Diaries from a Sahrawi tent (2): Chasing goats
Woke up with the anticipation of visiting Algiers. It is such a beautiful city, built on hills and looking at the sea. People compare it to Marseilles, but actually it is more beautiful. White buildings with beautiful blue iron balcomies. Large pleasant avenues with trees and gardens, and the constant view of the sea. Having a rest from walking through the casbah, we saw that the cinematheque was playing one of my favourite films, Touki Bouki, so we went in. There were four of us! The sound kept breaking down, but it was still pleasurable to see the film on a big screen in Africa.
Time to get to airport, only to discover that we had two seats but bad luck: the pilots were on strike, so we may or may not have a plane... So we waited and waited, and two hours later we were rushed through customs (yes, it seems they can do it) and onto a plane to Tindouf. Our poor fixer Hamdi had been waiting for us there for the last 30 hours.
After two-hour flight we went through customs once again then to be met by Hamdi – and a Polisario police car to excort us to our family in the camp of Alayouna. We got there at 2am, the entire family had been waiting for us, and proceeded to make us tea. In this part of the world, tea is not just a drink, it is a ritual, and a very slow one. Everyone sits on the floor and exchanges niceties while mint tea is poured from one small glass to another, over and over. You get a tiny amount, but my god, what a rush of sugar!
Two hours later we were left in that room and discvovered a pile of blankets in a corner for us to sleep in. It gets very chilly during winter nights. The Sahrawi are Bedouin people who used to live in tents. Everything happens in one room. The only time when the family separates is at meal time. Men eat in the main room, and women and children will remain in the kitchen area. Several generations sleep and eat in that one space. Giving up my private space is always a challenge for me, especially when it comes to the use of bathroom! But both Luis and I have done it before in other parts of Africa and acknowledge the discomfort with laughter. This lifestyle doesn't suit our aging European knees and joints. Living in the dark is another thing. Their houses have tiny windows at ground level, so during their long and very hot summers, very little sunshine filters in, and if there is a breeze, it will be at ground level. The doors are tiny. Poor Luis! More than once did he bang his head – maybe he should have worn a turban like the Sahrawi men.
Sunrise in winter is after 8, so people tend to stay under their warm blankets until then. They sleep in their clothes, so it is a quick job to pack the kids to school: shake them out of their sleep, hand them a piece of bread, and push them towards school. If they are lucky, the teacher will be there, if not, they will return home. Children are left to their own devices, playing with stones and chasing goats. If they are lucky, they may have a good enough ball to play football with for hours. They are bright children, desperate for stimulation – but there's nothing around them.
Everywhere we go, the kids will follow us. I don t think we managed to get one clean sound recording... A couple of them appointed themselves as assistants and would proudly carry bags and tripods. For our first day of shooting, we focused more on Khadra (our poetess) and her family, getting to know them but also testing limits of access. To our surprise, they were happy to let us put the camera wherever we wanted. The women wrapped me into their traditional veil but soon realised that it was not suitable for working and carrying a camera around, so they were happy when I sheepishly dismissed it.
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