In Laayoune, we first went to the bank to try and exchange money, but without success. Luckily the ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) worked. We then stopped at a mechanics shop to check the gearbox fluid and other things. Everything checked out ok, however. One Landcruiser leaks a little engine oil, probably at the rear main seal. That’s all. Looks like we’re going to make it.

With the car at the mechanic, I went searching for Internet on a side street. Didn’t find any, but an Arab that I had met at the bank invited all of us for tea. He was brownskinned with a short white well groomed beard. He lived in a very basic old building in an apartment on the second floor. He spoke fluent Spanish and here’s our conversation (condensed & translated):

“My name is Sidate Musbah. I am sixty-two years old and have lived in Laayoune all my life. Actually, I have barely ever left the city. This is my home. The reason I know Spanish although it is over thirty years since the Spaniards left is that I grew up speaking Spanish and Arab. Most older people here speak Spanish. Now we have an influx of French-speaking Moroccans that we don’t like. This is our country and we want to govern it ourselves. We didn’t like the Spaniards and we don’t like the Moroccans. This is West Sahara, it is our country.

If I belong to Polisario? No, I never fought with arms in hand. But here is my son, he is a guerillero. He even went to Cuba to study under Fidel for nine years. (His son enters the room, kneels before his father with his head to the floor, then kisses his father on the forehead.) How many children I have? Fourteen. I have been married thirteen times. A man can have four wives at the same time under our law, the Koran. Three white and one black. The black one can come from any place, Senegal, Chad, it doesn’t matter. Now I am looking for a younger wife, this one is getting too old! (He points to his wife making tea in the corner, and they both look lovingly on each other).

My profession? I am a jefe. I am the head of my extended family. Not a big jefe, mind you, just a small one. What I do as a jefe? Not much. I know a lot of people. That’s all. I don’t need to do much.

I used to smoke four packs of cigarettes a day all my life. Three in the day and one at night. Last year, I almost died from my lungs and had to give it up. I lost all my teeth, look!”

By now we had spent an hour and it was time to go. We were invited for lunch both at Sidates and his son’s place, but said we looked forward to it the next time. Insha’Allah.

Watch out for the mechanic, Sidate said. They’re all thieves, the Moroccans.

I left thinking about Sidate and his way of life. On the one hand, his values are totally different from ours. On the other, he has had a good life without ever having to do manual labour. He has had love and given love, now with three wives. They respect him and obey his wishes. He has many children, and they respect him deeply, almost to the point of reverence. Isn’t he living the dream of many Western men?