Give me a caramelo


This is the story of a people who have lost their lands. Not that loosing your lands is an original thing, from a historian’s perspective; history is built on the loss of territory. It may not be original but it’s a fact, a fact that many in the self-absorbed international community tend to ignore. And want to ignore.

This land is stuck between Mauritania, Morocco and the Atlantic Ocean – this huge, uneven rectangle which appears greyish and anonymous on many maps, and is called Western Sahara. It once was the property of Spain, then of Morocco, when all the time it should have been the people’s property.

It sounds simple but it’s not.

The Sahrawis – the original settlers, those who own this part of the desert and the coasts where the sea is known to be plentiful of fish – have tried to reclaim their lands for 35 years; enough time to give birth to two generations of Sahrawis. None of these children have been born in a normal environment. Half were born in the refugee camps outside of Tindouf, in Southern Algeria. The other half lives under Moroccan occupation, on what the Sahrawis call “the occupied territories” – an expression which of course draws a parallel with another, famous, territory loss.

The camps.

200.000 people live there. Together, they’re as big as a city. But can you call a place a city just because a lot of people happen to live there? If there’s no infrastructure at all, what do you call it? Oh yes, a camp. So, the camps. Their streets are empty, their air thick with sand and dust (newcomers cough all the time). The light is overwhelming and the colors, at dusk, well, it’s impossible to try and describe them with plain words. Herds of goats populate the outskirts of the city; children walk on the streets on their own. They always ask for something: a candy, caramelo. “Give me a caramelo.”

Pictures and words by Rick Roels.

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2 thoughts on “Give me a caramelo

  1. everytime there’s been a genocide in the nothern african area, it was about the “strong hand” (aka dictator) ruling the country fearing territorial division where some communitarian claims arose, and “solving” the issue in the most expeditious way. and did we civilized countries with a “superior culture” behave any better? Pell-mell, i’m thinking Bloody Sunday in Ireland. Batasuna taxed as a terrorist movement & its members fought by fire in Spain. already back then, i’m thinking the US Secession war.
    now one could argue that the international community is not advising marocco to return the sahrawis their land, because many an occidental country has its share of independentalist movements and has returned them a big fat nothing. so it would be a bit rich to intervene elsewhere, right? but… wait… did you say interventionism? funny how the countries which meddle the most in foreign politics – America, France – are also those most troubled by the independalist issue…
    no. i think our occidental interventionism (or not) stems from that same “split of the nation” paranoia which plagues dictators, just on a larger scale.
    besides, sahara spreads over 10 (!) different countries and that would set fire to the whole region. so, tricky.
    but now that the malian president has been overturned, this is how the course of events will probably unfold: the malian army will go after the sahrawi Polisari ; there’ll be sanctions from the international community which, after having done nothing for 35 years, will suddenly wake up to chastise the “nasty” malian army (a retaliation in the form of food & medicine shortage, which in the past often led to the death of several millions, as in Irak over 10 years); and in the meantime, it is the malian civilians who will starve and the sahrawis who will die… am i going a bit too far in wondering whether this little game the ancient colonial powers are playing is not just a cynical way of “solving” the planet’s demographic issues?

    Really nice pics, by the way!

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