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Sahara

Day 19: Tfariti

Tfariti, Western Sahara. 
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Nothing is wasted in the desert. Empty ammunition cans help solve the housing shortage.
Michael Palin - SaharaI'm still in the grip of whatever microbe is ravaging my system, so I retreat to the coolest corner of the cave and sit out a lunch of salad, goat and oranges, thinking of the only two things that appeal in these circumstances, sleep and death.

Unfortunately, neither is an option, as the commander of the Second Army District has made himself available for interview. He's a man of dignified composure and stern, hawk-like eye, who gives nothing much away. How does he keep up morale when there has been no war to fight for thirteen years? No problem, he claims. They are all committed to the struggle for free expression for the Saharawi people. And they have sophisticated weaponry. When I press him for more details this seems to mean the ageing tanks from Eastern Europe and the fortified Toyota pick-ups drawn up below.

Later, he and I walk out to inspect the troops. They are a ragged band, small in number, an assortment of ages wearing an assortment of uniforms. One has green espadrilles instead of army boots. Unless the Polisario is hiding some crack force from us, their military potential, even for guerrilla fighting, seems negligible.

The heat rises and my system continues to reject whatever is in there that it doesn't like. Once outside the cave, there is no escape or comfort. The skies are cloudless. The heat and the constant dusty wind scour my skin and turn my throat to sandpaper. There is no toilet but the desert, and as I crouch behind boulders feeling utterly miserable I am filled with desperate admiration for the soldiers who have endured conditions like these for years and a formless anger at those who make it necessary for them to do it.

It's a two-hour drive back to the barracks in Tfariti. I have to ask them to stop once again but this time I'm bent double with nothing to show for it. Everyone else turns their back, but Khalihena comes over to me once again, pours me some water, motions to his mouth and repeats in his soft French, 'Mange, mange'.

When I get back to the barracks, I take his advice, and thanks to a combination of Pepto Bismol, acupressure recommended by Basil and fresh bread and cheese, I steady the system and fall into a long deep sleep.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 19
  • Country/sea: Western Sahara
  • Place: Tfariti
  • Book page no: 72

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