In this short narrative, Khalil Asmar based on true events depicts how the rich fishing coasts in Western Sahara have dried up because of Morocco’s large scale plunder together with a shameful conspiracy of European huge fleet that has resulted in putting at stake the livelihood of many Saharawi fishermen whose sole family income comes from their fishing rods; an ancestral fishing tradition is bound to get exterminated burying to the ground the life of futur generations because of a totally reckless and hideous occupation and a Europe that has sold its human principals for the greed of its fishing firms.
We set off in a late afternoon to the other side of the river wide opened to the Atlantic sea. We knew that the water had got a little warmer and that it was a sign for a good fishing night. We packed up our rods and bags, passing by the nearest shop to get the remaining supplies before we drove away to the ‘Zbeira’ beach – some 38 miles down the other side of the peninsula river. We had to be there just before the sun down.
From the cliff above and down to the beach, one could see over the other side of the river, the lights just turned on ready to illuminate the far city streets and allies. We shared the luggage, I and my friend, so as to be able to go down the cliff amid the big rocks down to the river waters. It had always been an adventure to go down that risky cliff with all that heavy load of rods and bags stuck on our backs and around our arms. A single slip could be too dangerous and definitely regrettable, but we had enough experience to get down safely. Down the beach, I set up a small tent, and started making Saharawi tea; the first thing a Saharawi is supposed to drink before heading to any kind of work, while my friend, and as usual, prepared the rods taping to them some star lights at the top so that when they caught something you would be able to spot them bending down declaring a fish catch even if you were laying down a long distance away.
Before even drinking the first cup of tea, Swallam had already cast his line, fixed his rod on a rod holder pointed down deep into the beach sand, and walked back to have a cup of tea. It got a little cold and the wind began blowing gently from the north west side of the river. It was almost dark when I cast my line connected to a double hooked line with different baits. At that fishing spot, usually fishermen caught white sea bass and sea bream fish, and that’s what made us choose that particular spot wishing to come back home with some delicious fish to make our families eat what their sea had always been able to offer.
The coasts of Western Sahara are among the richest coasts on the planet and contain some of the most valuable types and high quality fish. They say that not all fishing days are good days, and that’s probably what seemed to be the case for us during the first hours. We were around midnight and not a single fish got lured by our different baits. My friend said ‘If you want to catch fish, you have to think like fish.’ In fact, we were unsuccessful to get a single fish and that meant for him that we had to diversify our tactics so as to be able to tempt the fish to eat our baits. Nevertheless, another two hours of tempting tactics failed to bring any results, and every time my friend used a new tactic, he had to give it an explanation wishing it’d have immediate results, but in vain. It was already two o’clock in the morning and nothing came out of that river sea. I got somewhat bored and hungry and decided to relax thinking about eating something.
As I was preparing some food, there up the cliff, some men came out of a car that swerved in slow motion just at the top of the cliff. They put on the lights of their head torches and came down the cliff. It seemed that they were familiar with the secret paths between the rocky passages down to the Zbeira beach where we were fishing. We didn’t panic as it was usual to see fishermen coming in the late night for fishing or searching for a better fishing spot, and that’s what in fact made them come to our place in that late hour; they were, in fact, Sahrawi fishermen looking for a better fishing spot. They said it had been days that they were fishing into different places but they were unable to catch any fish, and that they finally had decided to come to our place wishing to find something. But these men weren’t like us, they were professional Sahrawi fishermen and fishing for them was meant as a profession. Fishing was the only source for them to make some money and feed their families. It was their job. As they came down, they quickly set up their heavily baited long rods and scattered in different places; two of them chose to cast from over the rocks while the other two seemed to prefer to cast from the sandy beach. I served them tea and lay down in the small tent to find myself the following morning amid assertive calls to wake up and have breakfast. Unaware, I had suddenly slept.
I joined them for breakfast, while the sun rays were just sneaking through the cliff rocks to provide us with some warmth. They had been fishing all the night long but still caught nothing.
‘They’ve left us with nothing’ one of them said.
‘Who are they?’ I asked yawning.
‘These bunch of Moroccans’ angrily another replied.
‘Not only Moroccans, but also this huge fleet of European and foreign fleets scattered around our seas’ my friend retorted.
‘At your age, fish used to come up the water waiting only for someone to catch it, we never had rods. We used to catch it with our bare hands just like the bears do, but that was in the old days when I was as young as you are now before we were invaded by the Moroccans. These were beautiful times’ the old man said and then proceeded, ‘Western Sahara is like the story of the stolen camel.’
‘What’s that story about?’ I asked.
‘There was a man who stole a camel he said he had found lost in the desert. He brought it up until it became ready to be sold at the market. But at the market, there suddenly appeared its owner who knew the camel from a mark he had engraved at his tail difficult to be spot. He recognized his camel and decided to call the judge. Standing before the court, the camel robber said, ‘Mr judge, this is my camel. I found it a small camel, just a very little one, lost in the desert and I rescued it. This is me who watered it, fed it, and provided it with all the welfare till it became this BIG. It’s my camel and none is allowed to take it from me.’
The judge looked at him and said astonished ‘God has created a camel to live in the desert because it can support thirst and hunger for months till its owner can find it, and usually a camel comes back by itself to its home place. A camel isn’t a cow. It’s a stolen camel and you have to give it back to its owner. Now or tomorrow, the camel can never be yours.’
We stood silent for a moment.
‘The Moroccan occupier has erased all forms of life from our seas and here we are left with nothing, and the remaining is wiped away by these unmerciful Russian and European ships. How are we supposed to live and feed our families now that it is the only source we used to have?’ another retorted.
‘Yes man, that’s a true’, my companion said ‘this fish is a poor fish and has even lost any logical sense of instinctive reasoning. Moroccan boats on every side together with foreigner ones, and the small boats of the Moroccan settlers erase all what is left. Here in Western Sahara, whatever direction the fish take, there is someone following it. The poor fish has gone mad. But here we are, the indigenous Saharawis waiting for any remaining fish to feed ourselves and our families but left to our own destinies with nothing. I’ve been trying all kinds of tactics all the night long and I couldn’t get anything.’
‘We’ve been doing our best to get anything a whole month.’ One of the fishermen said with a bitter smile, and proceeded, ‘and up to now, we still can’t get anything. The meagre amount of fish we were able to get seems as if it has finished and all what we should do guys is either to speak out or die trying.’
‘Well, for me personally, speaking out means prison and torture, horrible and
Unbelievable torture’ another retorted.
‘The only looser from all this fishing game are we, the Saharawis. Look, Moroccans get a huge profit from the fish agreement with the EU and all the rest is taken away by the Moroccan king and his high civil and army officials, and anything left it is erased unmercifully by these Moroccan settlers scattered all along our shores.’
The fishermen suddenly stood silent musing over the blue waters as if they were trying to fathom out an alternative solution to their miserable life. Desperate, and without the last farewell, they quietly packed up their luggage, went up the cliff and then disappeared. But over the remote blue waters, a monster ship was swaying.