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Settling into Boujdour: Week Two with Community Development in the Sahara

byHigh Atlas Foundation
onApril 7, 2018

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I discovered a new district called “Alkhair’ where most of the local Saharawi people live. After getting my bearings again, I finally decided to take the main avenue to return back. I prayed and did some readings. Then I went to the principal market of Boujdour city “Sawiqa”, about 1 kilometer from my apartment, to buy something for my evening breakfast for I was fasting that day. While I was preparing my food, there was a knocking at the door; it was the woman upstairs, Mammas, with her daughter Aicha. Mammas, is an Amazigh name. I rent my apartment from this family, which is a family from Ihahan near Agadir. They came to Boujdour in 1992, they were not offered a house or land for building a house by the Moroccan State, so they built their house on their own.

Mammas and Aicha, who is 18 years old and a student of Bouchra at Ennasser High School, introduced themselves. They speak Tachelhit and felt very comfortable with me when she found out that I speak it too. We talked and got to know each other a little bit, and then they left. They invited me to their house upstairs, I said next time inshallah for the evening prayer for breakfast is about to call out.

That night, many questions came to my mind. The first thing I thought of was how to most effectively start my mission in this City of Challenge. How would I accomplish conducting a series of community-wide participatory planning meetings and dialogues with different groups of local people, in this new significant critical place with a different culture and environment? It is not something easy; it is a very new experience and I’m very excited about it. I planned to see the city on foot the following day.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

While circling around the city, I discovered that all the rural commune’s offices belonging to Boujdour Province have their headquarters in the center of the city (El massid, Jrifia, and Galtat Zammour). I saw a lot of holes alongside the roads of the streets most of them vacant with no trees or plants. These holes were used to plant palm trees but, these latter were unable to adapt to the region’s climate. The only tree I saw surviving in many parts of the city is the Cuban Laurel (Ficus Retusa).

In the early afternoon I visited Mammas and her family. They were happy to see me upstairs. She invited me to join the lunch table, but I couldn’t as I was fasting. Instead, I listened to their interesting stories. Mammas’ husband, Si Mbark has a lot of experience in the Sahara region. He was a merchant and used to travel between the Southern Provinces. He knew a lot about the region’s historical transitions. He stopped working after he lost his sight from diabetes. However, he narrated a lot of important events about the camps in the nineties and the war between the Polisario and the Moroccan military.

From Si Mbark I learned that the rural communes of Boujdour Province have their headquarters here in the center of the city because most of the people working in rural areas are fishermen who come back to the city to visit their families weekly. These fishermen live in slum conditions. They are a community of boys and men. There are three fishing villages: Agti Elghazi and Ognit belong to the Elmassid rural commune (Cap 5), and Aftissat and Elkraa belong to the Jrifia rural commune (Cap 7).

Si Mbar talked about the era of camps during the nineties in Boujdour. He spoke fast, and I enjoyed listening to him speak spontaneously in an Iahahan Tachelhit accent. He said that during the nineties there goods and accommodations were provided for free by the government. People at that time took advantage of this and collected money to build a future. Now, however, there is little opportunity and employment outside of herding or fishing. I asked if women have jobs here. Mammas interrupted her husband to reply that most of the women here in Boujdour are housewives cooking and looking after their children. There are no factories or farms for women to work, and thus most are unemployed. The government will build a port, and that will provide jobs for men only. She added that there are some women's cooperatives but these can’t guarantee a stable financial income for a woman like her having four children with huge expenses.

Friday, November 16, 2012

My husband’s uncle Si Hassan came to visit me from Dakhla to provide me with all the furniture and appliances I needed. He has been in the Sahara for 30 years, where he works for a construction company. He took part in building the early camps of Dakhla city. He told the same story as Si Mbark: there had been a lot of goodness during the camp's era. He stayed with us for a little time and left for the Friday prayer called out.

I went out to the mosque, which is no more than 50 meters from my apartment for Friday prayer at 1:00 pm. It is a big mosque with a decent tower like the mosques throughout cities of Morocco, the huge space downstairs is available for men and the medium space upstairs is for women. I ascended the stairs to the room where women pray; I took off my shoes and put them on the shelf. As I entered the room, I saw four lines of women. The majority of them were wearing “mlehfa” (a wrapping cloth for the whole body used by Southern women as a special outside dress). The Imam gave a speech about “Love of Homeland is Faith”. After I finished the prayer, I stood in the line waiting for my turn to exit. While I was waiting, I observed that most of the women were overweight and wore many large golden bracelets around their wrists.

Bouchra called the small van to take us to her house for lunch. While we were sitting around the small circular table eating couscous and drinking “Zriqia”, I noticed a photo of the Moroccan King, Mohammed the Sixth wearing jelleba. After we had a nap and afternoon tea break, we came back home. Bouchra invited me to attend a seminar in celebration of World Philosophy Day, which would be held on Saturday from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm at Errachdi High School. I didn’t hesitate to accept her invitation.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bouchra was very busy drafting some papers for her afternoon school seminar in the morning. I prepared breakfast: tea, bread, jam, black olives, and Moroccan cake “Fqqas.” I yearned for olive oil. In Boujdour, it is rare when you get some on the morning breakfast table, and if you are lucky enough to get it, it does not taste like the pure bio-olive oil at home in Ait Ourir or Al Haouz in general. Before Bouchra left my house, we agreed to meet next to the building of “Drham” to go to the seminar; this building is at the center of the main avenue where the banks (Popular Bank and Tijari Wafa Bank) are situated. “Drham” is the name of a very well-known businessman in the domain of construction in the Sahara region.

I did some readings and reflected on the immediate question: “How should I start working within this chaos?”

In the afternoon, we took a small taxi to the Errachdi High School. This school is located near the administrative district where one can find Boujdour municipality, and the offices of the other rural communes of Boujdour Province: Jrifia, Elmassid, Gltat Zammour, and the police station. This school is well constructed like Enasser and Elbaqqali high schools in Boujdour. I was told that 90% of Errachdi students are Saharawi students in contrast to Ennasser High School, where most students are from immigrant communities.

During the seminar, I was neutral sitting in the back listening, and taking pictures. The seminar was animated by 10 to 12 teachers of philosophy but no student was sitting around the table of discussion, though the seminar was titled “The Philosophy and Student”. The speech was addressed to the students of high school from 15 to 18 years old. Most of the students were sitting back on the classroom tables (see the pictures). Most of the lectures were very theoretical, 95% of the time was given to the teachers and only 5% was offered to the participation of students who kept asking how-to-do questions; unfortunately, these questions were not completely answered most of them were left unanswered. This made some of the students bored and left the room of the seminar. It was a chance for me to get to know new people and new places in the city.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I woke up with a clear action plan in my mind about how to start my mission in Boujdour. After having my breakfast, I went outside to discover some new districts of the city. I noticed when wandering the streets that most of the people hung out with laundry outside their houses. Many also raised animals such as chickens, turkeys, and sometimes goats or sheep.

All the houses I saw were typically Moroccan style, “Dar Maghribia,” with entry door in the middle of the facades and windows upwards. The floors are decorated either with Zellij or colored cement coating especially grey or red.

As I was walking I tried to call Mr Abderrahim Ouarghidi, the HAF’s project Manager. I wanted to consult him about my action plan to start. I stated that I was going to call Mr. Abdelkarim, the president of the Division of the Interior Affairs at the local Government of Boujdour Province “Alaamala”. He would be able to provide me with all the information I need and also connect me with civil society leaders and all the governmental and nongovernmental agencies in the province. Mr Abderrahim had been to this Sahara region and his advice was very crucial and helpful. I called Mr. Abdelkarim to fix a meeting with him on Tuesday at 11:30 am.

One could never get lost in Boujdour because all the streets lead to the military lighthouse at the center of the city. It is the oldest building in the city built during Spanish Colonialism in the Sahara. When at shops or restaurants, I was always asked if I was from “Dakhiil” (this name is said to refer to the northern part of Morocco by the Saharawi People). They know that I’m not from Boujdour, likely because of my dress and language. I decided to purchase and try out wearing “mlehfa” to look like the local women.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My meeting with Mr. Adelkarim at his office in “Alaamala” was very important and inspiring. I learned many details about Boujdour Province’s history, economy, and society. I introduced him to the HAF participatory method of working with communities supported with some photos of the previous training the HAF team had done in some project sites. This gave him a very clear concrete view of the HAF method and goals. He appreciated that, and in his turn, he offered me some important documents of Boujdour Province’s monographs. He assured me that he would find a list of all the local associations after two or three days. He happily offered his assistance during my work in Boujdour. The meeting was a success. The opportunity for this meeting to have happened is because the Wali of Laayoune, Khalil Dkhil, and the Governor of Boujdour, Larbi Ettouijer, were introduced to this community project last month with HAF President Yossef Ben-Meir and myself. It is true, that sustainable development includes working together at all levels.