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Flavia Bevilacqua (Emmaus Stockholm) interviews Brahim Ahmed Sidi (Bubisher)
“Water, thou hast no taste, no color, no odor; canst not be defined, art relished while ever mysterious. Not necessary to life, but rather life itself, thou fillest us with a gratification that exceeds the delight of the senses. By thy might, there return into us treasures that we had abandoned. By thy grace, there are released in us all the dried-up runnels of our heart. Of the riches that exist in the world, thou art the rarest and also the most delicate – thou so pure within the bowels of the earth! A man may die of thirst lying beside a magnesian spring. He may die within reach of a salt lake. He may die though he hold in his hand a jug of dew, if it be inhabited by evil salts. For thou, water, art a proud divinity, allowing no alteration, no foreignness in thy being. And the joy that thou spreadest is an infinitely simple joy.”Lost in the desert, due to a failure of his plane, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry risked dying of thirst because of the lack of a simple and essential good to which he dedicated this brief and meaningful reflection, in his novel “Wind, Sand and Stars”.
Just as with water, we lack the awareness of other everyday goods we use, of the complex of conditions necessary to guarantee its peaceful enjoyment. Freedom, rights, democracy are no less vital than nourishment for a mature society. Yet, surprisingly, only a small part of the world’s population is provided with them. The majority of humans have a very limited share of them, while too many are still almost completely without them.
In the face of these shortcomings, culture and education must intervene, stimulating the development of a civil society and a critical spirit.
Brahim Ahmed Sidi is 30 years old and comes from one of the Saharawi refugee camps. He has been the coordinator of the Bubisher library in the camps for 5 years, in the framework of a cultural project born about fifteen years ago among the tents of these camps.
Hello Brahim! It is a great pleasure to meet you, thank you very much for your availability. Can you explain me the story of the Bubisher project?
Nice to meet you. Bubisher is a project named after a bird that has a long history in the oral tradition of my people. According to the Saharawi, when this bird rests on a khaima (= “tent”), it is a sign of good luck or announces the return of a loved one.
The project started in 2008 in the Smara camp from an initiative of some Spanish and Saharawi writers. It started only with a bibliobus, which moved through schools and neighborhoods.
The project today consists of a network of libraries located in all the camps funded by people from Spain: schools, teachers, librarians, associations, etc. It is composed of two groups, a Saharawi group that manages the libraries, bibliobuses and maintenance in the camps and another Spanish group that promotes the project in Spain to raise funds.
Its activities are aimed at encouraging reading among Sahrawis, especially young people, to help strengthen the Spanish language as a second language. It also seeks to create a recreational space for children and an archive of Saharawi culture and tradition. Every month, writers and volunteer artists from different countries come to participate in the camps. More details can be found on BUBISHER.ORG
Would you like to tell me one of the most beautiful and exciting moments for you in the realization of this project?
As you can imagine, there are not many expectations in projects involving libraries, which are increasingly abandoned by young people and children in this world of technology. When they told me about it and offered me the position of coordinator, I didn’t think it would work.
However, one day something happened to me that I will never forget.
It was an unbearably hot day, not even the goats were moved by the heat. I had left home and when I arrived at the library, I found nine children sitting in the sun. They were waiting for me and there was still an hour before the opening. I almost cried.
When I asked them why they arrived so early, even sitting under the sun, one of them said to me: “We don’t like khaimas anymore, we are happier here…”.
And since then, I have tried to give everything I could, even more…
When you work with children and especially when you live in two different worlds, there are always emotional moments.
You moved me, I got a thrill. What you just told me and, in general, the information you gave me about the project make me think that the youth have a very important place in this initiative.
Can you give me some examples of activities or workshops organized for the children?
In any country, children are the pillars of the next generation and even more so in a refugee camp, where everything depends on youth initiatives. Unfortunately, you don’t always find the support or the materials to carry out initiatives. As far as activities are concerned, there are workshops on theatre, poetry, handicrafts, book clubs, cultural exchanges with other countries, in particular with Spain and Latin America.
Then, there are jobs or sports programs with the Ministry of Sport and especially with the regional directorates of each field. More or less this. Besides, of course, lending books in schools and neighborhoods to adults and children.
I have understood everything. And how did the older generations react to the idea of Bubisher? And, in general, do they support your activities?
At first not much, but thanks to the commitment of the young people running the project, the activities and how comfortable the children felt in learning, the project was accepted in its entirety. Now it is present in almost every camp. The last one was inaugurated in Auserd last month. In El Aaiún, one of the camps, there is one made by a Valencian group, I think, but it is not Bubisher’s and it is old and not usable, in fact we are trying to add it to the project and renew it.
There are elderly people who come to lend books to their children. In summer, when young people who study in Algeria come back here, they lend books to read and learn languages.
This is the only project within the camps that could continue to grow and help both the population and the Saharawi cause.
I too think that a good cultural project can really make a difference in spreading and respecting human rights, in creating concrete conditions for the development and self-determination of an oppressed people.
“Those who do not read, at the age of 70, will have lived one life: their own. Whoever reads will have lived 5,000 years: he was there when Cain killed Abel, when Renzo married Lucia, when Leopardi admired infinity… because reading is immortality in reverse”.
Umberto Eco was a semiologist, philosopher, writer, translator, Italian academic, one of the greatest contemporary intellectuals. I quote this phrase because, in my opinion, it well represents the idea of the pages of books as wings, the power to overcome real and imaginary limits.
What is the role that a library, in your opinion, can play in a situation like that of its people, where borders have unfortunately conditioned your life for almost 50 years?
When the authorities, families and the environment have nothing to offer, the libraries of some camps are everything: a paradise for families, a guide for the authorities and a nest for children, where they can be protected.
The role of the libraries is to fill that space that every child needs, to teach young people that there is much more than this, that with education they can break down the strongest walls.
Their role is to balance the development of people in general.
We have seen refugee camps and countries where there is no education and development is very unbalanced.
I agree. I believe that education is the essential tool to fight growing frustration (as far as possible), to change the system without devastating it.
Longing for home
Brahim comes from Smara camp, that is within an hour’s drive of the city of Tindouf. When he was 11 years old, he went on holiday to Spain, as many Sahrawi children often do. I am curious to ask him more about Spain, a country to which, willingly or not, he is linked (he was a Spanish teacher for 6 years). I would also like to understand better the meaning of the stateless condition, in its most emotional and cultural sense.
These are delicate and controversial issues, considering the attitude of the international community towards the Sahrawi people and the difficult conditions in which they have lived for almost fifty years now.
If I understand correctly, when you were 11 years old you went on holiday to Spain, is that correct?
Yes, I did… In a program called ” Peaceful Holidays”.
Every summer the children go to Spain, Italy, France…
I went there in 2002, at that time I was 11 years old and I stayed because of sight problems. And I ended up studying there for 10 years.
I would like to know a couple of things. First, I would like to have a clearer idea of your people’s cultural relationship with Spain.
The truth is that there is no cultural relationship. Spain, however helpful it may be, has been and still is responsible for our situation and our liberation is in its hands. It is a relationship of colonialism rather than cultural. And at the roots of that colonialism, Spanish has remained the second language of the Sahrawi people.
We have more to teach them than they teach us.
The surprising thing is that so far, they have not yet recognized the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.
It is a thorny situation and the attitude of the international community is difficult to frame and understand.
That’s right. It is a very complicated issue, even though it could be resolved if the United Nations took responsibility for organizing a referendum on self-determination so that the Sahrawi people can decide their own future.
But, simple as it may be, the United Nations, Morocco and its allies know that Morocco would lose out.
The countries, do not have a clear idea, their attitude varies every year. Our position in the African Union is very weak and time is passing.
Young people no longer believe in a peaceful solution and no longer trust any political offers. They have got tired of waiting without good reason. Even the older people, who have experienced war and have known pain and loss, can no longer bear it. They can no longer see their children and grandchildren lost on an endless road, with no future. They want to see them in their own land and happy.
It is very difficult to convince people to adopt a peaceful solution.
Unfortunately, it is understandable that a static and exhausting waiting situation like yours provokes the temptation among young people to return to armed conflict.
Exactly. The peaceful speeches are exhausted and there is no sign that the world is interested or is doing something about it and this is a danger because at any moment young people can do something difficult to correct.
There are demonstrations in all camps and in the illegal breach of Guerguerat…
The worst enemy of young people is having time and not knowing what to use it for. In the camps, with the speed with which this world advances, life is impossible.
Aid has decreased by more than 60%, there are no jobs, there are no outlets, and it is difficult to stablish a family. All this, leads to great dangers.
Most people try to make the best use of their time with civil aid associations, the creation of sports clubs, etc. But it is useless in the middle of the desert.
Most of these initiatives are funded by foreign associations but they are very few.
It is a bitter and difficult scenario; the future looks bleak.
But perhaps, although it is probably useless in the middle of the desert, it is essential, as a last resort, to rely on education and culture.
This is the only weapon left to young people, both for the development of people and for young people themselves.
Education and sport are the only things that keep young people on the right path and alive. When I say alive, I mean feeling useful and valuing one’s life.
Many are also those who have been lucky enough to migrate and to be able to help their families and themselves. Many are those who have returned from Spain, Cuba, Algeria and are doctors, teachers in the camps.
The government authorities try to do everything possible to offer work to young people, but it is difficult and most of them end up in the army at a young age and it is very dangerous.
It gets very difficult to convince the majority of young people of their important role in development and peaceful struggle.
I always say that if it were not for religion or the fact of being a peaceful people in itself or the social union that exists, it would be very difficult to endure all these years. However, generations are different, and nothing remains the same forever.
During these weeks of work at Emmaus Stockholm, I have studied the history of your country and I have wondered in particular about the situation of young people.
I think that many children, like you, go abroad. I imagine that when they come home, it is natural that they ask themselves questions about their situation.
I wish, you would explain to me more about the bond, the love that a person can feel for his or her distant homeland, or even for a distant homeland where he or she has never lived. I would like to try to understand the concept of “home” for a person in exile.
The truth is that it is something very difficult to explain. As you say, I was a child in Spain, and I lived almost half my life in a completely different environment.
I had everything, but everything was insignificant in my eyes. I couldn’t see my happiness in it.
You don’t feel good either inside or outside the house and you are surrounded by beautiful landscapes and different foods.
I don’t know if it is our way of life, if it is religion, or the union of family and society, but whatever it is, it is incomparable with everything that exists.
In Spain I was with a family of only three people. The mother, daughter and son. I was treated really well, but as the years went by, I was more and more unhappy. At the end I decided to leave.
And not only me.
Your relationship with your country depends on your relationship with your family and your society. It is like a shield that makes you forget everything else.
Maybe if I had been born in other conditions, I would have another notion of it, but thank Allah that there is no such thing.
As far as our relationship with the occupied land is concerned, it is the same: having these feelings towards our families, we know that our parents and grandparents have the same feelings towards the remains of their relatives left in the occupied Sahara and their homeland.
I think I understand what you are saying, as far as I can. I have finished my questions; do you have anything to add?
Yes, I do… That all this, does not so much depend on the land or the houses, but on who lives there.
Many people have countries and leave them; many have what they dream about and remain empty. Certainly, the ornament of this worldly life are the families, and what color are the houses if those who live there leave us?.
It is very beautiful what you said. It gives me a lot to think.
I hope I have been useful to you. Whatever you need… we are here.
Thank you again for your kindness and availability. Talking to you was a precious opportunity, as well as a pleasure. Your answers were clear, stimulating and really touching. I wish you good luck!
It was a pleasure talking to you too! Thank you! Good luck with everything.