Please do not ask me to be silent. Allow me to breathe (16)

As on the first day of my kidnapping, my new guards appeared to be highly disciplined and alertness. The new prison also appears to have been carefully chosen, as "Jhifat Reghioua" is a harsh rocky area and its valley is deep and narrow, dense with trees, surrounded by rocks on both sides.

There was no contact between me and the new jailers before that evening, when one of their cars stopped near the new tent-cell, and they asked me to hop in. I got into their convertible SUV with two guards in the back and they drove towards the headquarters of the Fourth Military District, where I found the investigative judge waiting for me.


The meeting was short as he only came to show me their listed lawyers in order to choose one of them to defend me. I repeated to him what I said in the first session that I had entrusted my in-law “Al-Bashir Ould Sayed Hammadi” to choose a lawyer as I would not know which of them is busy or available from where I was. By the way, I told him that they had built the prison they had promised him, my new prison was called “Jhifa” Valley and my cell was no longer a tree but rather a tent, praise be to God. 

The session ended, so we can go back to Jhifa valley, which I feel embarrassed to call a prison but the front made it so.


In the new prison, after dinner, one of the guards responsible for communicating with me came and spread his bed near the tent door, while the rest of the guards took turns guarding the perimeter of the tent at a rate of an hour and a half or two hours per shift. I could hear the sound of their footfalls whenever the shift changed and notice the flashlight of the new guard who would check the tent and if I were still in it or not.


At the end of the second day, the guards were surprised that one of the Bedouins entered the detention center without prior warning. Neither he or they realised it until he was in the middle of the valley. Some soldiers rushed to him and got him out of the valley. Then they came back to me and asked me to get out of the tent. They dismantled it in a few minutes. We got into the cars and left to another side of the same valley near the mountains where they set up the mobile cell again.

We moved twice after that, before the prison settled in the "Lamtelini" valley near “Al-Akla”, which is a place in the valley that has only one entrance, surrounded by hills and easy to monitor.


At this stage, I recorded only one incident that occurred around 4 am on one of the long winter nights during the exchange of guards. The new guard was advancing, pointing a flashlight in his hand towards the entrance of the tent where I was sitting unable to sleep. I asked him to direct his lamp away from my face and he refused. I repeated my request twice and he rejected both. I asked him to call his commander but he also refused. Then I got dressed and got out of the tent and told him to tell his commander that I am leaving this place immediately.

Some of the guards heard the commotion and woke up their commander who came quickly to understand the matter. I told him, if you think I am here because you are guarding me then you must tie me to the trunk of the tree next to the tent, otherwise I am leaving immediately.

The prison commander apologized to me for what happened and said that when he was assigned to guard me, the commander of the front gendarmerie told him that their mission is to secure me no more no less. Whether I was going to be killed or offered a trip to Mecca was not their issue. Whoever of the soldiers with him makes a mistake, no matter how simple his mistake was, would immediately return to “Rabouni” and that one soldier who violated the orders will be sent back to the camps the next morning.


I accepted his apology and requested that his soldiers adhere to the limits of decency and treat me with the respect that I reciprocate. My problem is not with you and I know that you are soldiers following orders. I went back to my tent and my monotonous diaries, isolated in the middle of a valley and unaware of what was going on meters away from me, let alone what God made of my children and my mother, about whom I have not known anything for nearly 20 days.


I learned from the first days of isolation that one should not leave room for emptiness, that one has to get busy and have a carefully controlled daily schedule that covers the whole day, so that one does not suffer from insomnia and become exhausted with obsessions. You have to occupy your body and soul with everything you do, even if you light some sticks on the tea fire, like carefully selecting the sticks and distinguishing green ones from dry ones, which to put first and which to delaye, so that preparing morning tea occupies at least an hour of your time. After that, comes the time to memorize the Qur’an. I used to force myself to memorize one eighth per day and it would take two to three hours between memorizing and reviewing. Then comes the time for exercise for about half an hour, followed by rest, lunch and naps, which should not be prolonged to avoid insomnia at night. Next an hour of tea drinking, then an hour of walking and observing things around me. After the sunset prayer, I get busy reciting what I have memorized from the Qur’an. Until dinner time, then off to bed.


In spite of that, emptiness was fatal, the silence was terrible. Was it not that I was reading the Qur’an aloud, I would have died of boredom.

I had to not give in to frustration, for when you are thrown alone in isolation among the trees, unseen and not seeing, they want you to feel neglected and feel the nothingness they want you to be.

It was my feeling of injustice that motivated me to remain standing patiently in the face of a jailer, dealing with me from behind walls, ashamed of appearing in front of me. I was certain they would soon reveal their face, after they had exhausted all their tricks.


The story continues....


 Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud is a former police chief of the Polisario Front, and political dissident.