Tuesday, October 16, 2007
The desert "Where the starts shine"
You were told that there in southern Algeria is the biggest and oldest refugee camp in the world. It is a camp of more than 200,000 refugees and so you decide to take a trip to give a hand to these people who have been waiting for more than three decades. You arrive at Tindouf military airport and the pilot welcomes you to the capital of the Algerian desert and thanks you for traveling with Air Algerie. When you come out of the air plane, a hot and rather charming breeze hits your face. Then, you take a bus to the main administration office, which is about 40 miles away. The bus you are taking goes through the city of Tindouf; you get excited and say: “this is not what I expected, I did not expect proper houses, shops and post office; I thought I would encounter what I read on the internet!” You are very confused and think that may be the information you have read is wrong. About half an hour later, you realize that now you are on a dirt road with a completely deserted landscape. As the bus goes farther, things start to make more sense and you lose that excitement. Now you are entering the far eastern side of Tindouf province. Both the province and the city have the same name. One hour goes by and then two; you wait and wait to see the first person or perhaps the first tent. Two and half hours later, you finally see it. A dark green colored, rather funnel shaped looking object stands in the midst of many similar-looking others shinning in the sunny day. That is what we call El-Khaima and its literary meaning is “tent”.
As the bus enters the camp, things look completely different. You see children running around and playing with basic and their-own-creation toys, women are covered with a long and colorful piece of fabric called Melhfa doing their daily activities. The moment the bus is visible, all the children come running and greeting the new guest. The first thing they ask for after greeting you in Spanish is some candy. The common line which all knows it by heart is: “hola, dame caramelo.” Children are the indicator of the arrival of a new and different-from-us guest; they run before the bus and inform their mothers and then things become noisy.
You just arrived to your intended tent. Many unfamiliar and smiling faces welcome you as you try to lower your head so that you don’t hit the “roof”. The tent from inside looks transformed, one would never be able to guess from looking at it from the outside. Handmade, long and beautiful carpets run through the tent. At the same time, shouters of welcome in different languages; Hassaniya, Arabic, Spanish, French and English surprise you. Minutes later and before you realize it, you are part of the day to day activities, laughter, drinking tea, eating Couscous with camel meant and most importantly discussing politics.
El-Khaima is where I first opened my eyes to this world. It is where eight members of my beloved family still live. Not only is it some piece of fabric donated by the International Red Cross, but also a symbol of patience and love. My family’s tent is a reflection of hope and sharing. This twelve meter square space is the shelter for all of my family and me. It is a protection against the strong and frequent sandstorms. It is the headquarters of every social gathering, ranging from the very long Saharawi tea ceremony (Atay) to simply playing volleyball with a ball made of socks and rapped with plastic bags with my brothers. Atay is the time where family, neighbors or simply people passing by enjoy what one would consider very sweet cup of tea, which is made in a very special way and in three stages, with each stage having a meaning. The first cup is bitter like life, the second is sweet like love and the last one is soft like death.
The El-Khaima where I was raised taught me how to face life with its sweetness and bitterness. I learned how to face life the way it faces nature and its distractive hazards: sandstorms, the 120 degrees Fahrenheit summers and at times the unmerciful floods. Despite all of these natural challenges, El-Khaima never disappointed me and always gave me the best it can give. It has stood for more than seven years at a time. Although, it can also experience aging; it would always hold on until its next sister takes over. In the same way I was taught to face obstacles in life. My ideology is to never give up despite the pressure and that there is always a solution to a problem. Moreover, I learned that family and friends are the most valuable gold one can possess.
I have always thought that the only existing lifestyle was that of being a refugee. Although, I have lived a life that was deprived from many advantages that other children from other parts of the world experience, I have learned many things that allow me to face life in a much stronger way. From my experience, I learned that each experience has its positive and negative side. Also, it is important to be optimistic in life and face it in a strong way, just like the El-Khaima.