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Sahara

Day 14: Tinfou to Tindouf

Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria 
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Saharawi women outside a weaving school. Women virtually run the camps. They cook, build, administrate and run the children, whilst many of the men are in the army.
Michael Palin - SaharaBut, as the saying goes, 'there is nothing more permanent than the temporary', and, twenty-five years later, this compound near Tindouf remains the first port of call for anyone wanting to do business with the Saharawis. This includes many NGOs from all over Europe, but predominantly Spain, which explains the sallow men with moon faces and chunky moustaches, drawn here by the old colonial connection.

They are anxious to offer what help they can until the United Nations, which has monitored a ceasefire between the Moroccans and the Polisario for ten years, can come up with some permanent solution to the problem.

Bachir, who has lived as a refugee for nearly half his life, is the personification of the embattled exile. He will not compromise. He and his people will not rest until things are done the way they want them done. I recognise the syndrome. It's like being a Yorkshireman. As it turns out he has spent time in Leeds and learnt his English there, so he takes this as a compliment.

'I like them,' he says, grinning.

'We're very stubborn,' I remind him.

He nods approvingly.

'I like stubborn people. I'm one of them. Even if I'm wrong, I'm right.'

He won't hear of us staying here with the other foreign visitors.

'You will all stay at my house,' he insists.

And I know there's no point in arguing.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 14
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Smara Refugee Camp
  • Book page no: 61

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