle East have mostly lost their knowledge of the milk’s restorative power.
Yet camels, like their image as a symbol of the desert, are hard to kill. Once the main transport of the great Silk Road trade routes that formed modern civilization, they still carry salt blocks, trucks, and entire households on their backs. They’ve never truly disappeared from the wadis, dunes, steppes, and forests where they evolved and were domesticated.
My immersion in camel cultures enriched my understanding of the health properties of the milk. I first focused on its benefits for children with autism, but even the scanty science, along with traditional lore, suggested that it held promise for other health conditions as well. Those years of close attention gave me a unique depth of knowledge. But just as enriching has been my love for the animals and their keepers.
As one Pakistani camel friend says, “Camel feel the soul.” This quiet, devoted, wary, intensely loyal, vociferous, blubbering, delicate, gossipy, sociable, cliquish, powerful, mysterious, and extraordinarily gifted beast provokes passion. Its admirers are just as intense as the animals, probably more so.
And now the global herd of camels (estimated at thirty-five million, up from twenty million during my first year of research) and camel lovers is growing. The modern demand for camel milk and meat is bringing camels to farms and towns all over. It will inevitably rise in parallel with increasing rates of autism (which now affects an estimated 2 to 3 percent of children worldwide), food allergies, diabetes, and other disorders. Camels are being used to treat snakebite and in cancer research, among other innovations. Their bodies are preadapted for high temperatures and droughts, making them the perfect animal for the world’s changing climate. Yet even in societies that have traditionally tended camels, they’re a well-kept secret today.
So yes, I’m camel crazy. And I’m not alone. We are myriad. Determined. And maybe you will join the herd.
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I love our new little camel-milk world. It’s cozy and trusting, and everyone is rejoicing. Cameleers from all sorts of places have become my friends online. Thanks to camel milk, Gil and Nancy are finding their camels even more amazing, and Amish farmers are deriving satisfaction from helping others, in their understated way. Kids with autism are talking, rashes are healing, kids and parents are sleeping well. Things are great.
A fifty-year-old friend of mine has severe juvenile-onset rheumatoid arthritis that’s limiting his activity. He tries camel milk, drinks eight ounces instead of the four I advised, and becomes so energized that he stays up all night. “I cleaned my blinds,” he tells me. “I never do that!” He feels so good that he returns to his gym and is also getting more real estate work done. He now drinks four ounces every other day and tells his story to everyone.
Everyone is doing well. Noah sells his milk to customers on trust, receiving payment by check or cash left in his rural mailbox. Marlin shows milking videos online and at lectures. Dallas in Indiana returns calls on Fridays, in the one hour his Amish rules allow him to use the phone. Sam is buying more camels for his herd and dreams of making ice cream. Clyde drops out to pursue other business plans.
I get a Facebook message from someone introducing himself as Walid Abdul-Wahab, from Saudi Arabia. He’s a college senior doing a business class project on camel milk, and he wants to visit me. We agree to meet at a local restaurant on Saturday night. When I get there with Tony, I see a pale young man in Western clothes with a scruffy, reddish under-the-chin beard and bright amber eyes.
Walid has been bitten by the camel milk bug and is vibrating with enthusiasm. He’s been reselling Amish milk to local Muslims and wants to start a business.
He peppers me with questions. “Do you think you can sell it in the US, and for how much?”
“I could sell it like crazy right now, but I don’t want legal challenges. It’s illegal to sell raw milk across state lines for human consumption.”
“But it is legal to sell camel milk in the US.”
“Yes, but raw milk of any kind can be sold in some states, not all.”
“What would it take to start a camel milk business in the US?” he asks.
“Raw or pasteurized?
“People in my community mostly want it raw, with the camels on organic feed, in chemical-free bottles. For a farm you need agriculturally zoned land, some equipment, workers, and camels. Pasteurizing adds more equipment.”
“Can you say pasteurized milk has health benefits too?”
“Some people see them, but not many. It’s heated for thirty minutes, so that might destroy the enzymes and whatever therapeutic things are in it. There’s a market for pasteurized camel milk as a dairy alternative, but it’s very small for now.”
“But will people drink camel milk? I know Muslims will pay, price is not a big object for them.”
“Right now, only desperate people are drinking it,” I say. “They’re nervous. The number one question is, what does camel milk taste like? Everyone asks that.”
“Why, are they afraid their children won’t drink it?” asks Walid.
“It’s more than that. A camel is no big deal in your part of the world, but here it’s odd. There are three kinds of people: the ones who don’t want to hear about camel milk; the people who say they should look into it and don’t; and the people who say, ‘Where do I get it?’ and buy it right away.”
“Yes, that’s true,” says Walid sadly. “My price is twenty-four dollars a bottle, because for Muslims, it’s a prestigious item, like wine is here. In your home, it is good to offer the guest something special. Like for Ramadan is coming up.”
As we chat, I discover he doesn’t realize the difference between state law and FDA regulations. But he seems uninterested.
Tony asks, “If you’ve been doing this for a year, why did you only contact Christina now?”
“You were the first person I was told about,” he says, looking at me. “But I didn’t know anything. I didn’t have anything to offer you yet.” He almost blushes. It’s kind of sweet.
We talk about his family, who own a steel company back home. His mother is half-Syrian. She does not veil her face, although Walid wants her to: she only wears an abaya with her hair showing. His city of Jeddah is quite modern, he says, and many women don’t wear the veil, but he believes they should. In his view, “The veil is worn by people who wish to say, ‘I am dedicated to exploring and getting closer to God, so back off from me.’” He says he avoids alcohol, doesn’t date, works out, and worships regularly. He has Arabic script and a large camel sticker on his milk-white SUV.
Then he asks, “What do you think about Marlin?”
“Marlin is great. He’s convinced the Constitution protects him.” I explain how just being accused of causing sickness in a person can get you slammed by a lawsuit. I suggest Walid get liability insurance. But he’s hoping for an easier way.
“I know this Lebanese Republican congressman. He says with enough money and the right people, making raw milk legal to ship across state lines can be done.”
“That’s true,” I tell him. “I just never had money to pay those people. A lobbyist and big donations would do it.” We sigh and drink our tea.
“Do you drink camel milk every day?” I ask.
“Only when I order it. Do you?”
“Yes, we all drink it,” says Tony.
“At home, I just tell my driver to go find a Bedouin by the side of the road, and they milk it, and that’s it.”
As I try again to explain legal and liability issues to Walid, it’s clear he doesn’t know what I mean. And it seems he just doesn’t care. I ask if he’s a US citizen. He isn’t.
“So at worst, you can be deported or something,” I say. “Fly away home, and you just can’t come back.”
“Or come back later when it’s done,” he says.
“Do you have someone to pay your legal bills, if you sell raw milk and get in trouble?”
“Oh, no. I have a sort of diplomatic relationship.”
“So you are immune, really.”
“Yes, I can just leave, and it will be okay. I can come back when it’s all over. I don’t think they can do anything to me.”
Then I get it. He is basically able to manipulate, buck, and maybe even finance the entire system. He might be a camel milk savior.
“You might be the perfect person to do this!” I exclaim. I don’t really like his lack of legal responsibility, but no American big-money types have invested in what they think is a small niche product. So I guess if he’s going to do it, I’ll help him do it right.
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Christina Adams, is a journalist and the author of Camel Crazy. She speaks on autism, writing, culture, and camels. Her work has been featured by National Public Radio, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Gulf News, Dubai One, OZY, WebMD, Tata SKY TV, Global Advances in Health and Medicine, and more. She lives in Orange County, California. Find out more about her work at www.christinaadamsauthor.com.