WESTERN SAHARA: Located on the southwestern tip of Algeria, lies the Algerian military based of Tindouf. Thirty miles south of Tindouf is a small town called Rabouni, which marks the first in a string of six refugee camps. The Refugee Camps are where my journey in Western Sahara starts. I will (try) to transport you to a very different place – a deserts landscape characterized physically by dry and hot climate, but geopolitically by conflict, determination, and inspiration. Step into my head and heart space… follow along as I compile photos and stories to bring these narratives, of the people and places, to life.
SATURDAY 5:30 AM: my alarm goes off and I jump out of bed at the first beep. The speed at which I react to the first sounds makes it seems like I hadn’t been sleeping at all. To be honest, I’m surprised I managed to sleep since the feeling of anxiousness and nervousness were consuming my thoughts days leading up to the trip. I only received my visa to travel two days before leaving – all my flights and arrangement were booked, but without the visa, I would have to forgo everything. No visa, no trip. The thought still scares me.
It’s still dark in Ljubljana and the sun, like my roommate, has yet to rise.
I take a sip of water, quickly eat some cereal, and walk to the train station. A series of different modes of transportation (bus, plane, bus, train), transport me from Ljubljana to Girona.
SUNDAY 5:30 AM: my alarm goes off and I jump out of bed again, today I’m waking up in a bed in Girona, in the home of new friends. Yesterday I met with two alumni from my program and stayed at their beautiful, hillside, abode. It’s another early morning, but today the real journey starts. I take a sip of water, throw some instant coffee into my mug, shove a couple crackers into my mouth and walk out again into the dark. This is becoming a bit of a routine.
I walk the cobblestone streets of Girona, the dimly lit street lights guide my feet. There’s Medieval charm around every corner. It’s hard to believe that in less than six months this charming town will be my home. I meet with the rest of the team members of this project and we exchange soft spoken/half-awake ‘hello’s. Fast forward a sleepy taxi ride to Barcelona airport and we’re seated inside McDonald’s sipping on our coffees. We talk, listen, and laugh as we learn more about each other. Such a unique group of individuals and I feel grateful to be among them.
We board our plane to Oran, Algeria for a layover before our final destination, Tindouf.
Once we’re on the airplane I think about the days leading up to the trip. An insurmountable stress laid on my shoulders just before leaving that it almost feels surreal to be sitting on the plane. I had a complete fear of rejection when I sent my passport to the Algerian Embassy.As a Canadian living in Slovenia, applying for an Algerian visa through the embassy in Hungary – let’s say it was complicated. To feel so powerless about a decision that could have enormous repercussions felt both frustrating and worrying. I also felt a little bit lost with the realization that my identity was somehow tied to my passport. But here I was, on the plane, somehow trying to make sense of how I ended up here – how one conversation led to another and gave me this unique opportunity.
Touching down in Oran was a different and interesting experience. Oran is a port city in the northwest of Algeria. And Algeria is the largest country in Africa. The city isn’t a place with many explicit tourism attractions and so the experience felt very novel, exploring a place that was affected less by globalization. We hired a taxi driver for the day who, by chance, became a friend and local guide. We were open to what he suggested and the day flowed with his recommendations.
The French languages came in and out of most people’s conversations. What’s even more interesting is the French colonial-era architecture ever present the city and public buildings. There’s a very powerful feeling seeing contrasts of the architecture. The city feels both dense and expansive as we swerve through traffic – areas congested with groups of small houses, while the hilltops seem sparse and uninhabited. The sun feels warm and the air almost feels hazy. After lunch, we are shown Fort Santa Cruz, which is an Ottoman citadel rebuilt by the Spanish and sits atop a mountain (Mount Murdjandjo). The views capture stunning seaside bays below.
I am accompanied by a fellow student in the program, our professor, and a geologist. Working with geologist is such an interesting perspective – it’s like a new world opens up of explanations about earth and rock formations that characterize the landscape.
A narrow path, with wildflowers and cactus on both sides, leads us up to the fort. The reddish brown colour blends into the colour of the dirt below our feet. The path isn’t well-maintained with pieces of rock and rubble scattered everywhere. On the large, flat, cactus leaves are small engravings of people’s names and initials. It doesn’t matter where in the world, people seem to be inclined to leave their mark, ‘I was here’.
I was fascinated by the way light flowed in and out of the brick windows and door openings. The absence and presence of light evoked such different feelings. There was something very freeing about being on this fortress with no-one around us.
The landscapes of Oran are overwhelmingly beautiful. There’s a feeling of expansiveness from the top of the mountain to the bays of the sea. The houses are scattered, yet closely clustered in different parts of the city. On our way back to the airport I think about how we were welcomed by warmth, but perhaps more evidently by curiosity.
After a full day, we wait several hours in the airport until we board the flight to Tindouf, Algeria.
Goodbye Oran, you will be remembered for the first place my feet touched Africa. You will also be remembered for the blueness of your seas and the wildflowers that scattered your mountaintops.