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Sahara

Day 15: Smara Refugee Camp

Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria 
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Night falls over Smara Camp. Dust, blown constantly into the air, creates this diffuse lemon-yellow sunset.
Michael Palin - SaharaThe extraordinary thing about Bachir's house is that we all fit in. How many of us would be able to accommodate seven extra people and forty-five pieces of luggage and equipment when you've already got a wife, four children and a constant influx of relatives? It's not as if his home is that much larger than any of the others in Smara. Exile means equality. Within its low, mud-brick walls are the standard small courtyard, kitchen, single squat toilet, two rooms and a tent.

The tents are of traditional design, with tall peaks and wide rectangular bases. According to Bachir, they are not only practical but also symbolic, a reminder to the Saharawis of their nomadic inheritance, and a reminder too that this cheerless landscape is only a temporary resting place on the journey back to their homeland.

The sun's up around eight. Two of us have slept in the tent and the other five, including myself, are squeezed into a room at the opposite end of the courtyard with the equipment strewn around us like the spoils of a pirate raid. Three of Bachir's children, including the two five-year-old twins, stand at the door, eyes wide, watching us folding up sleeping bags, cleaning teeth, combing hair, taking this, that and the other pill, and washing ourselves as best we can in small bowls of water, filled from the communal can.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 15
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Smara Refugee Camp
  • Book page no: 62

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