Thursday, 28 April 2011

Avignon, He Was Only Born In 1989

We drive into Avignon, and for the first time I notice the route is beautiful. I've never seen this view before. The first two times I visited Avignon was by train. The next time I fell asleep in the car. This time we drove along roads through rock cliffs, vineyards, and the Rhone river.

Mostapha is there, with Hossam and three other friends and relatives, also Sahrawi. Five people in the small, one bedroom flat. They've moved things around in the flat, cleaned the place up. Walls are re-wallpapered,
the bathroom's been repainted. Even with so many people in the flat, Mostapha insists we stay with them overnight. But we decline, deciding instead to get a hotel room, it would be more comfortable for everyone. The window of our hotel room faces the medieval walls of Avignon. As we drive through the old town in the afternoon, in the sun, it looks appealing to me in a way it hasn't looked before.

Mostapha tells me the news of his application - he was successful in his first interview for political asylum, now he's been given three months here. Then he applies again for the next round of paperwork, a residency. In our long interview, I ask him awkward questions about the difficult choices he's made in his life. Choices he was forced into it. He gave so much but never got anything in return. That kind of situation can force us to make choices out of desperation. Mostapha is only a year older than me.

He talks about his father, and his father's illness. This is why he came to France. Not for himself but for his family. "I'm scared more for my family than for myself" he tells me. "I'm scared for Salah."He wants to bring them all over to France here even though this exact moment - with this wave of rebellions in the Arab World - offers a real chance for something to change in Western Sahara. Now, Mostapha says, the Sahrawi could really take advantage of the current climate and attack. He would be willing to die for independence, he says. A revolution will take lives, there's no way around it. No way to avoid it. If you want your freedom, you don't sit around waiting for it. You have to go out and fight for it. And be willing to die for it.

It seems strange coming from him. He doesn't seem, to me, like someone driven by this revolutionary zeal. The fervour, the drive to die for a cause. But like he said, he's a volcano.

Each brother approaches his rage in a different way. Abacheikh was born in 1989. Do we even know how to deal with rage at 21? 22?

Look at your calendar: before the massacres in Syria and Libya, before the disgrace of Bahrain and Yemen, before the Egyptian "revolution", and the Tunisian revolution, there was the Gdim Izik camp in Western Sahara. November 2010. Salah visited the camp in its early days. Soon after he left, Gdim Izik exploded with violence and killings. His legend was assured when the Moroccan authorities said he was responsible for igniting the protest. He must have been flattered to hear that.