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Sahara

Day 15: Smara Refugee Camp

Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria 
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Cosmopolitan future for the Saharawis. Metou, the partly Welsh-educated woman who showed me round the camp, sporting her traditional melepha and less traditional jeans and Doc Martens.
Michael Palin - SaharaSmara, a dozen miles into the desert from Tindouf, is, like the three other refugee camps, named after a town in Western Sahara. Though the camp has roughly the same population as the city of Winchester, it has neither mains water nor electricity. The communal water can for drinking, cooking, washing and sanitation is filled from metal cisterns half a mile away, which are in turn filled by old Volvo tankers, supplied by the UN, which shuttle between the camp and its nearest water source, an artesian well 16 miles away.

No-one in their right mind would choose to live in this sun-bleached, rubble-strewn wilderness, which makes the self-belief of the Saharawis seem all the more impressive. Despite the fact that they have few influential friends, 170,000 of them are content to remain in someone else's desert waiting for a breakthrough.

Bachir is proud of this solidarity, but aware too that it will not last for ever. He clutches at any straws to raise morale. The recent decision of the Spanish government to honour the pensions of those Saharawis who served in the Spanish army is seen as a major benefit, putting a little money into the pockets of those who have too often relied on UN hand-outs, and creating a small but growing private market in the camp.
Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria 
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Abstract patterns are important, as Islam discourages figurative art. Here just a glimpse on a Melepha and tent covering behind.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 15
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Smara Refugee Camp
  • Book page no: 63

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