Ahmed and Yadida
Both of them feel old and tired. They have been living as refugees in the camps for too long, still standing in the middle of the desert, on top of their childhood and youth years in their land, filled with suffering and terror, full of war and death. A whole life of scarcity with a forced exile which has led them to leave their country, so close to their homes and so far from their lives.
They have spent most of their life here in the wilaya of Smara, where they have grown old, they have brought up 5 children and here they enjoy the presence of their 14 grandchildren.
Hardly ever Yadira leaves the haima, it makes her feel cose to her people and her roots, there she feels like a nomad, like her parents and grandparents, all of them dead by now. There she spends the hours and days, most of the time with her daughters and grandchildren. There she relives by telling her family what their people was like, free to move all the time, in search of better pastures for their herds of goats and camels. It has been 42 years now since the haima was last taken down…
Ahmed on the other hand uses to walk around the dahira with the few friends about his age who are still alive, sharing memories of the good old times in their own country, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, forgetting all the suffering they went through when they were exiled from their house, and the suffering they still experience because they are not allowed back in. Together they dream that in a nearby future their families will be able to take life where their parents left it, they dream of a future for their children and grandchildren…
Both of them fancy going to the desert with all their family, feeling the thin sand dunes, away from the wilaya. There they spend the evening until sunset, they chat about their stuff, their land, their country, their roots and their future, while the children play running on the crests and rolling over the dunes. There they bake their sand bread by burying the dough in a whole where they have previously fired some branches to heat the sand, just the way they used to do when they wandered the desert as nomads. A piece of bread they share and eat together while recalling the taste of their people and their country.
He has spent all of his life within the Sahrawi camps in Tindouf, Algeria. Over 40.000 Sahrawi fled for the camps in 1976, where the current population is over 173.00 people, confined and guarded by the Algerian troops who have the power to issue the passes for merely stepping out of the camps: 20 years cramped, being guilty of nothing but being born a Sahrawi in the camps.
On this settlement located East of Algeria, right in the middle of the desert and next to their country, illegaly occupied by Morocco, Saharawi people put up their first haimas 42 years ago, 42 years of temporary living, getting a life out of organizations that volunteer to share this historical unjustness with the Sahrawi people. Some areas in the camps had electricity for the first time only two years ago. There are four major settlements or wilayas : El Aaioun, Auserd, Smara and Dajla, corresponding to the four most important cities in their occupied territories, and which are structured in lesser communities, dahiras. Like most of the young Sahrawis, Mahmoud believes war is the only way to become a free country again, rising up in arms agains Morocco in order to recover and occupy what belongs to them, their land. Elder people, those who were forced to flee after a war that was too cruel, as any war, on the other hand, do not even want to hear about war and death.
It is very true that after living confined in the camps for more than 20 years, his most likely future is just staring at how things remain the same while being sentenced by international community to a life without freedom.
She will turn 12 by the end of autumn. She has just returned to the camps after two months abroad with “ Holidays in Peace”, accomodated by a host family in a village by the Xuquer bank in Valencia This has been her third summer spending July and August with the people she calls “her second family”, and the last one. With them and the friends she met in Valencia she has been able to experience first hand the beautiful moments she could only dream of as a child, when her older brothers narrated their stories about their “family” and friends in Valencia.
Every summer, more than 500 Sahrawi boys and girls, aged 10 to 12, are granted a leaving pass issued by Algeria to leave the Sahrawi camps in Tindouf and spend two months with their host families, where they receive affection just like any other member of the family.
Aged 12 years old, she has left the camps 3 times and she does not know when she will be able to leave again. She does enjoy learning at the madrasa , but it is very unlikely that her parents can afford having her sent over to Algers to keep studying; she has two older brothers and any of them had the opportunity to continue with their studies. And even more unlikely is the chance to obtain a scholarship to study abroad.
She does not know what her future will be, and no one can tell. Maybe this has been her last time outside the Sahrawi camps in Tindouf.
Half of her life was lived in freedom and she has spent the other half confined in the Sahrawi camps. For 42 years she has lived there, within the refugee camps in the province of Tindouf in Algeria.
She remembers perfectly the first part of her existence, living with her big family and her three brothers by the seaside, assisting her father on his fishing tasks from land, as she was never allowed to get on a boat to play with her brothers; and carrying out household chores with her brothers and aunts. She remembers those mornings when she played with her brothers on the beach and in the sea. She remembers all too well the party held at the village on her wedding day, and all that time she lived free with Hosein, her husband. She also remembers when her children were born, and their childhood, going through hardship and sometimes even food scarcity, with poor means and basic comfort, but happy. She also remembers clearly the cruelty of war, the death of her parents from the pity and terror caused by all the things they were going through, the death of two of her brothers in the riots and the death of so many people in the conflict, or merely sitting in their houses, dying of sorrow.
And she remembers leaving her country, all her family together with thousands of people, in search of a place where they could carry on with their lives, or the remaining of them. She remembers the first settlements in improvised haimas, her first years as a refugee, barely scraping out a living, seeing their own land further and further away, occupied by the invaders who had slaughtered their people and restoring normality to their lives seemed harder and harder. She can well remember what she had to go through, together with her husband, to earn a living for her family, to keep scraping by and seeking a decent future for her children.
Her most recent memories are better, despite being totally unrelated to her childhood and youth. Her grandchildren are grown-ups and even though they have not experienced the anguish of war and the need to escape from a certain death, they sure know everything about it from Maiya and Hosein´s stories.
But Maiya enjoyed better telling them what their life was like before all the unfathomable brutality. She was very interested in preserving the memory of the injustice that had been comitted upon her people, but she was even more interested in preserving the memory of their lives, their culture, the way of life of free Sahrawi people linving in their own land.
Now she is determined to start forgetting all these memories. She believes they have been secured with her children and grandchildren. Now she just wants to die serenely in peace, since she knows that her husband Hosein awaits in next life. He has been waiting for her for a year, since he died out of so much remembering.
Since the very moment of her birth, the midwife could tell that girl had something unusual in her look. As a matter of fact , her familiy soon noticed Lemura did not behave nor respond the ways newborns do. She stepped into this world with a severe disability and she lives with all the cares her family can provide living in Smara, one of the settlments on the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf.
On the day we visited her, she was lying right where she has spent most of her 8 years, on the carpet on the floor of the haima, surrounded with cushions, her arms, hands, legs and feet strained, her head stretched up and her eyes wide open, the mother by her side shooing away the flies that got back to the child´s face once and again. Lemira needs assistance to carry out any physiological activity appropriate to her age, all she can do is rolling over to get around the haima.
Starting a few years ago, the Associació d´Ajuda a Persones Saharauis amb Discapacitat (Association to Help Sahrawi People with a Disability) is visiting her on a regualar basis, together with a group of Sahrawi women who are being trained to assist the over one hundred children with a severe disability living on the refugee camps.
A special chair handcrafted on site has been made for Lemira, following the directions provided by the Association , so that she can sit down and interact with her family from a point of view she has never had before. It is thanks to this chair that she can practice some movements she had never been able to do before. During our last visit, we witnessed how Lemira was able to grab her spoon,loaded with porridge, and take it to her mouth while her mother patiently helped her.
He was born two years after the first settlers were taken to Tindouf. He is now 40 and he has spent all of his life in a refugees camp. He lived his childhood away from any “official war”, but the whole of his life has been affected by the lack of peace and freedom for him and for his people. Living life the way they do in a refugees camp , expelled from their land, is not living in war, but it is not living in peace and freedom either.
He was lucky enough to spend 8 years studying in Cuba in his youth, when he was issued a grant by the Caribbean country in the early 21st Century. He went back to his people right after he graduated in Social Sciences and Politics, he decided to start a family and cooperate to help his people keep going, collaborating to build a possible future for the Sahrawi people.
He married 14 years ago and he is father of one girl and two boys, who attend school regularly at the madrasa from Thursday to Sunday, where they study in Arabic language and hassania, their local dialect. Like his wife, he believes that a good future for their pleople can only be achieved by means of education, with the correct training for their daughters and sons.
He works for the Sahrawi Government in the Ministry of Social Affairs. All of his time and effort is devoted to his family and to those refugees who need help the most, those who not only live deprived of freedom but also have to live with the misfortune of suffering illness or disability, those who are the most vulnerable among the defenceless.