Santa’s Camels Are on the Loose – Kazakhstan

Santa’s Camels Are on the Loose


Christmas was fast approaching, and here in Kazakhstan, we needed to find a way to help our toddler son celebrate the season. So I bundled him up and headed to the American Embassy for the annual kids’ Christmas party. I figured it would give him the opportunity to sit in Santa’s lap just like his peers in the States do. All day he’d been talking about it.

He knew Santa would be there, and he kept saying “I wanna go Santa. Santa bring TOY!” Finally, it was time to go, and Shay told me all about Santa in between his running commentary on the view from the back seat: “Green bus! Big bus! Yellow bus! Caaaaar!”

The plan was to meet in front of the Embassy building. Santa would ride up on a camel, and after all the kids oohed and ahhhed, we’d follow Santa upstairs, where he would give a present to each child. When we arrived, however, none of the kids were outside. We were looking at our watches, trying to figure out what we’d missed, when the ambassador himself strolled up.

“Where are the kids?” we asked.

“They’re all inside,” he replied. “The camels ran away, and everyone is inside waiting for them to come back.”

We went inside, too, and Shay promptly forgot about Santa. There must have been 100 kids in there, running in loud circles around the Christmas tree. Shay found some friends, so he stripped off his jacket and joined the runners. I tried my best to keep an eye on him, but eventually gave up and hoped for the best.

Every few minutes we’d get a camel update. Some one claimed they’d seen the community liaison officer chasing a camel down in nearby Panfilov Park. Some one else said there were two camels, not one. No one knew where Santa was. Had he climbed up on a camel before it ran away? Or was he hanging by his bootstrap off the camel’s hindquarters, being dragged to Dushanbe?

Meanwhile, like Shay, my husband, the Regional Security Officer, was nowhere to be found. Turns out that he and some of his security guards were driving around the city, searching for the fugitive camels – and by the way, how hard can it be to find a camel? They’re eight feet tall and they reek of camel urine.

Back in the cafeteria, I eventually spotted Shay – where else? – right in front of a platter of peanut butter cookies. He appeared to be taking small bites out of each cookie on the platter. Suddenly, a cry went up across the cafeteria: Santa was in the lobby (albeit without the runaway camels). As the other kids made a mad dash for the lobby, Shay darted from one cookie table to the next, reveling in the fact that they were now nearly deserted. I dragged him back to the lobby, where Santa was sitting on a couch, about to be beaten senseless by a mob of kiddies.

“Look, Shay,” I pointed, “Santa! Santa Claus is here!”

But Shay had spotted a cute girl in the opposite direction, and he pointed that way instead: “Look, mommy! A girl!” So all of the other kids crowded around Santa while Shay hung around near the little girl, totally uninterested in this guy whom he’d been waiting all day to see.

My husband, Bart, arrived with the news that the camels had been located and were down in front of the building. Before heading down, we decided to take Shay’s picture with Santa. A bad idea. Shay had no interest in sitting anywhere near this bearded stranger, and he made his opinion known in no uncertain terms. He would’ve stayed on the couch had he known what was next.

In the courtyard were two huge fuzzy stinking camels, faces high above the crowd of kids, enveloped in the fog of their own camel breath. “Let’s go ride a camel,” said Bart enthusiastically. “No,” Shay replied emphatically, “I never.” Bart picked him up and carried him toward the camel, convinced that if he just got his son close enough to the creature, Shay would change his mind. I sighed, knowing my son’s mind was made up, and there was no way this was going to work. Within moments came the piercing sound of Shay’s shrieks, high above the rest of the crowd.

Thus defeated, Bart brought Shay back to where we were standing, and they perched on a wall to watch (and smell) the camels go by at a distance. Even when Shay saw his friend Alex up there, balanced between the camel’s two humps, he wouldn’t be swayed. In fact, he looked the other way rather than acknowledge the fact that Alex was 7 feet up in the air, happily riding this stinking beast.

Still, camels are pretty cool. They’re so tall and so wide that they look as though their spindly legs ought to buckle underneath them. The tilt of their huge heads and heavy eyelids make it look as though the camel is laughing at some private joke. Or perhaps he really was laughing, remembering how the Embassy guards chased him down icy roads during his few moments of freedom.

As far as I know, Santa never rode that camel. And neither did Shay. On the way home, Shay continued his monologue where he’d left off: “Bus! Car! Police car – WOO woo WOO woo! Bus!” Then he added “Horsie!,” even though there wasn’t one in sight. So I answered him, “That’s right. You can ride in a car or in a taxi or on a bus or on a horsie…or even on a camel.”

He shook his head seriously. “No, mom. I never.”

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