We used to live in “Medshar Arbib”, which is a neighborhood that was established in the western side of Smara by the families that had fled to the city from the valleys at the outbreak of the conflict towards the end of 1975.
In its beginning, "Arbib" in consisted of tents and some tin houses scattered in Arbib valley, then people started building concrete houses, and the neighborhood gradually transformed into a city in which a school was opened in late 1976, and a dispensary, and we began to know the aspects and life of the city.
The city of Arbib was established along the valley, which made its northern and southern outskirts relatively far apart. With it, social relations changed from family relations to neighborship, so we became residents of a southern and northern region after we were referred to as the family of so-and-so.. The children of the old camp got divided between the two sides, each side has its team and its rebels in football games that take place most of the evenings at the northern end of the neighborhood, and sometimes the kids of the two sides quarrel and the whole night of the neighborhood turns into a street war of children, which turns into morning stories we tell like it was from ancient times, it has no effect on the relationships of children brought together by school and blood and neighborship ties.
Our life was simple and normal, like all the emerging working-class neighborhoods where the past and the present wrestle and everyone struggles to secure a livelihood and achieve the best conditions for stability in an urban atmosphere drawing us to drown in the sea of its endless requirements. The life of the desert and its simplicity that characterized our early years faded away, we even had a bakery truck that took the dough of the neighborhood women in the early morning to the communal oven of Smara and brought it back in the evening cooked, we forgot the wood fire and smoke of the desert.
My brother and I were among the first children of Arbib to enroll in the school of Smara (La escuela) which was about 3 km away.
All of our school staff were from other moroccan regions, except for the principal “Ahmed Ould Lakhrif” and “Sidi Ould Buh” , the kind father figure in charge of morning breakfast.
One cold night in the fall of 1979, my brother and I finished doing some homework in the living room before we joined the rest of the family for dinner, then everyone went to bed, as we have to wake up at dawn to prepare for the 3-km trip that we walk daily to school. We had entered the second month of the fifth grade.
At dawn on October 6, 1979, we woke up to the sounds of machine guns and shells. When we went out to the foyer of the house, the stars of the sky appeared to us in total darkness, as if they were fighting each other. A wave of meteors comes from the west side and soon fades in the east, and the same scene is repeated from the east sky towards the west, sometimes it seems to us that meteors collide in the middle of the sky and disappear.
We were not new to the images of war, for in the past years and months we heard from time to time the sounds of cannons, and sometimes some shells fell in the middle of our neighborhood leaving civilian victims, but that dawn was different. For the first time, our sky turns into meteors flying in all directions, we hear the sounds of battle and we see nothing but a war of stars in the sky.
Soon we got along with the event and the horror was gone, we went out of the house to find that we were not alone watching the scene, all the neighbors were outside the houses and their eyes up watching what was happening in our skies. The children kept moving between the crowds and pointing their little fingers to this flying star and that other one, as if one of them saw what the other did not see and showed it to him.
Little by little the morning began to dawn, and with each new light, the images of the battling stars in the sky dimmed and dimmed, and the sounds of cannons and explosions approached us.
It was not too long until the first shells landed in the area of the airport standing between us and Smara, followed by other shells that set some fires in the airport. Suddenly, the shells falling from the sky seemed to retreat from the airport to reach the eastern outskirts of our neighborhood, then they began to fall between the houses, so we rushed inside to shelter in the walls from the shrapnel of the explosions. At the time, I was with a group of children near the house of our neighbors, so we entered the nearby house of Khatri Ould Muhammad Mawloud (Daddah).
Fright took over everyone in the house, some of them were reciting prayers and some were silent in a state of daze and shock at the horror of the strong continuous explosions and the shaking of the walls in which we sheltered, and the dust that was scattered over our heads with every jolt. After an hour or more, we did not feel anymore the jolts taking place, although the sounds of the shells did not stop.
I was absent-mindedly lying in a corner of one of the houses of Daddah’s relatives with my cousins, waiting for the moment when I would rush to my father and my mother in our house next door. As soon as the explosions subsided and the first people from the group I was with came out, I hurried to our house seeking shelter with my parents.
The first thing I saw when I was leaving was the iron door of our house, thrown several meters away, I turned around to find the house turned into a rubble of cement, with iron nails dangling from some of its sides and no sign of life inside.
In the meantime, I saw my cousin “Umm Al-Saad” who lives with us in the house, running and grabbing her two sons hands, Muhammad-Lamine and Muhammad-Fadhek, so I ran after them until I reached them in a sandy place where some of the neighborhood's residents gathered to escape from the bombs and the buildings that fell on the heads of anyone inside.
After we joined the gathering, some of the Front’s Land Rover vehicles arrived. Some of the soldiers came down and loaded us into the vehicles to leave the city toward the west.
The trip outside the city was all horror, as heavy bullets and bombs fell around us, scenes of burning cars and body parts and corpses of soldiers everywhere, until we reached the valley of Al-Asli and we were asked to go down and hide in the shade of trees.
I remember sitting with some women and children under a tree. I do not remember what was in my mind at the time. All I know is that I do not see any of my family members near me, that I am far from home, and that the last pictures I saw are pictures of burned cars and corpses scattered along the road.
Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by the shadow of a woman standing between me and the branches of the tree. I raised my head to find my mother reaching out her hands to hug me as if she had not seen me for a long time.
I felt her holding me to her and mumbling in a hoarse voice some words that I could not discern. I stared at her in the hope that I could hear something of what she was saying. I did not notice anything other than her face, as if it were a black painting with two fixed eyes in the middle filled with tears.
I didn't know that my disappearance was the lightest of her pains that day.
The story continues....