Monday, 2 February 2015

Meal 43. Sahrawi Couscous

This meal is the most "political" meal I have had during the whole project. The nationality "Sahrawi" probably won't ring a bell for most people. It is the term used by/for refugees from the Western Sahara territory. This is a huge chunk of Morocco; on some maps it will have a different color. After Spain left Morocco in 1975, control of the Western Sahara has been disputed by Mauritania, the Moroccan government and Frente Polisario, who want independence for the region.

And it is the representative for Polisario in the Netherlands, Ali, who will be making couscous for me tonight. I was introduced to him by a friend of mine, who got a visa from him to visit the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria. It is very interesting to meet someone whose life has been influenced so strongly by the politics of his home country. He had just been studying medicine in Spain for three years when he was called back in the mid seventies to help his country fight the Moroccan rule. He mostly served by running the Red Cross and remembers the period as very difficult. There was a lot of fighting then, guerilla warfare with a lot of people getting hurt or killed. Polisario formed a kind of government in exile of the Sahrawi refugee population in Algeria. Ali was their minister of education for a while and tells me about many young Sahrawi being educated in Cuba. Mostly as doctors and as teachers. They shared the language and the common past as Spanish colonies.
Ali has had many different "nationalities", as the Sahrawi passport is only recognized in certain countries and he has to be able to travel freely to represent Polisario. At the moment, he is officially Spanish.

During the preparations for the meal, we speak about the past and present of his country and I am impressed by his gentle spirit. His attitude seems to be a mix of sadness, frustration, determination and hope. The fight for independence has been going on for so long now, more than 30 years. And though there has been a ceasefire and talk of a referendum since 1991, no real steps forward have been taken. It is virtually impossible for a Sahrawi to travel from the camps in Algeria to his birthplace because of the wall that has been built by the Moroccan government.

In essence, the couscous Ali is preparing is not that different from the Moroccan couscous I had earlier (see Meal 12. ). Again, the couscous is steamed twice, with a lot of attention to the "fluffing" in between, as seen at right. It is served with succulent lamb, chick peas and a multitude of vegetables. Squash, carrots, cabbage, bell peppers, tomatoes and nabos, turnips. Ali tells me that though this is a typical dish, a more unique meal is eaten in the Sahara desert. When groups of men head out into the desert for whatever reason, they will take flour, onions and meat with them. The flour is made into unleavened bread with the sand as an oven. This is served with a sauce of meat and onions on top. For the authentic experience I think I would have to travel with them into the desert! Who knows if this might happen one day, and who knows what the situation of the Western Sahara will be then...

(The original post about this meal is from May 11, 2007)

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