It’s always special to see the sun rise over a place that you’ve so far only seen in darkness. This one – yet another village built from scratch – infuses a sense of eeriness. Same-looking houses stand in rows, one after the other. They are painted in beige, like the sand that surrounds them, and blue like the clear sky above. Ghostly empty. It is strange with these newly built, complete villages, with quite nice, modern houses. All are completely empty, while the shacks in the cities are all fully packed. Why build here where there is no work for people to come for; to where there is no reason to migrate, instead of building better homes in the already existing cities? The Moroccan government has some untold truths, that’s all I can conclude.
Our host is very kind, although we didn’t get the chance meet much. We were already fast asleep when he returned home at two in the morning, and we only had a quick chat before we continued cycling around nine in the morning. I slept like a baby – it was almost completely silent; almost no sound. Only the wind that howled between the empty houses.
Now when the distance is further between the houses, we always ask before leaving how far it is to the next place where we can find water, food and a place to sleep. Today, we reach petrol station Atlas Sahara, that we’d been told about in El Argoub. The station is located only a couple of kilometers south of Buerda – another one of those new but closed villages. I met Said, the caretaker there, and at the same time saw another man by one of the houses. Fou – a crazy man – Said told me when I asked who the other man was. In other words Said, just like Khalid yesterday, was by himself, in yet another ghost town along the Atlantic route.
At the station, we knock door after door, all of them closed. Just as we consider giving up, a man opens one of them. Maybe he slept away the Ramadan hunger? He doesn’t hesitate to let us stay the night, and shows us a large, empty room. He throws in two mattresses and a pillow for us on the else naked concrete floor.
After a while, more people appear. One of them is a fisherman from a village by the coast, just a couple of kilometers westward. Another man works in the restaurant kitchen – due to open at three o’clock. There is also a small shop, with an unusually large stock of products – even actual toilet paper on rolls as opposed to the usual packages of paper tissues.
The restaurant’s kitchen is – here like at most other stations that we’ve passed – free for us to use. We make some pasta for lunch, that we eat in the cafeteria outside.
The station is a bustling rendezvous along a road where such places are scarce. Every time someone comes to fill up at the station, the staff first has to switch on a roaring generator for the pumps to work. During the time that takes, the passersby and the staff get the time to chat – everybody knows eachother. Around five, three police officers arrive in a small jeep to set up a checkpoint for the night. We buy some harira and a boiled egg for dinner. The cops give us fish, tea and cookies.
In the evening, I sit with the policemen in the restaurant. We watch some soap opera on TV, although it is in Arabic so I don’t understand much. We start talking; I ask them about bribes. They answer that it only occurs south of Sahara, but then that is how it sounds in most countries: “further south, but not here.” We then discuss ethnicities – a common topic. In the North, it usually is about whether one is Berber or Arab, but here in the South also Sahrawi. Most Moroccans seem to show pride over their ethnicity, but the policeman I speak with says, “It mixes now, and because we marry with Europeans, it is not a problem if an Arab marries a Berber and so forth. We mix!” He himself is Arab and works 1,900 km away from his family in the North. “Yes, it is far,” he says, with some resignation in his voice.