Laayoune, Western Sahara

  • Date
  • 7 March 2000

Sitting in the Sahara, Laayoune is dusty, sandy and slow. Life is simple and choices are not vast. Markets are small, filled with little but about the same as the shop next door. Five times a day the call to prayer fills the thick air. Men and women walk the streets draped in colorful cloth. The young people know a few English words and greet me with, “Hello, how are you?” Sometimes they ask if I am an “official” assuming I work for the UN – hundreds are here working on the Western Sahara referendum.

The heat and dust in the afternoon drains me – just doing nothing is tiring. I understand why people close up shop in the afternoon preferring to work morning and evening when the desert temperature is near perfect. As we walk along the streets, we stop for fresh-squeezed orange juice sold in the abundant teahouses and cafes.

Three days is too short a time to absorb the happenings of Laayoune. Riding through town, we came upon a livestock market, the size of two football fields, filled with camels and sheep. Men, without a horse and wagon or old truck, take the sheep home by holding the back two legs of the animal and walking it away on the front legs. Many pharmacies and optic stores line the wide, sandy boulevards filled on either side with Moroccan soldiers, who look like boys not men. People, young and old, smile often.