Monday, 28 September 2009

Event: "The Wall of Shame"

"The Wall of Shame": the story of a forgotten refugee nation

Top athlete Salah Amaidane visits the UK this month. On the occasion of his visit, Sandblast hosts an evening in Brighton to give everyone the opportunity to meet Salah and learn about his experiences as a political refugee living apart from his family and his people in order to raise awareness for his people's plight.

The short films "Children of the Clouds" and "Deserted" will be showcased as documentaries that capture the Saharawi experience both in the refugee camps and in the occpuied territories, on both sides of the Wall.

Guest speakers: Saharawi political refugee and global medalist runner Salah Amaidane and charity director Danielle Smith.

Date: October 8th
Time: 7.30pm - 10pm

Latest MusicBar, 14-17 Manchester Street, Brighton

Price: Free (£3 suggested donation)

Are you on Facebook? Join the event.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

"See How Much I Love You": An Opinion

My reading of Leante's novel had several reasons, one of them being that my boss suggested it and another that Sandblast's director Danielle Smith contributed the historio-political epilogue to complement the novel.

I spent three quiet days reading this love story. Could barely put it down to spend some precious moments with my family who I visited. Admittedly, it wouldn't have caught my attention if Danielle hadn't suggested it to me. Its title that so readily resembles an addition to the “light romance” section, wouldn't usually have caught my eye.

After having read numerous journal articles and textbooks for a long, LONG time, a novel was a welcome alternative. Especially a novel that drew me into its plot from page one:

"When Montse and Santiago meet as teenagers in 70s Barcelona they have little idea where their summer romance will lead.
After they break up, in spite of Montse's pregnancy, Santiago decides to spend his military service as far away from her as possible: in the Western Sahara, Spain's only African colony. There, he is one of the few Spanish soldiers to befriend the local Sahrawi people, quickly falling in love with their customs and culture. But the year is 1975 and the colony will not last much longer. Following the death of General Franco and the Spanish withdrawal, Santiago becomes caught up in the brutal war between the Sahrawi and invading Moroccan forces. He is entrusted with escorting a Sahrawi friend's family on an epic journey, hundreds of miles across the desert.
Thirty years later, Montse, now a divorced doctor living in Barcelona, sees a photo of Santiago carried by a Sahrawi patient. After discovering that he did not die in 1975 as she had been told and that he, like her, has lost both a child and a partner, she sets out to find him amongst the refugee camps of the Western Sahara, a journey that will prove to be every bit as dangerous as Santiago's so many years before." (Leantes 2009)

There is this. A love story. Between Montse, a young girl with an upper middle-class background whose path is laid out for her, and Santiago, her lover, who doesn't quite know where he belongs, who he belongs to. There is another narrative of a middle-aged doctor now in a Spanish hospital, then in the Sahara struggeling to survive. This unusual dual narrative, jumping back and fro in "then" and "now" every other chapter is slightly confusing. But it's keeping you on your toes. It urges your eyes on, your fingers to turn the pages needing to find out why and how it was and what it develops to.
Most importantly, however, Leantes embeds this love narrative in the complexities of the Western Sahara dispute. He caught the tensions between the Spanish soldiers stationed in the Western Sahara and the Saharawis; the tipping point when the Moroccan military marched into the territory; the epic journey of the Saharawis in an attempt to escape the nearing Moroccans and the napalm bombs. Well said by Gordon Parsons in the first review of "See How Much I Love You" in the Morning Star (July 22, 2009):
“This book exemplifies George Bernard Shaw's contention that it is only through fiction that facts can be made instructive or intelligible, the writer rescuing them from the chaos of their occurrence as he arranges them into a work of art”

Author: Luis Leantes
Title: See How Much I Love You
Publication date: 17 September 2009
256 pages

Monday, 14 September 2009

Press release: Exiled top athlete becomes face of 2010 Sahara charity race

Saharawi gold medallist runner Salah Hmatou Amaidane becomes the honorary figurehead for “Running the Sahara 2010” (aka the Saharamarathon), officially facilitated by UK arts and human rights charity Sandblast. This international sporting event takes place in the Saharawi refugee camps in the Algerian desert next February. Amaidane will visit the UK from Oct 7th to 21st aiming to raise the profile of “Running the Sahara”, recruit participants and find sponsors to build a Saharawi athletic team in the refugee camps to compete internationally. 

He will be available for interviews and be key speaking amongst others at the following events:
•    Oct 8: “The Wall of Shame”: film and talk at Music Bar, Brighton
•    Oct 9: “The story of a Freedom Runner“ talk/ film @ The City Circle, London
•    Oct 11: Film and talk at Esporta Health club in Swiss Cottage, London
•    Oct 16: Film and talk at Caravanserai in Ladbroke Grove, London
•    Oct 18: Amaidane takes part in the Wimbledon 10k, London
•    Oct 19: Film and talk at InSpiral Lounge at Camden Lock, London
•    Oct 20: Testimony at meeting with All Party Parliament Group on WS

Biography: Salah Hmatou Amaidane
Amaidane is a political refugee from Western Sahara in France. He has dedicated most of his sports career to running for the freedom of his people and homeland, occupied by Morocco since 1975. For his athletic and political aspirations, Amaidane has endured physical and emotional hardships: most recently a brutal attack by two Moroccan men in the Pyrenees while he was training alongside Paula Radcliffe.

26-year old Amaidane began his athletic career in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara at age 12, when he was recruited to Morocco’s junior running team. Early in his career he displayed an exceptional ability to run and win over a wide range of distances from 1500m to 10km. By 1999 he was the triple champion for Morocco for cross-country racing and the second champion of Africa (5000m). Despite his remarkable record, it did not protect Amaidane when he joined peaceful protests against the Moroccan occupation. His family home was repeatedly raided. He was blindfolded, taken to prison, interrogated, threatened and humiliated.

Amaidane got political asylum in 2003 after he led an 8-km race in France and waved the Saharawi flag for the last remaining 200m. Alongside other exiled Saharawis, Amaidane has joined an UN-sponsored programme to reunite Saharawi families separated by the occupation and the 2,500km long land-mined Berm dividing the Western Sahara.

Running the Sahara will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2010. In 2009, 450 people came from all over the world, including 24 from the UK to participate in 5km, 10km, half marathon or full marathon races. Participants are hosted by a Saharawi refugee family during their stay in the camps near Tindouf in SW Algeria.
For the 2010, Sandblast, aims to recruit 100 people and hopes to raise enough funds to set up a professional mobile recording studio in the camps and train Saharawis to run it.

Aziza Brahim in concert

AZIZA BRAHIM at The 7th London African Music Festival
When: Saturday 12th September | Queen Elizabeth Hall | 7.30pm |
Where: Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX
Born in a refugee camp in Algeria , she grew up in Cuba and now resides in Spain . She embodies the new voice of the Saharawis in their fight for independence. Her songs evoke the sorrows of exile and the longing for freedom. She combines all these global influences to create spine tingling music. Aziza is leading a cracking band that drops Latin rhythms alongside desert blues without missing a beat.
Cathrin's perspective: Not knowing what exactly to expect (true, I could have checked her MySpace page or YouTube for that matter), I was more than pleasantly surprised when Aziza introduced her first song in Spanish to us. Her voice is unique and strong; her appearance gentle and authoritative at the same time. Since my Spanish skills are close to none, I was glad to hear one of the lead guitarists to (very charmingly) translate not only Aziza's words but also the meaning she tried to make understood. Spanish accoustic guitars matched with various North African drums entertained us for one and a half hours, setting the mood to celebrate the Sahrawi cultural identity, the fears and pains of the refugees, and the hope of the Sahrawis to eventually return to their Motherland.

For more information:

If you missed it, this is Aziza Brahim with Hijo de las Nubes (Source: YouTube)

Friday, 11 September 2009

FEATURE #2 "September 7th Vigil for Oxford Six"

"September 7th Vigil: the ongoing tragedy of the Oxford Six”

As part of the DESERTED event last week Monday, we remembered 17 years of ceasefire between the Moroccan military and the POLISARIO Front. Imposed by the United Nations and reinforced by the UN-delegated MINURSO, the ceasefire was supposed to put a hold onto the 16 years of violence between the two parties and allow the time and space to develop a resolution of the dispute.

Seventeen years later, there cannot be talk about peace and end of violence. In recent years, human rights violations and abuses have become public (to those who went looking): beatings, random abductions, detentions, rapes and disappearances.

More recently, on the occasion of Talk Together, a youth exchange programme in Oxford, a group of six Sahrawi students aged between 16 and 24 were about the board the plane to the UK to participate in these talks, when they were stopped and detained, questioned and held for 36 hours. Reports reached us about repeated beatings, abductions, threats made to the students and their families.

On September 7th, in solidarity with the "Oxford Six" and the Sahrawi refugees, we lit six floating candles and set them off along the canal of Camden Lock.

FEATURE #1 "Florie Salnot"

Florie Salnot, or when discarded plastic bottles become fashion items

DESERTED on September 7th did not only showcase two important documentaries on the Western Sahara issue, the Saharamarathon 2009, but also "Plastic Bottle Project", a film clip made by Florie Salnot on the jewellery-making workshop she guided in the Sahrawi camps.

Florie Salnot and the plastic bottles she used in her workshops (c) by Olivia Mann

Florie Salnot, an MA student and fashion artist, introduced her jewellery-making workshop in the Sahrawi refugee camps and presented the jewellery results thereof with a wonderful documentary (see below), the "real things" and a personal testimonial that warmed everyone's hearts.

Florie did a postgraduate degree at the Royal College of Arts when she dediced to do a design project in the Sahrawi refugee camps by producing jewellery with little resources but greatly empowering consequences.

Sponsored by the Sandblast-founded Saharawi Artist Fund (SAF), Florie travelled to the refugee camps in Dakhla for three weeks in April 2009 to teach a group of Saharawi women to produce unique pieces of jewellery out of plastic bottles and hot sand. By using and recycling the discarded plastic bottles and forming them with hot sand into delicate pendants and earrings, Florie aims to give the Sahrawi women the possibility to express themselves artistically, to empower them economically, and to strengthen their cultural identity.
In the long run, these pieces will be exported from the camps and sold to generate a source of income for the Sahrawi.

As a key feature of the DESERTED event, Florie told the audience a wonderful little anecdote from her experience in the camps with the Sahrawi women:

"During my workshop in Dakhla, the most rewarding was to see the Saharawi women becoming gradually proud of their work. One day, in the workshop, we realised that one of the best piece of jewellery had been stolen. It was a really nice piece with red and yellow flowers which really impressed everyone. As for me, I was furious. The Saharawi women reacted differently, they just laugh at it. When I asked why, they explained that they were happy to see how their work was so much appreciated that it could be stolen."

Watch the short documentary Florie Salnot produced to introduce her jewellery-making workshop in the Sahrawi refugee camps in SW Algeria.

"Plastic bottle project" by Florie Salnot (Source: YouTube)

DESERTED - the story of a forgotten refugee nation

“DESERTED - a story of a forgotten refugee nation”: A Review

On September 7th, the Inspiral Lounge at Camden Lock thankfully provided the venue for our first September event in an effort to raise awareness for not only the Western Sahara issue but, more importantly, for the Saharamarathon 2010. As one of many events over the next three months, we want to reach as many people as possible to inform as well as solicit the registration for the Saharamarathon next February 2010 (for more information on upcoming events, check DON'T MISS THIS).

As part of the evening, three short films were showcased to introduce both the refugee situation with the documentary “DESERTED”, Florie Salnot's jewellery project , and an account of the Saharamarathon 2009.

Danielle Smith, founding director of Sandblast ((c) by Olivia Mann)

Accompanied and introduced by Danielle Smith, founding director of Sandblast, runners from the marathon in February 2009 shared the experiences, worries and personal stories with the audience: “the Sahrawi are hands-down the most hospitable people I've ever encountered” and “if you run, walk, or cheer, this experience is bound to change your perspective” are only a few of many testimonials shared by Gert, George, and many others.

We left Monday night with a notion of achievement and pockets full of names and numbers of those interested in learning more about the Saharamarathon 2010. If you find yourself wondering and wanting to join in, visit us at the upcoming events (see DON'T MISS THIS), contact us via email to , or comment on this post.

For more information: