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Day 15: Smara Refugee Camp

Michael Palin - SaharaWe walk down the main street, where the shops are little more than makeshift stalls, fashioned from branches hung with whatever coverings can be found. This results in some bizarre combinations: a shack entirely covered by an ancient German wall map of South East Asia, another dominated by a poster of a Cuban beach resort. Out front are small amounts of oranges and onions, car tyres, clothes, a few plastic buckets. A butcher's shop has a dismembered camel carcass on the floor and, outside, on the ground in front of the shop, is its head, complete and looking strangely serene.

This evening, as a fat full moon rises over the camp, Bachir's wife Krikiba produces a meal for all of us and her family, cooked, as far as I can see, on one primus stove on the mud floor of a tiny kitchen.

We slip our shoes off and enter the tent. A white strip light, powered by electricity from a solar panel, casts a harsh glare. There are no chairs, and, unable to lounge and eat with nomadic nimbleness, we contort ourselves awkwardly on the mats, carpets and cushions, providing a continuing source of entertainment for family, relatives and neighbours as we tuck into camel casserole and rice. This is the first time I've knowingly eaten camel. The meat has a slightly sweet flavour, more like mutton than beef, and I can't stop myself wondering if any of this was ever attached to the head I saw in the market, with its inscrutable Mona Lisa smile.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 15
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Smara Refugee Camp
  • Book page no: 63

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