In a dusty marketplace, an elderly man points to a stranger and says, "American?"

The stranger nods yes.The white-bearded herdsman points to himself. "Bedouin," he says. The pride is apparent.

The place is Hofuf, a small city in eastern Saudi Arabia. It's early morning and the sun is a sliver of orange on the horizon. The country people enter the market on the edge of town to begin the weekly ritual at the sheep and camel auction.

The scene is not unlike a farmers' market in the American heartland. Sheep bleat as their owners pull them about looking for an offer. Buyers haggle. Sellers make counter offers.

Everywhere there is dust, stirred by human and animal feet.

No designer sunglasses or jewel-encrusted watches adorn these simple desert people, who adhere to a way of life that has changed little in a country rich with petrodollars.

In earlier days, the camels were herded to market on hoof. Today, they arrive in the backs of Japanese-made pickup trucks. Some of the animals protest with high-pitched cries as they are lifted from the trucks with slings and cranes.

Others are unloaded more unceremoniously, by a quick back-and-forward movement of the truck that sends them sprawling in the dust.

Young boys dressed in the traditional red-checkered headdress and white robes tend the beasts.

A good male camel goes at auction for about $405. Racing camels can fetch as much as $13,500.

Camels are also used as beasts of burden and meat. Their milk is believed by some to be an aphrodisiac.

Over the horizon, generals maneuver huge military arsenals and plot strategies of war, unsure of what may happen at any time.

The Bedouins, however, are already planning to return the following week to stir the dust in the market once again.