Look closely at the photo above. This scene stopped me in my tracks, just outside of Smara camp. Abandoned husks of broken-down cars are everywhere in the camps, as they are no match for this harsh environment. Yet this was the first time I’d seen camels housed in a circle of them!
Camels, the traditional transportation of this people and their society, are still here – still renewing and reproducing, still providing so many benefits to the Saharawi people. Meanwhile, the cars that hav been imported to the middle of the desert last for just a little while. Inevitably, the wind, sand and sun beat these powerful machines until they are of no use but to serve as a home for the camels – the ones that have been designed to survive here.
This scene said something to me, not just about camels and their place here, but about Saharawi culture. The Saharawi – the ‘People of the Desert.’ I’ve never seen a distinct culture persist so unbothered by encroaching external influences. I’ve never met a people who interact so extensively with various other cultures but remain so rooted in their own. The Saharawi people are the ones who know this desert, and their culture is the summary of a long history of knowing what works here. Their traditions are woven into this environment and they are the only traditions that are prepared to weather all that the Sahara throws at them.
Yet we see them stuck in this situation of watching their land be pillaged by people who are not its original inhabitants, and waiting in refugee camps where they have to depend on foreign aid. This is not right. The Saharawi people are the people of this portion of the Sahara desert – Western Sahara – and they are the ones who are built to thrive in its harsh environment. The Saharawi people should have sovereign control of Western Sahara. There is no other solution.
Post By: Heather Jost, April 8th, 2020