The Question of Western Sahara
Petitioner: Janet Lenz
Honorary Saharawi Citizen
I was introduced to the Saharawi people in the refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria in 1999. To say that they have changed my life is an understatement. What I have experienced firsthand with the people in the camps has made it impossible to move through my days without the echo of their lives and words being ever present.
As we sit here today, in a clean, comfortable room, discussing their future, the Saharawi are likely in their tents, appreciating the cool, evening air. Or perhaps circled around a small fire under the stars, quietly sharing news or stories of the day over their sweet, hot tea..
As we sit here in comfortable chairs with climate-controlled air, they are likely in their tents, on the ground, hopefully finding a reprieve from the day’s heat. It’s the “month of the flies” now…adding to the scene.
We sit here today discussing their future with clean, bottled water to sip. The Saharawi are quenching their thirst with water collected from a neighborhood container from which all the neighbors had dipped their buckets to carry back to their tents.
We made our individual journeys to this building, riding in vehicles that were clean and comfortable…streets paved and well-marked. In the camps, walking through the sands with worn, open sandals or old boots is tough. If a vehicle is available, it is likely old, and coated with sandy dust inside and out, its passengers jolting along because the shock-absorbers wore out long ago.
As we sit here today discussing the present and future of the Saharawi people, there is
an array of delicious food outside the doors of this room. Each of us has the freedom to choose whatever we like. There will be plenty available. We have the money in our pockets to buy and eat. For most of us, it’s a part of life that we rarely have to think about. But in the camps, couscous, rice and beans are the usual. It’s cheap and can make the long desert journey in trucks to the refugee camps.
We sit here wearing clothes and shoes of our choice. . .able to change our outfits easily. In the camps, clothes are shared, and often come in containers from far away places where they’d already been worn.
We came here today of our own free will, from states, cities, and nations where we chose to live. The Saharawi dream of and desperately long for their rightful, beloved homeland, where their memories were created for generations. It’s where the stories of their parents, grandparents, and their own memories originated. It’s where their history was written.
But it’s been taken from them.
As we sit here today, discussing the future of the Saharawi people….the Saharawi nation, they long for a seemingly impossible dream: The ability to live freely in their own homeland, where their history took place…the land from which their family stories were passed down; their homeland by the sea, the memories, traditions, and their history. The older generation remembers the smell of the sea, the same ocean waters that touch the shoreline of this city.
We sit in this room today discussing “The Question of Western Sahara.” For every Saharawi on this planet, in their heart of hearts, there is no “Question” about it.
ASK THEM! Give them the promised Referendum.