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Sahara

Day 16: Smara Camp

Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria 
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Sweet tea is the national drink of the Sahara. Everything stops for its preparation, which must never be hurried.
Michael Palin - SaharaTonight Bachir's brother-in-law and two other men are sat around the brazier taking tea with us. Their eyes sparkle and their faces crease easily into laughter. It seems a good time to ask Bachir about the future for the Polisario. He plays down the military solution.

'We still have many friends,' he argues, reminding me that only a year ago the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and US Secretary of State, James Baker, had been staying in this same camp. The Moroccans might be supported by other Arab monarchies, like Saudi Arabia and Jordan, but the Polisario have powerful European allies, especially the Spanish, their old colonial masters, who now seem to be falling over themselves to help. Assuaging guilt? Annoying the French? Whatever the reason, Bachir is a grateful man.

'Five...six thousand Saharawi children go to stay with Spanish families every summer, and the families come back to see us.' His eyes shine in the lamplight. 'Two thousand came last year to the camps - doctors, nurses, teachers.'

He pauses as if aware I'm not convinced.

'We are small, but sometimes the small guys win. Look at Kuwait...'

But he and I both know that the Saharawis are, in world terms, much smaller small guys than the oil-rich monarchies of the Gulf.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 16
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Smara Refugee Camp
  • Book page no: 66

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