When Spanish colonial rule collapsed in 1975, Morocco and Mauritania rushed to fill the vacuum. The indigenous Sahrawis fought a losing battle, while most of the international community looked the other way. For over 30 years, nearly 200,000 Sahrawis have lived in squalid conditions in the hamada—a type of desert landscape consisting of largely barren, rocky plateaus. Summer temperatures there reach 55ºC (130ºF).
We were impressed by the humility of the Sahrawi. They are neither politically nor religiously fanatical. Their plight has been largely ignored for nearly four decades, but they are not bitter. God looks down upon them, they say, and will one day save them.
We lived with three families during our stay, and each treated us royally. The living conditions were basic—there was no running water, electricity was only from solar panels and 12-volt batteries, and the heat was almost unbearable—but the hospitality and camaraderie more than compensated. Family and greater family units were strong. No violence, crime, or drugs were evident. No noisy city traffic or construction work. The blanket of stars in the night sky was not hidden behind high-rises or obscured by the reflected glare of city lights. We had stepped back in time, where globalization and modern conveniences were nearly nonexistent, yet we were renewed and invigorated spiritually.
We laughed and danced and sang. We talked and listened. Even the days were tranquil. We had a barbeque by moonlight on the sand dunes, and sang songs together about love and peace and faith in God.
When we returned to Spain, our friends applauded us. “What a great sacrifice you made to go to those refugee camps,” they said. But we answered, “No, we were blessed!”